The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate have laid down new rules for unvaccinated parliamentarians.
In an announcement at the start of yesterday’s sitting, Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George said unvaccinated Members will be required to double-mask at all times while in the parliamentary precincts and in the Chamber. In such case, the outer mask must be black.
She said other Members wishing to double-mask and Members wishing to wear a face shield in addition to their black mask may do so.
The Speaker said all unvaccinated Members who wish to make a contribution, regardless of the length, will be required to utilise the speaking booths.
She said as more data becomes available on the numbers of vaccinated Members, there will be an ongoing evaluation of risks, with a view to adopting a path to normalcy.
“In an effort to assess our risks, I had previously requested the Leader of the House and the Opposition Whip to provide data related to the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated Members.
“Although I am in receipt of some data, the data available is not yet sufficient to determine full(y), the new measures which can be considered and adopted on a path to normalcy,” she said.
She said “in the absence of full information regarding the number of Members vaccinated”, the current stipulation that the number of Members in the Chamber be limited to eight Government and six Opposition, remains.
For the public gallery a maximum of five media personnel, all of whom must be vaccinated and masked, will be allowed.
All other previous Covid protocols remain in force.
Annisette-George stressed that no Member—unvaccinated or vaccinated—was being barred from the parliamentary complex and/or from the Chamber, but measures were being put in place to protect all Members and staff in the execution of their constitutional obligations.
The Speaker noted that in many quarters of the world, including in Trinidad and Tobago, citizens expressed fatigue with the various measures introduced in response to the virus, and that the emergence of several vaccines may have fed a groundswell for a return to normalcy.
Noting that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had advised that vaccination offered a path to normalcy, the Speaker said it was her hope for the return to normalcy of parliamentary operations.
Kangaloo: No senator
is being denied entry
Meanwhile, Senate President Christine Kangaloo, in a similar announcement in the Senate, said unvaccinated senators, and senators who have not declared their vaccination status, will be required to double-mask and use the speaking booths.
She said a decision about increasing the numbers in the Chamber will be forthcoming, but noted that it was being held up by the lack of information.
“That decision could have been made had we been in possession of all the facts re Members’ vaccination status. A decision will also have to be made about whether Members who have either declared that they are unvaccinated or who have not declared their vaccination status, should be allowed to speak in the speaking booth with or without a mask or double-mask,” Kangaloo stated.
“At this time, some Members (senators) have informed us that they are vaccinated, some have informed us that they are not vaccinated, and others have not informed us of their status one way or the other,” she said.
She said now that vaccines were widely available, an important element in the ability to increase the numbers of Members who can remain in the Chamber at any one time, is the information on the extent to which Members have been vaccinated.
“Such information will enable us to carry out the required health and safety assessments and to better understand and manage the level of risk associated with increasing the numbers of Members who can remain in the Chamber at any one time,” Kangaloo said.
She said the importance and the usefulness of this information was conveyed in a meeting held earlier this week with the Leader of Government Business, the Leader of Opposition Business, the coordinator of the Independent Bench, the vice-president and the acting Clerk of the Senate.
Kangaloo said these are serious decisions to be made in an increasingly challenging time.
She asked Members to bear in mind “that the major concern as we return to this Chamber is the protection of each and every one of us, including Members who may choose to be unvaccinated or Members who, due to medical vulnerabilities, cannot be vaccinated”.
Like the Speaker, Kangaloo stressed that there has been no decision to exclude any Member from the precincts or the Chamber and there had been no decision to exclude unvaccinated Members from the Chamber.
“All that the aforementioned measures seek to do is to assist in the protection of Members,” she said.