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MPs rubber-stamp state of emergency

A state of emergency to fight the Covid-19 crisis was rubber-stamped by the House of Assembly yesterday.

MPs unanimously approved the measure, to run to 6am on April 18, after John Rankin, the Governor, signed it into law last week.

David Burt, the Premier, told the house “the people of Bermuda awoke to more than an unseasonably cool north wind” on Saturday as a state of emergency was declared on the island for the first time in more than four decades.

The Premier said the state of emergency had ordered through constitutional provisions that are “rarely read, never mind invoked”.

He added that the 24-hour shelter-in-place order had curtailed “the most basic of freedoms — that of freedom of movement and the freedom of assembly”.

However, Mr Burt said that “Covid-19 has torn apart families, shredded economies and strained healthcare systems to the point of breaking” around the globe.

He warned that a string of positive test results “tell us that Covid-19 is here and it is not going away”.

Mr Burt said: “The proclamation of emergency is the only vehicle within our existing laws that permits this Government to take the action required to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading through what is commonly referred to as community transmission.”

Mr Burt told the House that “we did not wait and we have intervened” and that party politics had been set aside to deal with the crisis.

He said: “The threat is real.”

Mr Burt said that “unchecked community transmission” of the coronavirus would lead to the island's hospital being overwhelmed.

He added: “There would certainly be wide-scale deaths.”

Mr Burt said government assistance to those left unemployed by the pandemic had given people “a bridge to see them through”.

He added: “I wish to assure the people of Bermuda that in the midst of managing this crisis, their government is also focused on rebuilding.

“The manner in which we reconstruct this economy will be unorthodox. Occasionally, politicians use the slogan ‘no more business as usual' as a means by which to signal a mantra of change.

“In the post Covid-19 Bermuda, and indeed the world, that will be no slogan — it will be a means of survival.”

The Premier said today's business was administrative, since the emergency proclamation came into effect for 14 days when it was issued last week by Mr Rankin, unless a resolution was passed by both Houses.

He called on people to channel their efforts towards “the renewal of the Bermuda we love and call home”.

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, thanked Mr Burt for his collaboration.

Mr Cannonier told the House: “In these extraordinary times, the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetimes, we must take extraordinary decisions — difficult decisions that will have profound implications for everyone.”

He thanked health and frontline workers, and also praised staff at essential businesses, particularly grocery store workers, for supplying the public with necessities over the shelter in place restrictions.

Mr Cannonier said: “I have said before that this is a war and one that Bermuda cannot afford to lose.

“It is in that spirit that we have offered support to the Premier and his government and it is why we support this curfew. We must do everything we can to stop this virus spreading.

“The consequences for every man, woman and child of not doing so are too huge to contemplate.”

But Mr Cannonier questioned why the stay-at-home restriction order had been set at two weeks.

He asked: “Given that the confirmed cases rose from two to 37 within a three-week period, and considering that we have a significant number of people returning home who have been exposed to hotbeds of infection, has this been included in the model?”

Mr Burt said that advice from the Chief Medical Officer suggested that “anything less than 14 days would not be effective”.

The motion for the emergency restrictions was approved by the House at 10.30am.

Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House, said he had requested only a quorum of 14 MPs for the special sitting.

However, Mr Lister added: “All 36 members have shown their desire to be present today.”

He said some MPs had been in the chamber and others who attended by “other means” had been listed as present.

Mr Lister told the public: “Stay put. Each of us.”

• To read the statements from the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”.

A war Bermuda cannot afford to lose: Opposition leader Craig Cannonier backing the government effort against Covid-19 (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published April 07, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 07, 2020 at 8:59 am)

MPs rubber-stamp state of emergency

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