Yesterday after confirming the fifth coronavirus (COVID-19) case on the island, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced ordered measures to restrict the free flow of people in the streets and crowds in Puerto Rico in an attempt to reduce the spread.
Through an executive order, Vázquez Garced imposed a curfew forcing citizens to stay home 24/7 from last night at 9:00 p.m. through March 30, except for emergencies or the purchase of essential goods, among other limited actions.
"All citizens living in Puerto Rico must be in their homes 24/7, it is a total lockdown," the governor said in an interview with El Nuevo Día.
The governor explained that people will only be able to leave their homes from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. to buy food, go to pharmacies, financial institutions, or gas stations; medical appointments, hospitals, laboratories, or medical service centers; go to or return from workplaces that remain open as instituted in the executive order; and to provide assistance, care, or transportation to the elderly, minors, or people with disabilities.
After 9:00 p.m., only people with emergencies are allowed on the streets. People are not be allowed to go to beaches or bodies of water, nor are they allowed to go to parks or open areas to exercise, she said.
"No one may leave their property for 14 days. That is the way we are going to be able to control the spread of this virus and prevent it from becoming a crisis for us," she added.
Although she acknowledged that this is a measure seeking to stop the spread, attorney Julio Fontanet warned that the curfew decreed by Vázquez Garced bordered on martial law.
Multiple jurisdictions around the world - such as Italy and the state of New York - have imposed quarantines to slow the spread of the virus.
The dean of the Inter-American University Law School explained that a curfew is a mechanism that specifically establishes a restriction on freedom of movement. Meanwhile, martial law eliminates the constitutional rights of citizens.
Fontanet said the order eliminates essential activities in businesses, universities, and churches, for example. “People have to have the power to go and do those essential tasks and procedures, and certainly the coronavirus scenario does not justify that. That is why martial law is only activated in cases of rebellion, not in the case of a pandemic," he said.
As of last night, the Health Department had reported a total of 21 suspicious cases of COVID-19. Of that total, 12 tested negative.
The curfew comes with a partial closure of stores starting today at 6:00 p.m. until March 30, except stores selling food, wholesale distribution, medical equipment, pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations, banking institutions and those related to the distribution of food, medicine, medical supplies or fuel.
While in the public sector, only police officers, emergency medical personnel or those who are the first line of emergency response, members of the National Guard, port and airport employees, essential employees of the Health Department and the Family Department, and employees working in school cafeterias of the Education Department that provide food for refugees will be working.
The curfew does not apply to employees of public or private safety agencies at the state or federal level, health professionals, personnel working in hospitals, pharmacies, pharmaceuticals, bioscience facilities or health centers, personnel working in the wholesale distribution chain and goods and food manufacturing, personnel working in critical infrastructure, call centers, port and airport personnel, members of the press, or those citizens who have emergencies.
The executive order says that these employees will be allowed to travel on public roads on their way to work and return home at the required time.
Citizens who violate the executive order are subject to a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.
Vázquez Garced said that, so far, no additional orders will be given to members of the National Guard to enforce the executive order. The police will intervene in case of violations.