By Makeida Antonio
In an effort to clear up any confusion by members of the public, the government has provided clarity on the legal implication of the impending removal of the State of Emergency (SOE).
While giving a legal interpretation of the December 23 ending of the SOE, Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin said that the Public Health Act and the State of Emergency instituted by constitutional powers are mutually exclusive.
“We had to invoke the State of Emergency under the Constitution to have curfews. Under the Public Health Act, you cannot have curfews under that Act. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land guarantees certain rights,” the AG told Observer yesterday.
He added further that the pandemic would have affected certain freedoms protected by the Constitution, and as a result, the Public Health Act does not have the legal power to restrict these rights afforded to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
“The freedom of assembly, the freedom of movement and those rights cannot and will not be found under the Public Health Act and that is the reason why that was done; to preserve the rights of the people under the Constitution.
Benjamin reiterated that while the 11 pm to 5 am curfew under the SOE is scheduled to be lifted next month, existing Covid-19 measures will remain law under the Public Health Act.
“The handling of the disease can be done effectively under the Public Health Act so these are two separate and distinct things. Under the Public Health Act, we couldn’t curfew and say ‘you cannot gather here, you cannot gather there’ and so on.
“What’s going to happen now, once of the State of Emergency is removed and the curfew is also removed, then the wearing of masks, the washing of hands and social distancing will continue under the Public Health Act,” he stated.
The Christmas season is usually filled with moments spent gathering with friends and family and Benjamin believes that it is in the best interest of residents to socialize with persons only if they are vaccinated.
“Remember it is you, each of you, all of us, must work together to fight this pandemic. You have a responsibility to make certain that you wear your mask, that you social distance and that you sanitise yourself. You must make over the Christmas vacation that you invite persons to your home once you know that they are vaccinated. The records clearly show that the persons who are affected mostly by this pandemic are persons who are not vaccinated,” Benjamin suggested.
Meanwhile, the AG is cautioning residents to secure their properties and work along with police during the festive season.
“The police will continue to patrol as normal and of course we are expecting the public to be responsible in their dealings and cooperate with the police as normal before the State of Emergency,” Benjamin noted.