Fight COVID 19, but no lock-down | Daily News


Fight COVID 19, but no lock-down

Functioning of the country is essential to face challenges:
Spraying disinfectants at Colombo Fort Railaway Station as a preventive measure against the COVID-19. Pictures by Nishanka de Silva
Spraying disinfectants at Colombo Fort Railaway Station as a preventive measure against the COVID-19. Pictures by Nishanka de Silva

On one side we see unassuming airline crews flying to Wuhan, the heart of the COVID 19 epidemic to bring back dozens of our students and families, without giving a second thought to the possibility of getting infected with the deadly disease while carrying out this valiant rescue mission. On the other side we learn about threatening strike action by railway employees, refusing to issue tickets to passengers or to accept parcels.

It is for the nation to decide who are the unselfish heroes risk their lives to save fellow Sri Lankans stranded in a virus-ridden foreign city and, who are the selfish, rotten specimens of human who hold the people and the nation to ransom when the country is faced with a calamity. While doctors, hospital staff and members of armed forces risk their lives saving patients and preventing spread of disease, the railway workers issue threats over an issue which could be easily solved with wearing face masks and gloves.

There is no question that COVID19 is a deadly disease and there are many ignoramuses in our country who found ways and means of evading quarantine after arriving from virus-spreading countries like Italy, South Korea and Germany. It was reported that one person who returned from Sweden knew that he was suffering from the disease, but decided to visit some private medical clinics as he did not want to go to a government hospital where he could be quarantined. It was also reported that hundreds of people who returned from Italy live in Puttalam and Kochcjikade areas. The fear psychosis over Corona virus is mainly due to the presence of such potential COVID19 positives evading health authorities. Hence, the authorities were compelled to impose night curfew in the Puttalam District and Kochchikade in Negombo to assist in the measures being adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country. The curfew was limited to Puttalam, Anamaduwa, Kalpitiya, Karuwalagaswewa, Mundalama, Nawagaththegama, Pallama, Wanathawilluwa, Udappuwa, Norochcholai and in the Saliyawewa police areas in the Puttalam Division and in police areas of Chilaw, Dankotuwa, Koswatta, Madampe, Marawila, Wennappuwa and Arachchikattuwa in the Chilaw Police Division. However, there were no restrictions on public transport and essential services during the curfew.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, while announcing the measures taken to curb COVID19, dismissed the plea of a small section, including the main opposition in dissolved parliament to impose a total lock-down. He said that Government services should not be disrupted under any circumstances, and warned that short-sighted actions could results in the breakdown of all services. “Leaders must work with self-confidence and they should not create unnecessary panic among the public. We have faced challenges before, and overcome them, and for that we need to be united,” the President said, while appealing to the public to act with responsibility.

Relief measures

The government announced several relief measures, including a moratorium on bank interest for six months and a limit of 4% interest on certain loans, as well as a reduction in the prices of selected goods as the country grapples with the spread of the Coronavirus.

As it is evident that all the cases detected in Sri Lanka were related to either foreigners or Sri Lankans returning from COVID19 affected countries, all inbound passenger flights to the country were stopped since yesterday.

Emphasizing that the country must function to face the challenge, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed heads of Government departments and other entities to ensure uninterrupted economic and trading activities as well as other essential services. While we have to take stern measures to control the situation, we cannot let the country to suffer, President said adding that he is willing to take right decisions and requested the cooperation of all parties to implement them.

President elaborated on the steps taken by the Government so far and said that the task force was set up on January 26th, being the first country to establish such a mechanism. Sri Lankans including students in Wuhan and other cities in China were brought back. Several quarantine centres were opened at different parts of the country. Last few days were declared public holidays with the objective of curbing the spread of the virus. The holidays have been given to sectors other than essential services.

President Rajapaksa has instructed the police to find out about the people who are hiding in the country without getting quarantined and make people aware of them. He said the Police, members of the Armed Forces, Public Health Inspectors, and Grama Sevaka officers have been assigned the task of tracing those who had come from high-risk countries but had not been subject to quarantine, and requested them to cooperate with the authorities.

The President also requested those who have returned from overseas to act with responsibility, and for the public to cooperate with the Government.

Without referring to the former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s request to postpone election and reconvene the dissolved parliament, the President said, “the existing situation should not be used to achieve narrow political gains. There is no need to reconvene the Parliament. If there is need to postpone the General Election, the Election Commission has the power to do so”. It was also stressed the importance of limiting parties, various fiestas and public gatherings as much as possible.

Irresponsible social media activists

A stern warning has been extended to irresponsible social media activists who spread rumours and fabricated stories regarding the spread of the virus, with the intention of frightening the general public. The police have already apprehended two such culprits.

Stressing the imperative requirement of government functions to continue uninterrupted, he said, “there is a drought in some parts of the country. We must supply drinking water for them. In some areas, the ‘Yala’ season is starting, and we have to provide fertilizer to the farmers, while in some areas the harvest is ready, and the Government has to ensure the paddy stocks are purchased at the fixed price. We also have to ensure that the vegetables reach the markets, while the cost of living is also curtailed at manageable levels.”

This, the President said, was why he dissolved Parliament at the first possible opportunity and called an election, so that a stable Government can be in place. “After Parliament was dissolved, under the powers vested by the Constitution, I got additional funding, and this is used for essential expenses as well as to face the emergency situation that has arisen in the country,” the President said.

The submission of a resolution to the Parliament by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to seek its approval to clear unpaid bills as at December 31, 2019 and corresponding adjustments to the borrowing limit did not materialize as the opposition was not in agreement to give their support.

Hence, on Wednesday (March 18), a Cabinet paper was presented for seeking funds. Despite constitution provides provisioning for Parliamentary Election, the Contingencies Fund had only Rs. 150 million, whereas the requirement of Election Commission was Rs. 6 billion, in addition to the cash requirement of Rs. 1.2 billion, to settle bills in hand connected with the November 2019 Presidential Election. Several Districts including Dry Zone areas and small holder tea plantation areas have also affected by the drought condition requiring support for well over 200,000 families. Coronavirus posed new risk to the economy requiring government intervention to provide public health services, take all possible preventive measures and provide a wide range of supplies and logistics. Hence, the approval was sought to transfer of Rs. 8 billion, to Contingencies Fund for Elections, gradual release of funds to settle pharmaceutical bills so far Rs.10 billion, release of Rs. 3 billion, to settle fertilizer outstanding bills, release of Rs. 5 billion, to construction contractors with priority being given to small and medium contractors, earmark Rs. 46 billion, to settle elderly deposit interest subsidy which has not paid for 2 years and to release Rs. 500 million, to Corona Control measures.


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