Tread carefully

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Michael Darville yesterday tabled the Davis administration’s regime to govern pandemic protocols without the implementation of emergency orders.

The Health Services (COVID-19) (General) Rules, 2021 and the Health Services (COVID-19) (Prevention and Management of Community Spread) Rules, 2021 will shift COVID-19 protocols in some respects, while many aspects of pandemic management will remain in place.

The legislation establishes that the minister of health is tasked with management of the COVID-19 pandemic, and must be supported by an advisory committee, doing away with the concept of a competent authority alone wielding incredibly broad powers.

Indeed, it is the very first requirement in law of the minister to appoint the advisory committee.

The committee must have at least one expert in the fields of epidemiology; supplies management and logistics; health services administration at the primary and tertiary levels; public health; management of infectious diseases; laboratory management and pharmaceutical management.

The minister may appoint any other professional he deems necessary.

The minister must also provide for the acquisition of sufficient personal protective equipment and human and technological resources; provide sufficient hospital, medicinal, and pharmaceutical supplies and testing capacity; take all steps necessary to guard against and prevent the spread of COVID-19; and to generally manage COVID-19.

The law also states that in carrying out those functions, the minister “may by order impose such restrictions and implement such containment and mitigation measures as he deems necessary”.

There is, interestingly, no mention of curfews in the legislation.

However, we believe that these can legally be put in place under cover of whatever “measures as he deems necessary”, but a court may disagree if such a curfew were to face legal challenge.

We also note the absence of any protections under law for those who have faced financial difficulty and are behind on their utility bills and vehicle registration.

While it is clear that Bahamas Power and Light and the Water and Sewerage Corporation cannot continue for much longer allowing people to remain in delinquency after this many months have passed, consideration must be given to the less fortunate who have not fully returned to work.

We do not believe the suspension of these disconnections can be legally mandated under the current legislation, but perhaps the government has taken this into consideration and will guide this through government policy rather than law.

We are also concerned about a provision in the law that allows anyone who leaves The Bahamas to return within a period of 24 hours without taking another COVID-19 test.

Yes, you need a negative COVID-19 test to enter the United States – where most Bahamian travelers visit.

But we have no science that says you cannot contract COVID-19 within 24 hours of testing negative for it.

With no mask mandates or pretty much any COVID-19 protocols in the state of Florida, this is a risky proposition.

Perhaps this provision could be further enhanced by providing some level of quarantine upon returning home until a negative test result can be secured.

It is interesting that the Progressive Liberal Party, which described the health visa program as a “corrupt scam” that it would end, has left the program in place, still charging citizens and residents who are not vaccinated $40 for the visa when entering with a negative RT-PCR test.

It is heartening that the legislation appears to plan for a full return to in-person learning provided that all on campus adhere to COVID-19 protocols, there is at least one isolation area that is clearly identified and appropriately equipped, and the institutions adhere to all guidelines issued or approved by the ministry.

Children have been particularly disadvantaged by the pandemic, missing critical educational developmental milestones and being shuttered away from friends, family and social activity.

And over 30 percent of students are not logging on to the nation’s virtual education platform.

It is time to beef up the vaccination efforts among teachers and administrators.

Children over 12 can be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, though we have no current data on how many children have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in this country.

A return to some social gathering will be undergirded by legislation, limiting indoor gatherings to 20 people who are fully vaccinated and adhering to social distancing protocols.

Outdoor gatherings are also allowed for those who are fully vaccinated or not.

We welcome a return to more normalcy in our lives and moving away from emergency powers, but we would caution the government to still tread carefully.

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