The New Brunswick doctor accused of being patient zero in a deadly COVID-19 outbreak is facing a charge under the province’s emergency measures law for failing to self-isolate after a trip to Quebec this spring.
Jean Robert Ngola Monzinga became the subject of public outrage in May when Premier Blaine Higgs said an “irresponsible” medical professional brought the coronavirus into the small community of Campbellton. The doctor’s identity soon leaked on social media.
The outbreak has caused two deaths and dozens of infections. Dr. Ngola has denied being its source.
On July 8, the RCMP served Dr. Ngola with a notice to appear in court on Oct. 26 to face a charge of failing to comply with an order under the province’s Emergency Measures Act, which the Premier invoked in March to combat the pandemic.
The doctor’s lawyer, Joel Etienne, confirmed on Monday that he had received the notice, and said Dr. Ngola is innocent. He also noted that the charge is not criminal but “regulatory” and closer in nature to a “traffic ticket.”
“Jean Robert is not patient zero, Jean Robert did not do anything illegal, Jean Robert did not break any provincial legislation,” Mr. Etienne said. “Jean Robert should not have been singled out and scapegoated.”
The controversy stems from a trip to Quebec that Dr. Ngola took during the week of May 10. The family physician had to pick up his daughter from a Montreal suburb when her mother left the country for a family emergency. On his return trip, he stopped in the city of Trois-Rivières to meet with two fellow doctors about future work in the province.
When he returned to New Brunswick, he did not self-isolate but returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital the next day, out of a sense of obligation to his patients, he said in a June interview. He later tested positive for COVID-19, as did at least one of his patients.
Provincial policy requires health care workers who live and work in New Brunswick to self-isolate for 14 days if they return from outside of the province. There are exceptions for those who live across the border in Quebec and, in some cases, for health professionals coming from outside the province to work temporarily in New Brunswick.
Mr. Etienne argued that because health workers entering the province with no quarantine was routine at the time, Dr. Ngola did nothing wrong.
“He fell within the ambit of the law, he followed the protocols that were in place, and he was diligent in every step that he took,” Mr. Etienne said.
Dr. Ngola has said that the accusation “destroyed” his life amid threats to his safety and racial abuse. He is now working as a doctor in a small town in Quebec.
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