STATE OF EMERGENCY: COVID-19 regulations allow for mandatory detention, isolation and curfew

STATE OF EMERGENCY: COVID-19 regulations allow for mandatory detention, isolation and curfew

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government is expected to introduce regulations in Parliament today that will allow sweeping executive powers once a public state of emergency is declared over the threat of COVID-19.

A draft proclamation order, regulations and resolution obtained by Eyewitness News, and dated March 17, indicate the state of emergency could be extended for up to six weeks.

The Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations 2020 provides for the detention and mandatory isolation of people suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, and related screening requirements; requisition of private property and essential services; mandatory curfew; restriction of access to any area; and criminalize the publication of false statements.

It provides for the Governor General to authorize international or regional military or police forces 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”.

Anyone believed to be in violation of the regulations, or obstructs an official in the carriage of their duties commits an offense. Once convicted, a magistrate can impose a fine up to $10,000, a prison term up to 18 months, or both.

The regulations provide for the requisition of any building, ship, or aircraft by the prime minister, and the requisition of essential services by the Governor General.

‘Essential services’ refers to any service established, maintained or operated by the Government, or by any public or private enterprise, for: the collection, storage, purification or distribution of water for use by the public or any class of the public; the collection, storage, treatment and disposal of sewage or garbage or refuse; the manufacture, storage or distribution of gas for use by the public or any class of the public; or the removal, handling or burial of deceased persons or disposal of dead animals.

The regulations also provide the power to waive procurement rules in the interest of public safety and health, and stipulate the Ministry of Finance must lay a report within six weeks of the expiration of the emergency proclamation.

That report must detail: 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.

At the end of the requisition of private property, the regulations state the prime minister must make a “prompt and adequate compensation to the owner or occupier”.

The regulations provide for the detention of individuals and further restriction of their movement for up to two days by a health officer for COVID-19 screening and assessment.

The health officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that a person is, or may be, infected or contaminated with the virus; and that there is a risk the person might infect or contaminate others.

Also subject to detention are individuals that have arrived in The Bahamas on an aircraft or ship from outside The Bahamas; or have left an infected place within the twenty day period before entering the country.

The health officer can impose further screening requirements or impose restrictions orally or in writing; however, the regulations note any decision must be proportionate to what it seeks to achieve.

According to the regulations, officials must express that special restrictions for isolation are contingent on the incidence or transmission of COVID-19 being a serious and imminent public health threat.

Screening requirements mandate an individual must answer questions about health and related history; produce documents to assist with health assessment; allow a public health officer to take a biological sample; and provide contact information.

Children identified for screening must be accompanied by an adult, who must ensure compliance with requirements.

The regulations also gives the prime minister the power to prohibit the assembly of two or more people in a public place in any specified area in the interest of public health safety.

The prime minister will also be able to impose an isolation order on all individuals in a particular area, island, or the entire country.

Further social distancing measures can be imposed like: the closure of schools and religious institutions; businesses or organizations that cater to the general public; prohibit visitation at residential care facilities; and mandatory residential confinement.

The prime minister can 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”.

Isolation measures will not prohibit individuals from going outside within their own enclosed residential yard space.

Guidelines on social distancing issued by the prime minister will have the force of law, the regulations stated.

The regulations will come into effect through a proclamation by the Governor General, and the passage of a resolution by Parliament.

Article 29 of the Bahamas Constitution provides for a proclamation of emergency to be in force for 14 days, and extended for up to six months.

It also empowers the Governor General to make regulations deemed to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of The Bahamas, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion and riot and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life and well-being of the community.

The draft resolution indicated the regulations would be extended for a period ending April 30.

The regulations refer to the prime minister as “the competent authority”.

It outlines reporting requirements for the Minister of Health, the Managing Director of the Public Hospital Authority and the person charged with responsibility for directing the day to day COVID-19 protocol operations to report to the prime minister during the continuance of the public emergency.

About Ava Turnquest

Ava Turnquest is the head of the Digital Department at Eyewitness News. Her most notable beat coverage spans but is not limited to politics, immigration and human rights, with a focus especially on minority groups. In 2018, she was nominated by the Bahamas Press Club for “The Eric Wilmott Award for Investigative Journalism”. Ava is deeply motivated by her passion about the role of fourth estate, and uses her pen to inform, educate and sensitize the public.