Bahamas Government Gets Emergency Powers to Combat COVID-19

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis

NASSAU, The Bahamas, Thursday March 19, 2020 – The Dr Hubert Minnis-led administration has been granted emergency powers to “aggressively combat” the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

Prime Minister Minnis said the Emergency Proclamation issued by Governor General Cornelius Smith, along with the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020 passed in the House of Assembly yesterday will give the Government the necessary and emergency powers to aggressively combat COVID-19.

There are three confirmed cases of the virus in the island.

Minnis told the House of Assembly yesterday that the regulations empower the state in areas of health, social distancing, self-isolation, curfews, requisition of property and essential services, and procurement of goods and services.

The emergency regulations also address the dissemination of false news.

Under the order, “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 the same is: untrue or false; or may incite public fear or ethnic hatred”.

Out of an abundance of caution, said the Prime Minister, a provision exists in the regulations by which the Governor General may 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.

“Some of these provisions may be invoked. Some may not,” said Prime Minister Minnis.

“We have brought forward these regulations to have the legal powers necessary at hand to respond quickly and decisively to this crisis.”

Among the major components of the regulations are:

Health Officers have been empowered to take certain actions to prevent the spread of the disease:

-Where a health officer believes that someone is infected, they may order such a person detained for screening and assessment.  The officer is also empowered to impose the necessary restrictions of movement to prevent further spread of infection.

-Where the infected is a minor, a parent or guardian will be responsible for ensuring compliance with any restriction of movement.

-A health officer can order isolation on reasonable grounds in order to prevent further spread of the disease.

Public gatherings may be restricted

-Under the emergency proclamation, permits for use of public spaces can be suspended nationally in the interest of public safety. This suspension can cover an assembly of as little as two persons in public areas.

Public movement may be restricted

-The Prime Minister may also impose isolation or confine persons to their homes. Under these circumstances, all educational and religious institutions would be closed. Certain businesses and other entities catering to the public may be ordered closed. Visits to residential care establishments such as senior care facilities would be prohibited. Visits to correctional facilities would be prohibited. Trips to the grocery store, gas station, pharmacy, doctor, hospital may be regulated or limited to certain times.

Curfews may also be imposed if necessary.

Certain areas may have access restricted

-Under the emergency proclamation persons may be restricted from entering certain areas in the interest of public safety, in order to keep the peace or to allow the ease of distribution of necessary supplies.

Vehicles and buildings may be requisitioned by the Government

-The Prime Minister may requisition any buildings, aircraft or marine vessel or any other craft as necessary.

Essential services may be requisitioned

-Essential services, whether public or private, may be requisitioned under this proclamation. These include:

-Water collection, storage, purification or distribution

-The collection, storage and treatment of sewage or garbage

-The manufacture, storage or distribution of gas for public use

-The removal, handling and burial of the dead

-The removal, handling and burial of dead animals

Certain laws may be waived

-To facilitate the government’s procurement of needed goods, rules or laws related to such procurement may be waived.  Under such circumstances, within six weeks, the Ministry of Finance would be required to give a proper accounting related to the procurement.

Certain fees may be waived

-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.

The dissemination of malicious and misleading information is prohibited

-Under these 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 the same is: untrue or false; or may incite public fear, panic or ethnic hatred.

Regional or international military assistance may be requested

-Out of an abundance of caution, the Governor General may authorize international or regional military or police forces to serve a peace officers to maintain order, and to ensure the safekeeping and distribution of supplies.

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