Wednesday, September 16, 2020
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
A STAFF member of Parliament who interacted with elected officials during a House of Assembly sitting last week has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the cancellation of Senate proceedings on Monday and causing uncertainty about how proceedings in the House of Assembly will proceed.
A statement from the Cabinet Office yesterday did not specify whether any elected officials will go into quarantine.
House Speaker Halson Moultrie said he has recommended parliamentarians and Parliament staff take a COVID-19 test.
“Persons who interacted with the employee, without following the preventative measures of wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance and limiting the time spent with the employee to less than 15 minutes will be required to quarantine,” the Cabinet Office statement said.
The House of Assembly will meet this morning for a short session with just over the quorum of members, Cabinet Office said.
Nonetheless, Picewell Forbes, the leader of opposition business in the House, said opposition members will not attend the sitting as a precaution.
“The leader of the opposition tried unsuccessfully to reach the prime minister about the resumption of Parliament (today) because we believe that in the circumstance, parliamentarians would be sending the wrong message to the Bahamian people and potentially expose House members to an unnecessary risk,” Mr Forbes said. “The opposition leader also sent a note to the prime minister on this matter at the time of this release but got no response.”
Yesterday, Speaker Moultrie said today’s sitting will be extraordinary.
“The government would determine what the agenda would be. We had a number of bills scheduled to be debated but in the circumstances it is likely several resolutions would take precedence over the scheduled agenda,” he said.
He said Parliament could agree to meet virtually.
“Right now the rules don’t allow for members to meet virtually but Parliament has the constitutional authority to regulate itself so we can legally move to a hybrid format, we can meet virtually completely or move to a larger facility that would permit all members to attend,” he said.
Parliamentary staff work at both the House of Assembly and the Senate.
Speaker Moultrie said health officials have recommended that parliamentarians and Parliament staff take the COVID-19 test.
“We received information (Monday) that it was possible that a member of staff of the House of Assembly who was exhibiting COVID-19 type symptoms could possibly test positive and the test was done at Doctors Hospital West and I received a call that the result was positive,” he said. “What that means is that all persons who have been exposed to the staff member who tested positive would likely have to follow the COVID-19 protocols which means that all members of the House of Assembly and staff as well as possible senators they would have to quarantine for 14 days. It is being recommended by myself and the doctors that members of Parliament and staff members take the COVID-19 test.”
Asked if there is concern the worker interacted with elected officials during last week’s sitting, Parliamentary Clerk Davis Forbes said: “Definitely there would be concerns. The House of Assembly is a small space, a closed environment, and you’re not even aware if you’re coming into close contact with people unless you have this situation because you’re just going about doing your work. This is a new thing that we’re dealing with and that person would have had some contact with members. This would’ve been one of my staff who crosses the floor.”
Fred Mitchell, the leader of opposition business in the Senate, said PLP Senator Jobeth Coleby-Davis planned to support an adjournment of Senate proceedings on Monday after the attorney general informed them that a staff member was suspected of COVID-19.
“I was later told that the notice or summons for the Senate meeting was cancelled,” Mr Mitchell said. “This is a procedure which I do not agree with but that’s what they did. There are circumstances where in emergencies Parliament can’t meet but there is a procedure for doing that and I don’t think the appropriate procedure was followed in these circumstances. A formal statement ought to be issued by the appropriate authorities as to why the body did not meet.”
Mr Mitchell and PLP Leader Philip “Brave” Davis are in quarantine following recent trips abroad.
Mr Davis previously tested positive for the virus and returned home last Friday following treatment in the United States for the disease and subsequent recovery.
Top officials in the past have gone into voluntary self-quarantine following potential exposure to COVID-19.
Last month the Cabinet Office announced that both Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest entered self-quarantine after the Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre was exposed to someone with COVID-19 and required cleaning and sanitization. It was ultimately determined that Dr Minnis nor Mr Turnquest faced minimal risk.