Police start roadblocks to check compliance with COVID-19 executive order

By John McPhaul

The Puerto Rico Police started to block roads Monday to monitor compliance with the latest executive order issued by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, which seeks to stop the rise in coronavirus infections on the island.

Puerto Rico Police Bureau Commissioner Henry Escalera Rivera “gave us the instructions to start with the blockades [on the roads] again,” said Lt. Elvin Zeno, director of the Traffic Bureau.

“We had stopped [the blockades] practically since February, because of COVID-19. We already started it up again. And since he [Escalera Rivera] gave us the instructions, we are going to comply with them,” Zeno said in a radio interview. “It will be every day, three blockades in different police areas. Today we have Aguadilla, Caguas and Carolina. On Tuesday we [continue] with Fajardo, Ponce and Utuado. And so on throughout the island.”

The revised curfew began at 9 p.m. Monday instead of 10 p.m., according to the latest executive order of the governor. It runs until 5 a.m.

The new executive order will apply until Thursday, Jan. 7.

The governor emphasized meanwhile that “Saturday is [under] a total dry law.”

“So on Saturday you can’t order [alcohol in a restaurant],” Vázquez said. “At the table it can be done during the week, but not on Saturday. Saturday is total, dry law. There is no sale of alcoholic beverages from 5 in the morning on Saturday to Sunday.”

“It was a very difficult decision,” the governor said, noting that she received many suggestions from the medical and economic sectors, which led her to order a dry law on the weekends, but allow the sale of food at establishments.

“We saw the consumption of alcoholic beverages, without masks [at any time], sharing at different businesses, particularly on weekends,” Vázquez said. “We are trying to control a little what was generating the crowding of people without masks, which was the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

“If we see a response from our citizens, to [exercise self-]control in these areas where we have seen greater crowding, then we can work with this executive order and we can make it more flexible,” she said.

The governor added that the alarm linked to the curfew will again be sent through the emergency system that transmits text messages to cell phones, as was done for many months. The island Emergency Management and Disaster Administration Bureau (NMEAD by its Spanish acronym) has once again begun sending the cell phone alert to announce the curfew.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented public health emergency and we have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our families, and especially the most vulnerable people, our elderly and children,” Vázquez said. “The executive order that went into force [Monday] seeks to stop the chain of infections and help us flatten the curve, but we need the cooperation of all citizens. This alarm seeks to awaken a sense of urgency among the people and remind them that at 9 p.m. no one should be on the streets, unless it is an emergency or is within the exceptions allowed.”

The procedure was consulted with and authorized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission before making the determination to resume sending alerts. As done previously, the alert message will be sent using the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, said NMEAD Commissioner Nino Correa Filomeno.

“At the moment, the message will be sent three times a week at 8 p.m. and we want to call on citizens to stay in their homes, use a mask and maintain physical distance,” Correa Filomeno said. “It is everyone’s responsibility to protect ourselves.”

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