East Timor: Government eases some restrictions under renewed state of emergency

East Timor’s government on Wednesday approved the easing of several restrictions imposed under the state of emergency declared in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, reopening the border to Timorese nationals and allowing the use of public transport but with health protection measures.

Under a government decree approved by the cabinet, restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals remain in place, but Timorese nationals can re-enter the country, although subject to “rules of sanitary control of entry and exit from national territory”. This includes a period of compulsory quarantine for anyone entering the country, as has been the case until now.

Almost all active cases of infection currently in the country were found among Timorese students who had entered via the land border and who were quarantined in Dili.

The government decree, presented by the prime minister, Taur Matan Ruak, amends some measures in place under the first period of the state of emergency, which has now been renewed and is in force until midnight on 27 May.

It aims, according to a government statement, to adopt “the necessary measures that prevent the disease, contain the pandemic, save lives and ensure the subsistence of the supply chains of essential goods and services” to the population, even if “they may limit some fundamental rights and freedoms”.

Several measures from the first period of the state of emergency remain in force, including the bar on the entry of foreign nationals into the country, with the exceptions previously provided for, including all foreigners working in the oil sector.

The government is now allowing the use of public transport, “provided that vehicles are cleaned daily before starting activity and provided that drivers, crew and passengers wear protective masks and avoid any form of physical contact.”

Regarding the rules of access to shops and other establishments, “the rules of mandatory use of masks for customers and employees, hand washing before entering the premises and respect for the physical distance of at least one and a half metres” remain in place.

The decree now approved empowers the police and inspectors of the food and economic security authority to “order individuals who do not comply with the rules to leave the establishment, identifying the individuals and reporting the occurrence to the Office of Public Prosecutions.” These rules also apply to markets, with municipal authorities to ensure the conditions are in place to monitor compliance with the rules.

“Street vendors are obliged to wear a protective mask at all times and must maintain a distance of at least one metre from other street vendors,” the government states.

In relation to rules on social distancing, the law states that police officers must “raise the awareness of all individuals on complying with the rules laid down and order the dispersion of agglomerations of people.”

In addition, they must “inform [members of the public] that resistance to the enforcement order may constitute a crime of disobedience” and “identify individuals who break the rules and report the occurrence to the Office of Public Prosecutions”.

Measures previously in place relating to the functioning of public administration and access to its premises remain in force, with the list of public services deemed essential now extended.

The right to strike for workers who work in public services deemed essential also remains suspended.

“The Government Decree now approved states that the member of the Government responsible for health may determine, when necessary for the protection of public health, the temporary requisition of private spaces and establishments,” the statement adds. “In duly justified cases, the Council of Ministers may requisition immovable or movable property from private individuals.”.