COVID-19 forces parliament to shut down
Parliament is expected to remain closed for the next three weeks due to rising cases of COVID-19 in the House.
The number of infections increased to 17 legislators and more than 150 parliamentary staff in the last few weeks.
Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, who announced the closure on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, indicated that they could resume on March 2, 2021, depending on prevailing conditions.
However, the Appointments Committee of Parliament is allowed to meet and screen ministerial nominees by President Nana Akufo-Addo, who are expected to form the next government.
The vetting is scheduled to commence on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.
“Accordingly, with the exception of Hon. Members of the Appointments Committee, the Clerk to the Committee and other supporting staff who will be engaged in the task of considering the President’s nominees for ministerial appointments, the House will take a break as from tomorrow, Wednesday, 10 February 2021 to Tuesday, 2 March, 2021,” the Speaker stated.
What prompted the suspension of sitting?
On February 4, 2021, Parliament said some 15 MPs and about 50 parliamentary staff had tested positive for the contagion.
This was after a screening exercise in collaboration with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.
Despite the arrangement, some MPs failed to avail themselves for the testing.
However, some legislators who had tested positive refused to isolate and seek treatment but continued daily activities in the chamber of parliament.
Consequently, the Speaker directed that “only members of Parliament and members of staff who are needed for the business of the House on those days will be allowed in the precincts of Parliament”.
The Speaker further threatened to disclose the identities of the MPs who were flouting the COVID-19 guidelines.
In a statement read on his behalf by the first deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei Owusu indicated that should the MPs fail to “withdraw from the precinct of Parliament” he will be forced to name them for everyone to know their Covid-19 status.
But some legislators including MP for South Dayi Rockson Dafeamekpor and MP for Sekondi Andrew Egyapa Mercer said it would be inappropriate for the Speaker to take such an action.
Parliament subsequently slashed sitting days from four to two.
The House further decided that not more than one-third of members would attend sittings in the chamber at any given time.
Calls for shutdown
The development resulted in some MPs advocating a temporal suspension of sitting and parliament has obliged.
The Member of Parliament (MP) for Builsa South, Dr Clement Apaak has posted in a Facebook message that, “We don’t know the IDs of those positive, who still attended Parliament. Shut down Parliament, all MPs and staff, self-isolate. Get us tested after 14 days, then we resume if negative”.
Following the confirmed cases, health experts, and Civil Society Organizations including the Africa Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA) called on the leadership of Parliament to shut down Parliament to prevent further spread of the virus.
This would not be the first time MPs have been reported to carry the infection.
In March 2020, some MPs tested positive for the virus after a similar medical screening was conducted in the legislature.
At the time, two lawmakers were reported to have tested positive for the virus, and they were asked to isolate.
13 parliamentary service staff were reported to have also tested positive for the virus.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Ghana?
With an average of over 700 infections daily, the latest update by the Ghana Health Service indicates 6,938 active cases as of February 6.
A total of 482 have perished due to the virus with 65,583 recoveries/discharge.
There are 73,003 confirmed cases with 29 patients in critical condition.
Those with severe cases battling for their lives are 111.