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State of emergency

Governor General C.A. Smith will declare a state of public emergency in The Bahamas today due to the presence of COVID-19 in the country, documents obtained by The Nassau Guardian show.

The declaration will be made in an emergency proclamation, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament today, and allows the governor general, under the Emergency Powers Act, to make regulations for securing public safety and the defense of The Bahamas, among other things.

The Nassau Guardian understands that the government will also table the Emergency Powers (COVID 19) Regulations, 2020, today.

The regulations grant wide-ranging powers to the prime minister that will allow for, among other things, the detention of people infected with COVID-19 or those who traveled to infected places; the possible prohibition of assembly of two or more people in any specific area; the requisition of any building, ship or aircraft; a curfew; social distancing and isolation orders; restricted access to specified areas; and the prohibition of publishing or re-posting false stories.

The regulations state that any person who contravenes the provisions commits an offense and is liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 18 months or both.

Proclamation

The proclamation reads in part: “…I am satisfied that due to the confirmation of the presence of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, a state of public emergency exists in The Bahamas as a result of the aforementioned circumstances.

“Now, therefore, I, the Most Honourable Cornelius Alvin Smith, governor general of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, in exercise of the powers conferred upon me by Article 29 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, hereby declare that: with effect from the 17th day of March 2020, a state of public emergency exists in The Bahamas.

“This proclamation of emergency shall cease to be in force at the expiration of a period of fourteen days from the date hereof, or such longer period as may be provided for by a resolution passed by each House of Parliament approving its continuance in force for a further period, not exceeding six months, beginning on the date on which it would otherwise expire, the proclamation shall if not sooner revoked, continue in force for that further period.”

Curfew and assembly

According to the regulations, the prime minister may, by order, “require every person within any area specified in the order to remain within doors between such hours as may be specified in the order, and any person who within any area so specified is or remains outdoors between such hours without a permit in writing from the competent authority, or some person duly authorized by the competent authority, commits an offense”.

The regulations also empower the prime minister to, by an order, prohibit the assembly of two or more persons in a public space in any area specified, in the interest of public health safety.

Fake news

Under the regulations, no person shall publish or cause to be published, posted or re-posted, over any media platform inclusive of social media, any purported news or report, or purported statement of fact, knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that the statement is untrue or false or may incite public fear, panic or ethnic hatred.

Quarantine

The prime minister may also, by order, impose isolation on all individuals within a particular area, island or the entire country in the interest of public health, the regulations state.

“Where isolation has been imposed, the competent authority may: require the closure of all educational or religious institutions in the area specified; require the closure of any business or organization that caters to the general public in the areas so specified, unless permitted otherwise by the order; prohibit the visitation by persons at all residential care establishments; prohibit the visitation by persons at all correctional facilities; require every person to confine himself at his place of residence, unless otherwise specified by the order; permit the travel of persons to a grocery store, gas station, pharmacy, doctor, hospital or such other place as may be specified in the order,” according to the regulations.

It adds that any order regarding isolation and social distancing will not prohibit a person from going outdoors within the enclosed yard or space of that person’s residence.

Essential services

The regulations will also empower the governor general to requisition any essential service.

The regulations state that such services include those maintained or operated by the government, or by any public or private enterprise including: the storage, purification or distribution of water for public use; the storage, collection and treatment and disposal of sewage, garbage or refuse; the manufacture, storage or distribution of gas for use by the public; the removal, handling or burial of deceased persons or disposal of dead animals.

Under the regulations, the governor general may appoint a controller of any essential service. That person will be entitled to “take possession of all premises and assets of every description (other than money or securities of money)…”

Goods and services

The prime minister may also, by order, in consultation with the minister of finance, waive the application of any rules or law governing the procurement of goods and services.

The regulations require that the minister of finance will, within six weeks of the expiration of the proclamation of emergency, lay a report before the House of Assembly detailing: the total expenditure of the goods and services procured; the suppliers of the goods and services procured; and the reasons for the use of the suppliers of the goods and the providers of the services.

The prime minister may also waive or vary the payment of any fees for the testing and medical services rendered at any public hospital or healthcare facility in relation to COVID-19.

Finally, the regulations also empower the governor general, if need be, to authorize international or regional military or police forces as may be requested by the government, to serve as peace officers and assist in the storage, safe keeping or distribution of relief supplies; the provision of any essential services and the maintenance of public order.

The move comes after The Bahamas confirmed its first case of COVID-19 over the weekend.

The patient is a 61-year-old woman with no relevant travel history. At last report she was in stable condition.

The virus has spread throughout the globe, ravaging economies in the process.

COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, late last year, causes cough, fever and in severe cases pneumonia. The virus has killed more than 7,300 people worldwide. There are over 185,000 cases and over 80,000 people have recovered from the virus.

During a national address on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced the closure of all schools until April 14.

He also announced that foreign nationals who have traveled within the last 20 days from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe, will be prohibited entry into The Bahamas.

Travel restrictions were already in place for Italy, Iran, South Korea and China.

As major cruise lines from the U.S. announced that cruises will be suspended for one month, Minnis said that COVID-19 will have a tremendous and widespread economic impact on the country.

“Even as we prepare and pray that few Bahamians are harmed by this virus, the economic impact of this crisis will be widespread,” he said.

“We are fighting for our health and economic well-being at the same time.”

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