Press conference by the Electoral and Boundaries Commission – January 1, 2022. (PMO)

The issue of COVID-19 positive persons exercising their right to vote in the January 19 General Elections was brought to the fore during a virtual press conference, hosted by the Electoral and Boundaries Commission earlier today.

It was convened to update the public on preparations being made to ensure their safety on election day.

Head of the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit, Ronald Chapman, had indicated that persons at the Harrison’s Point Isolation Facility or any other isolation facility, and those in home isolation would be required to stay put on election day.

“We understand that voting is a cornerstone of our democracy. However, we are still in a pandemic and those persons are highly infectious. We wouldn’t want those persons to go out to a polling station where we know that we have all cadres of Barbadians there….

“We still want to be safe, and we are asking persons who know that if they are feeling ill, please stay at home; if you know you have a confirmed diagnosis for COVID and you are in isolation, stay put,” he stated.

Mr. Chapman explained that the Harrison’s Point and other isolation facilities were an extension of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and persons hospitalised “stayed put” during an election.

He added that the Ministry of Health and Wellness recently announced the presence of the Omicron variant in Barbados, and warned that it was even more infectious than the Delta strain.

“So, we have to be able to balance those two. They have to be able to err on the side of continuity of the country as much as possible. I recognise… it is a tough pill to swallow. It is a tough pill to swallow for anyone … who wants to be a part of this process. But we have to be our brother’s keeper….,” he said.

However, Mr. Chapman made it clear that he was not saying people who were COVID-19 positive could not vote.

He gave the assurance that protocols were in place to deal with situations where people arrive at polling districts exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, or were asymptomatic, could be processed quickly to reduce the risk to others.

“But, we’re asking Barbadians please if you know you are ill, if you know you are infectious, please do not come out and share that infection with others,” he said.

However, attorney-at-law and Deputy Chairman of the EBC, Hal Gollop, cautioned that the issue had a “strong legal element” attached, and therefore any decision should be deferred until the Legal Advisor to the Commission expressed an opinion.

“Yes, we’re speaking about COVID, but COVID has brought new things with it which were … not taken into consideration in our laws. I have seen on many occasions, people who could barely hold their head up being brought out from places like district hospitals and other infirmaries to go to vote,” he said.

“So, that question by the young lady is a very relevant question. Because if somebody is, as she pointed out, at Harrison’s [Point], there may be some means of reaching out; having that person put … a mark on the ballot. So I think it goes much further than just passing off a definitive statement that it cannot be done….,” he stated.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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