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Senators demand road map for ending pandemic emergency

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Robin Tucker

Numerous senators weighed in on the debate about the Government’s proposal to extend Covid-19 public heath emergency measures.

The regulations, which make the wearing of masks mandatory in certain places such as health facilities and on public transport, were set to expire at the end of this month.

The Government sought through the Public Health (Covid-19) amendment (No 5) Regulations 2022 to extend them until the end of September.

While the extension was approved, Opposition senators questioned under what conditions the Government would end the public health emergency.

Robin Tucker, health spokeswoman in the Senate, asked: “Are there any benchmarks that the Government may be looking for that would trigger the potential for us to stop extending these orders?

“I recognise that we are still in a Covid environment. However, we are told constantly that we have to learn to live with Covid. It has been debated that if there became a pressing need to reinstate these orders it could be done very easily and very quickly. It sends a confusing message.”

Ben Smith

Ben Smith, Opposition Senate leader, said: “I think it would help everyone in the Senate and community if we had a better idea of what impact Covid is having on the community right now … Is there an end in sight?

“If we are going to continue to have Covid sickness for years to come, we can’t stay in emergency powers for ever. What is it that we are looking for?”

Senator Douglas DeCouto, for the Opposition, said it appeared the Government had no such plan in place. He said: “It can be true that we ought to have the order in place now but it can also be true that we should expect our government to have a plan as to when it should go away.”

Senator Michelle Simmons, the Senate vice-president, backed the extension, saying: “We are still in a pandemic.”

She added: “We need to be aware of the fact that these emergency orders are not taken lightly. I recognise that government needs to be in a position to be able to take action — the Governor needs to take action — to protect the whole community. This is not anyone’s preference but I see it as something that is necessary.”

Joan Dillas-Wright, the president of the Senate

Joan Dillas-Wright, the president of the Senate, also backed the extension, saying: “It is not a decision that is made lightly. It is made with discussions with the health officials of this island.”

Arianna Hodgson, the Junior Health Minister, said it was “unfair” to suggest that the Government did not have a plan, saying that the situation changed every day.