The wearing of masks will not be a precondition for entering the polling station or the voting booth in the August 10 general election.
This was confirmed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday during a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.
“Voting with a mask would be encouraged,” he said.
However, no one will be denied the right to vote if they refuse to wear a mask.
He said masks will be available at the polling station for those who want to comply with the advice to wear masks.
“I have heard it said that if a person does want to comply there is no law to make them comply and it is your constitutional right to vote. Nobody is arguing that. We know that there are people in this country... who, even if it is beneficial, they would do otherwise.
“We expect that citizens being told that this threat is facing us—and there may be very good reason for someone coming to the polling station and saying I can’t wear a mask because of X, Y and Z—but nobody is going to force a mask on your face or deny you the right to vote,” said Rowley.
Asked how the congregation rules (of groups of no more than ten) would apply on Election Day, the prime minister said while there could not be groups of more than ten, if persons were spaced out like in a line, then they are not in a group. He said once the spacing protocol in the polling lines is observed, then there is no problem.
“So, there would not be a negative effect on the carrying-out of the election process,” he said, referring to the new congregation rule.
“You come in a line, you stand six feet from the next person, and the line could be there all day and you keep up that distancing and, of course, we are encouraging people to wear a mask,” he said.
No observer mission
“We have not considered making the mask-wearing mandatory because it is difficult to enforce...so, we are still asking people: if you are going out or if you are in(doors) and interacting with people at close quarters, that you wear a mask.”
Stating the Government had distributed 500,000 masks, he said there should be a lot of masks out there.
Rowley also announced that no observer missions would be coming to T&T for the general election.
He said the Commonwealth said it was not in a position to bear the costs of quarantining persons. He said he had heard it said that T&T should offer to pay the costs.
But, he said, “if you are allowed to pay your own judge, the findings of the judge would then become the issue—that the judge is making that finding because you have been paying for his lunch”.
He said the Government understood the Commonwealth position because it had been reported in the news that the Commonwealth Secretariat has had its budget significantly reduced because of issues in that secretariat.
The UK, Australia and New Zealand have withdrawn funding.
With respect to Caricom, he said the Caricom Secretariat would ask the various countries to identify persons for an observer team when a request for an observer mission is made.
“So far, the secretariat has only got three countries which had been willing to identify persons, and the secretariat’s position in Georgetown is that you would need far more than three persons to do any meaningful observation of the elections,” the prime minister said.
He said the required number is in the order of ten to 12 persons.
He said the Government had been prepared to make special quarantine arrangements, but the Caricom Secretariat was unable to find people who were willing to travel and get involved in quarantining.
Rowley stated many of the persons who would like to comment on elections had permanent representatives in this country. He cited the UK High Commissioner, Canadian High Commissioner and Indian High Commissioner who are persons who can report on what goes on in T&T, and do so on an ongoing basis.
He said he did not expect the lack of official election observers to hamper the conduct of the election.
Reiterating that the Government would have been happy to have election observers, the prime minister said “2020 is not a normal year”.