By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Security Minister Marvin Dames said the Bahamian people can be assured COVID-19 protocols will be strictly enforced on Election Day amid concerns about further virus spread now that quarantined people are allowed to vote.
Mr Dames, who has responsibility for elections, spoke to reporters after the Office of the Prime Minister announced on Sunday quarantined people will be permitted to leave their isolation to take part in tomorrow’s voting.
The statement also came days after the advanced poll was held, where thousands gathered and stood in long lines in the blistering heat with little to no social distancing seen at many voting locations.
Yesterday Mr Dames also said officials are doing all they can to ensure voters remain safe on Election Day and added the public can expect several changes due to lessons learned from last week’s early vote.
“It has always been our intention to treat the environment as if every voter is quarantined and that’s our intention,” Mr Dames said before going to a Cabinet meeting. “I mean it didn’t work perfectly through the advance poll but you can expect some changes coming to Election Day.
“…I met with the Parliamentary Commissioner and his team yesterday (Monday) as well as the top brass of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Defence Force and they’re currently going through a series of debriefings and briefings and you could expect come Election Day that you will see any number of those issues that you saw at the advanced poll rectified.”
Last week, Health Minister Renward Wells told reporters health officials had made recommendations on how people in quarantine for COVID exposure or those with the virus could be allowed to vote.
Dr Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases Programme at the Ministry of Health, also recently said it would be safer for people in this category to vote online or in a “remote” forum.
Asked why the government did not follow those recommendations, Mr Dames replied: “Well, again, I don’t have the benefit of those before me but our intention has always been as a government that we want to ensure that every registered voter is given the opportunity to exercise his or her rights during the election period and every step is being taken to ensure that that happens in the safest possible way in this environment and we have to taken steps to ensure that. We’ll see how it works out come Election Day.”
Mr Dames was asked if he was concerned about low voter turnout due to public fears about contracting the virus at the polls.
“Well, you may have quarantine voters among you right here, right now,” he said. “Quarantine voters are all around us. You don’t know who they are and again, our intention is to ensure that we go into assuming that every voter is quarantined and so we’re going to take extra steps and additional steps.
“The Parliamentary Registration Department along with the police and defence force will take extra steps come Election Day to ensure that voters are masked, and they are keeping their distance and that they’re sanitised.”
In a statement released Monday, the Parliamentary Registration Department outlined several health and safety protocols it plans to utilise on Thursday in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
The department said election workers were encouraged to be vaccinated or at least have begun the vaccination process.
Additionally, all voters, poll workers and election agents are required to always wear a face mask while in the polling station. The masks should cover the nose and mouth properly.
The statement also noted that hand sanitising stations will be available throughout the polling site, especially upon entry to polling divisions and individual workstations should be at a distance of three to six feet.