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AG says no decision made on whether to extend state of emergency

With the current state of emergency set to expire next month, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday that no decision has been made on whether another state of emergency will be declared to combat the spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

Bethel, however, said restrictive measures, whether through emergency powers or through other legislation, must remain in place until The Bahamas reaches herd immunity

“The government has not as yet made a judgement as to what course of action would be taken,” he said.

“What we do know is that the emergency continues. So the government will in very short order have to make a determination in what is the best way forward.”

He continued, “We know an emergency continues. Until we reach a stage where there is sufficient vaccination, and in The Bahamas we are using every available means to secure enough vaccines for those who wish to take it. Right now our issue is to get more supply.

“… That really is the goal – to make sure that every Bahamian who wishes to be protected is protected and the resources are here for them. When The Bahamas reaches the stage where we’ve reached what can be termed herd immunity, then we could consider that for The Bahamas that the emergency is basically over.

“So, between now and then there will be some legal framework, whether it’s a declaration of emergency or under a statutory framework. But in any event, rules have to be mandated to restrict physical contact continuing until we reach the stage where there is a degree of herd immunity.

“So whether that’s under the emergency power order or a new enactment, it’s not going to stop the need to make rules to restrict certain forms of activity.”

The Bahamas has been under a state of emergency for more than a year, as the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

All COVID mitigation measures, including curfews, mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and other restrictions, are enforced through the emergency powers, which are granted to the competent authority, the prime minister, through the declaration of emergency.

Many have criticized the continued use of the state of emergency, calling it authoritarian and claiming that it erodes the decision-making role of parliamentarians and the people they serve.

However, Bethel said The Bahamas continues to be confronted with difficult circumstances. He suggested it would be irresponsible to not maintain some restrictive measures moving forward.

“It is an unfortunate situation that now confronts the world,” he said.

“We see that Europe remains basically on lockdown. India is collapsing. Its healthcare system has basically collapsed and the whole world will have to come to the aid of that great country.

“We pray for all of the souls around the world who have perished and who are in danger, including here in The Bahamas, from this third wave.

“We certainly are doing everything we can to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of the Bahamian health system. It is under challenge, but it is not as bad as elsewhere in the world.”

Bethel added, “As a responsible government, we have our duty to do everything in our power to enable the Bahamian people to protect themselves. And the only way this can effectively be done is to set rules so that it is clear to everybody what the standard of conduct is.”

Healthcare professionals have said The Bahamas is now in its third wave of COVID-19.

More than 400 cases were reported by health authorities in the past week alone, and the death toll has also been also climbing.

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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