THE controversial COVID-19 (Prevention and Control) Bill that was passed in both chambers of parliament last week continues to spark nationwide debate even as the main opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party talks of challenging it in a court of law.
At press time yesterday we were unable to determine whether the party would, without a doubt, challenge the Bill in court, however we were assured that the party’s lawyers met to determine whether this was possible.
The Bill, since its introduction in parliament, has generated a spirited debate amongst the populace with certain sections being heavily criticized.
According to government the Bill seeks to regulate the containment of the spread of COVID-19 in Saint Lucia in the interests of public safety, public order, and public health.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, last week, told hosts of local radio programme ‘Out Goes In’ that “the choice of not having the State of Emergency or something to substitute for the State of Emergency was not a choice for us; we had to be able to find something.”
“The problem with the State of Emergency as I’ve indicated (is that) it gives us wide ranging authority or powers as a Prime Minister and there’s always been this concern that we’re in election spirit; meaning that election’s due by next year or we’re certainly in the build up to elections. A Prime Minister should not be able to use his authority in any way to infringe on people’s rights,” he added.
The Bill comprises seven sections: Part I deals with, among other things, the establishment of Command Centre the functions of which are to serve as an advisory body to Cabinet on matters relating to COVID-19 and have oversight of activities required to reduce or prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The composition of the Command Centre is as follows: A Minister of Cabinet as Chairperson; the Chief Medical Officer as Deputy Chairperson; a representative from the Office of the Prime Minister; the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry responsible for tourism; the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry responsible for health; the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry responsible for finance; the Commissioner of Police or his or her designate; a representative from the National Emergency Management Organization; a representative from the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority and the Principal Information Officer of the Government Information Service or his or her designate.
The members of the Command Centre shall be appointed by Cabinet on terms and conditions as determined by Cabinet.
Part II of the Bill deals with several COVID-19 Protocols. It states that The Chief Medical Officer shall, after consultation with a regulatory authority, issue a protocol for the operation of a business, establishment, office, motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft. Further that a protocol issued under subsection (1) may include any one or more of the protocols specified under this Part.
It also states that the Minister may, on the recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer, make Regulations for the purposes of this section. A protocol issued prior to the commencement of this Act is deemed to be issued under this Act.
This same section deals with wearing of masks and physical distancing noting that in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a person shall (a) wear a mask or suitable covering over his or her nose and mouth when in public; and (b) at all times as far as practicable, distance himself or herself at a prescribed space from any other person.
Notwithstanding the subsection a person shall comply with a request to temporarily remove or adjust his or her mask or suitable covering over his or her nose and mouth to confirm his or her identification if such request is made by (a) a member of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force; or (b) the owner of premises that the person has entered or is seeking to enter. A person who contravenes this section commits an offence.
In this section, “public” includes (a) outside a person’s home; (b) in the case of a person at a certified accommodation provider (i) on the premises of a certified accomodation provider except within the space reserved for the sole use of the person, (ii) outside the premises of a certified accommodation provider.
PART III places a restriction on tourism services. (1) A person shall not operate a tourism service unless the person obtains a valid COVID-19 Compliance Certificate under this Act. A person who contravenes subsection commits an offence.
PART IV states that persons must meet pre-travel requirements. Briefly it states that a person shall, prior to travelling by air or sea into Saint Lucia (a) take a test for COVID-19 and have a negative result for that test seven days or less before his or her arrival in Saint Lucia; (b) in the case of a national or resident, obtain from the Chief Medical Officer confirmation of a reserved space at a quarantine facility or to be placed in quarantine at his or her home; (c) in the case of a non-national, obtain from a certified accommodation provider, confirmation of a booking reservation.
A brief look at Part V of the Bill states that an electronic monitoring device shall be administered by the Ministry for the purpose of monitoring (a) whether a person has, during his or her quarantine, left his or her home; (b) whether a person who has during quarantine at a place approved by the Chief Medical Officer, left the place of accommodation.
Part VI states that there will be a collection of health information for the purpose of securing and protecting the health, safety or welfare of a person and that the Ministry shall collect health information under this Act.
Part VII will give police power to stop, detain and arrest. (1) Where a member of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force has reasonable cause to believe that a person contravenes this Act, he or she may stop, question, detain and arrest the person if a member of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force considers it necessary to do so.