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House of Assembly introduces new COVID-19 protocols

House of Assembly introduces new COVID-19 protocols
OPPOSITION LEADER Dr Godwin Friday (right), in a huddle with other opposition parliamentarians Fitzgerald Bramble (left) and Israel Bruce, in the House of Assembly last Thursday.

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NEW, enhanced protocols at the House of Assembly will see members not being allowed to enter and/ or remain in the Chamber if these standards are not met.

Rochelle Forde, Speaker of the House outlined the reinforced COVID19 rules at last week’s sitting, where she said the rules were approved by the Health Services Subcommittee.

“…These protocols are continually under review and are subject to change, becoming either less or more stringent at a moment’s notice, should the relevant officials so advise,” Forde said, as she noted the recent spike in positive cases and COVID19 deaths locally.

The COVID19 protocols of the House of Assembly dictate that the maximum number of members permitted in the chamber at any one time is 16; inclusive of 9 government members and six opposition members and the attorney general, save and except in circumstances of the opening of the proceedings and in a division.

Members have been asked to disclose their vaccination status. Members who refuse to disclose their status or are unvaccinated are required to provide a negative PCR test, done no later than 48 hours prior to the sitting.

A speaking booth has now been installed in the Chamber for members’ use with only one member using the booth at a time.

All unvaccinated members, or members who have not revealed their vaccination status and who wish to make a contribution regardless of the length, will be required to use the speaking booth and be double masked.

Meanwhile, vaccinated members are permitted to make contributions from their respective seats and are also permitted to remove their mask for the duration of their contribution, if so desired.

Members who are not making a contribution are to be wearing their face masks at all times.

Unvaccinated members, or members who have not revealed their vaccination status, will be required to double mask at all times while in the chamber.

Other members wishing to double mask or wear a face shield in addition to their mask, are allowed to do so.

“I have specifically brought the foregoing to your attention as these are very new, however, they are not unique to our parliament,” Forde told parliamentarians last Thursday.

She also reminded them that “where the protocols are clearly outlined and the standards have not been met by any particular member, that member will not be allowed to enter and/or remain in the chamber. However, if during the currency of the sitting, a member has satisfied the requirements, as soon as I am made aware of same, I will give the direction for the member to be admitted to the chamber, provided that the maximum number of members allowed to be present in these circumstances is not exceeded”.

Forde also noted that “whereas I have certain powers of discretion where

the proceedings of the House are concerned, I have no such discretion where the complying of or conforming with, where these protocols are concerned. We therefore rely on the relevant authorities for their professional guidance, which I accept.”

She added: “I reiterate, all protocols as circulated apply. No protocol is more important than the other and we are to adhere to them all in the interest of safety, leading our nation’s people by example and in resolute support of the Herculean national effort in the containment of the spread of the virus.”

The Speaker expressed hope that the country and parliamentary operations, can return to a reasonable level of normalcy.

She said however that this can only be accomplished if persons arm themselves with the necessary tools “to defeat the invisible enemy which this virus is”.

“I encourage us all, the citizens of our blessed nation state to pay attention to the advice of the medical officials, to continue to regularly wash our hands, wear our masks properly, keep a safe distance, practice cough and sneeze etiquette, avoid large gatherings and vaccinate,” Forde said.

The new rules, particularly the installation of the speaking booth, created contention at last week’s sitting between the Speaker and some members on the Opposition bench.

While all members on the government side have provided proof of having been vaccinated, some opposition parliamentarians have chosen not to disclose their vaccination status.

The Speaker said during her announcement that she was “very satisfied with the full buy-in of members”.

But having arrived at the sitting with negative PCR test results, some opposition members argued that they should be allowed to stay in their usual seats and make their contributions. Members therefore refused to use the booth to ask the questions listed in their names and these were therefore not answered.

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