The Barbados parliament has given the green light to the extension of the current state of emergency to March 27, next year even as the opposition said that the Mia Mottley administration was sending a mixed signal regarding the efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The initial state of emergency took effect in March this year, lasted for a period of six months and Attorney General, Dale Marshall said that having decided, one month ago, on the need to embark on another 30-day state of emergency, the government felt it best to extend it for a further five months to allow for the continuation of the COVID-19 directives to ensure Barbados remains a safe space.
Barbados has recorded 233 positive cases and seven deaths from the virus that was first detected in China last December and blamed for 1.17 million deaths and 44 million infections worldwide ever since.
The state of emergency that gives government power to implement any measures necessary in the interest of the country during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been extended until March next year.
Marshall said that while Barbadians have returned to work and business, and entertainment venues have reopened, citizens needed to remember that “things are not alright and it will take a long time before things are alright”.
“As a government, and as a Parliament, we have an obligation to ensure that the structures that are needed to be in place to get Barbados safely over this chasm are in place. It is our constitutional responsibility to reflect on what has happened over the last six seven months and to consider whether it is appropriate for us to maintain the state of emergency for a further five months, to take us to the six [months],” he said.
But Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley told legislators that the government has been sending mixed signals to the country by extending the state of emergency while at the same time engaging in social activities which breach the COVID-19 physical distancing protocol.
“I have been seeing images of last weekend, Mr Speaker, in which some of the same voices in here, were principals in hugging and feting and celebrating without any thought for physical distancing. You have seen that Mr Speaker.
“I have not seen your image in any of those that I have seen, but I have seen images of others. You can’t stand and tell Barbados we have to keep our guard up, we must extend the state of emergency for six months,” the Opposition Leader added.
“But those who are political leaders and the principal voices of Government hugging, congregating and churches can only do that if they observe the physical protocol and you can’t lay hand on a fellow to pray for him because of the distancing, you can’t lay a hand on a child to dedicate that child to baptize that child because physical distancing protocols are in place and wisely so, and necessarily so,” Bishop Atherley said.
In extending the Public Health Emergency Order, Marshall cautioned that at the end of March 2021, Parliament might have to seek a further extension, noting that statistics worldwide pointed to spikes in cases of the highly contagious virus.
He told Parliament that Barbados could not let its guard down despite making strides in the COVID-19 fight.
“How we have dealt with the COVID pandemic in Barbados, I hope, Sir, will represent a case study in years to come as to how small, nimble economies are able to respond to things that cause giants to halt. And I believe, Sir, that it is a case study that will serve to vindicate the kinds of decisions that have been taken by this administration, both in terms of protecting the livelihoods of our citizens and protecting the lives of our citizens.
“At no step of the way has the decision-making process been easy. I remember being absolutely petrified at the notion that we as a country were about to embark on a curfew. Curfews are things that are imposed in Jamaica, imposed in Trinidad, imposed in other parts of the world, but certainly not in my memory and we are hard pressed to find anybody who could testify to a state of emergency in Barbados and a curfew,” Marshall said.
“We had no manual to guide us, we had no case studies, no best practices to tell us how we should approach this and how we should approach that. But we did have – what we treasure most – our ability to sit with people and to work out how to walk this journey,” the Attorney General added.
Atherley said he was also concerned that the Mottley administration is sending mixed signals by allowing flights to come from countries where a second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak is taking place, and everyday bringing new cases to Barbados.
“You are saying that and it seems to me, mixed signals are coming from the voice of the Government. Now feting is ongoing and social events are being held. We are concerned about that. Cabinet therefore will be meeting virtually, Parliament would like to meet virtually,” he said.
The Opposition Leader made reference to a recent statement by Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, who voiced concerns regarding the noticeably rise of the crime rate, which he associated with the conditions of the social fallout from COVID.
“I want us to ensure that we do remember that while we guard ourselves in here in terms of the exposure to COVID, while we guard ourselves at the level of Cabinet against exposure to COVID, while we extend the state of emergency for six months, while we tell Barbadians stop being complacent, we have got to remember as a Government that there are matters that we need to treat to as well which are urgent and critical.
“What the Commissioner of Police is raising as a concern, the way it has been expressed as was reported in the press, is contrary to what the Government has been trying to say to Barbadians that they have got a handle on crime and the statistics show a decline in the numbers.
“I do not know that any Barbadian believes that when it comes to gun-related crimes. We have got shootings every day and every night,” he said.