Gym owner in the soup for breaking MoH rules

Fadley Faisal

A 55-year-old local man was ordered to settle a BND5,500 fine by the Magistrate’s Court yesterday, after he pleaded guilty to a charge under Section 62A(2) of the Infectious Diseases Act, Chapter 204.

Harun bin Haji Ahmad, the owner of a gym in Batu Bersurat, would have to serve a month in prison, in default of payment.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Siti Khalilah binti Hussin revealed in court that the offence was discovered by Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) personnel, after receiving information from a member of the public.

The police investigation found that the defendant had continued to operate his gym as usual, from 6am to 10.30pm on March 26, in contravention of the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) order issued on March 19, requiring all gyms and fitness centres to be closed. The police also discovered a daily log book recording user entries, between March 19 and 26.

The defendant admitted that he knew about the orders issued by the MoH.

The court also heard that the informant had reported the matter to the MoH’s Health Advice Line, after being approached by someone who said that the gym was still open for business.

Despite the gate being closed, anyone wishing to use the gym could still enter through the front door.

A police patrol car outside the gym. PHOTO: RBPF

Magistrate Hajah Ervy Sufitriana binti Haji Abdul Rahman, in handing down her sentence, considered the rationale behind the MoH’s orders to promote social distancing, in accordance with the objective of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

“Thus the necessity of these measures in place, due to the high risk of transmission and lack of visible symptoms in almost half of the infected cases,” she said, referring to a press release issued by the MoH on March 29, stating that almost 46 per cent of those infected by COVID-19 did not exhibit any symptoms.

The Magistrate described the defendant’s action as “reckless”, which she took into consideration as an aggravating factor. While she sympathised with the defendant on the financial impact of COVID-19 on businesses, she also stated that his actions could have had adverse effects in extending the period for closure.

The Magistrate reminded that “citizens and businesses should adhere to the Ministry of Health’s orders and advice, as they are in the best position to assess the current situation of the pandemic in the country, and whose priority is always to protect the people and the country from the further spread of the virus.”

She also reiterated that those who fail to adhere to the MoH’s advice would hinder progress in combating the disease, risking not only themselves but the country as a whole, and should be met with severe punishment.

The public is reminded that the Attorney General’s Chambers, together with the law enforcement agencies, will not hesitate to take legal action against those found to be acting in contravention of the MoH’s orders for all public facilities and venues, including gyms, fitness centres, indoor sports halls and outdoor sports facilities, bowling alleys and golf courses, to be closed temporarily from March 19, in line with other national measures being taken to contain the spread of infection of COVID-19 in Brunei Darussalam.

Anyone found guilty of not complying with this directive and other directives issued by the Ministry of Health under the Infectious Diseases Act, is liable to be prosecuted and faces a maximum penalty of a BND10,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.

The public is also encouraged to report any concerns regarding ongoing activities in contravention of the MoH’s orders to the Health Advice Line at 148, or police hotline at 993.