Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – Timor-Leste has ordered all its citizens to comply and be tested on demand for Covid-19 or be forced into quarantine if they refuse.
The order was passed by the country's Council of Ministers on May 5.
"All individuals in the national territory asked to submit themselves to mass or random testing according to criteria defined by the health authorities are obliged to undergo a medical examination for the diagnosis of Covid-19," it said.
"Individuals who refuse to undergo this medical examination will be subjected to obligatory prophylactic confinement in a health establishment, residence or state isolation center. In such cases the costs will be borne by the individual."
The move followed a violent incident on May 4 when a number of people refused to be tested at a checkpoint outside the police academy in the Comoro district of the capital Dili. All passing motorists were being stopped to undergo swab tests.
Although most people complied, others refused and demanded to be allowed to continue their journeys. When they were prevented from doing so, some became violent.
Many believe the government has already gone too far and is harming their interests
Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak told reporters on May 6 that mass testing in Dili was one of the government's priorities in addition to strengthening containment and vaccination efforts.
As of May 7, the capital Dili had recorded 1,128 out of a total of 1,417 active cases.
The new measure has come under fire from critics.
Joao Almeida, acting director of Fundasaun Mahein, an NGO which deals with defense and security issues, called the decision "extremely dangerous" and warned that it "could provoke civil unrest."
He said the authorities have already met considerable resistance while attempting to conduct testing and many Timorese people are extremely unhappy about the current situation.
"Many believe the government has already gone too far and is harming their interests, especially by affecting people's ability to carry out essential economic activities," Almeida said in a statement sent to UCA News.
"This latest move will stoke community tensions even further and will likely result in conflict and sociopolitical instability."
He said forcing people to undergo medical procedures against their will contravenes fundamental ethical and human rights principles of informed consent and bodily integrity.
"It also arguably violates the principles of democratic governance and human rights which are enshrined in the constitution," he said.
Furthermore, the health authorities' capacity to carry out and process tests is already limited
Almeida said this policy also makes little sense practically or logistically as mass testing of the entire population will use vast amounts of limited state resources.
"Furthermore, the health authorities' capacity to carry out and process tests is already limited," he said.
He asked the government to cancel this policy "and instead focus on testing those who go to health centers showing symptoms, while at the same time increasing healthcare capacity to ensure people can access treatment as well as providing realistic advice and information to the public."
Father Angelo Salshina, chairman of Dili Archdiocese's Covid-19 pastoral support team, declined to comment on the issue.
The tiny Catholic-majority country has recorded 2,870 cases since the pandemic started and four deaths.