Opposition should support Government in battle against COVID-19 - Amaraweera

The Opposition should not try to take political advantages from the COVID-19 pandemic prevailing in the country and instead should support the government in the fight against it, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated in Parliament yesterday. He was speaking during the second day of the COVID-19 debate.

Amaraweera reminded how the same Opposition tried to hinder the former government led by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the final stages of the war against the LTTE.

“Many of the Opposition MPs raised their concerns regarding the monetary allocations done to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Cabinet Minister, I can assure that the government has enough financial strength to purchase medical equipment, PCR test kits, vaccines, and other supplies needed to mitigate the pandemic; there is no shortage of money to buy vaccines. We initially purchased vaccines from India, but now India itself is facing a shortage. Therefore, it is not possible to purchase vaccines from India,” he said.

“We have now opted for Russia, and the first stock is already in the country. We have received another stock from China, but we have not gotten the necessary approval yet. Over 200 million people, including those in Middle-Eastern countries, have used this Chinese vaccine. Therefore, we should inquire as to why we are yet to receive the approval. Some people ask as to why the private sector is not allowed in the vaccination project,” he added.

“The problem here is that countries do not provide vaccines to private companies. Moreover, the government does not have to charge people money to give this vaccine either. We have enough financial strength to carry out this project. Around 52 countries have not even started a vaccination project. At the initial stage of the third wave, there was a shortage of ICU beds. However, this matter is now resolved,” the minister said.

Minister Amaraweera said, “Many Opposition MPs request to lock down the country. However, when lockdown was imposed before, the Opposition was going around questioning that move as well. We should not politicise this matter. If any lockdown is needed, our health and defence authorities will reach that decision. If we go for a total lockdown, how can people sell their products? How will people purchase the necessary supplies?”

“Countries that have faced the worst stages of the pandemic have not gone for total lockdowns. Therefore, it is obvious that the Opposition is looking forward to take advantage of the situation. The government shall not hesitate to take crucial decisions to save the country from this pandemic, with or without the support of the Opposition. However, we strongly believe that the responsibility of an Opposition is to support the government when it is on the correct path,” he added. Amaraweera said, “It is good to point out our shortcomings; we can accept criticism. However, it is the responsibility of the Opposition to support the government in times of need. This pandemic affects everybody; the Opposition should realise that.”


Government not using COVID-19 funds for other projects - Namal


The government will not use COVID-19 budgetary allocations for any other purposes, Minister Namal Rajapaksa said in Parliament yesterday. He was replying to question raised by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. Premadasa said, “Our sources say that the government has allotted large sums to repair Kfir aircraft that were used in the war. We do agree that these aircraft should be properly maintained. However, considering the pandemic, I would like to request the President and the Prime Minister to use this allocation to purchase equipment necessary to fight it. It has also been revealed that the government has decided to establish gymnasiums across the island to improve the lifestyle of our people. However, if we can use these allocations to fight the pandemic, it would be more worthwhile.”

Rajapaksa said that neither of the projects would be using money from the allocations done to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. “Both these budgetary allocations were done separately.

We are not using money that is allocated to stop the pandemic. The government will not reduce any funds set aside for it.”

‘Cabinet Paper tabled to keep  essential commodity prices stable’

Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena stated in Parliament yesterday that a Cabinet Paper has been tabled to keep the prices of several essential commodities stable for the next three months (May, June, and July).

The minister pointed out that during the months of February, March, and April, prices of several essential commodities, such as lentils and sprats, were kept stable without any shortage.

He pointed out that the CWE was distributing goods islandwide at low prices, and that the daily income of the CWE exceeded Rs.100 million, earning between Rs.300 and Rs. 400 million per day for the first time in its history from April 1 to 13.

He said that for the first time in history, due to lockdowns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s economic growth dropped to -3.6, adding that if the country is locked down any further, those engaged in daily-wage employment would face grave hardships. He added that with the closure of the Dambulla Economic Centre last week, farmers were distressed as they were unable to supply their produce.

Dr. Gunawardena also pointed out that there is a risk of commodity prices rising in the country due to the reduction in the supply chain in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. He called on the Opposition to put aside political differences and help save the country from the plague, and to help move the economy forward without any more lockdowns.


Parliament appoints Select Committee for Election Law Reforms


Parliament appointed a Select Committee yesterday to identify appropriate reforms for Election Law and the Electoral System, and to recommend necessary amendments.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced that the Select Committee would be chaired by Leader of the House and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

The 14 Members of the Committee include Nimal Siripala de Silva, Prof. G.L. Peiris, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Douglas Devananda, Wimal Weerawansa, M.U.M. Ali Sabry PC, Jeevan Thondaman, Anura Dissanayake, Kabir Hashim, R.M. Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Mano Ganesan, M.A. Sumanthiran, Madhura Withanage, and Sagara Kariyawasam.

‘Police, Military working tirelessly to prevent spread of COVID-19’

Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Rtd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekara told Parliament yesterday that Police and the Security Forces are working tirelessly for the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, just as they did during the war.

However, referring to Field Marshal MP Sarath Fonseka, he said it was sad to note that a former military commander was making statements against the military.

MP Fonseka, raising a Point of Order, said that if anyone, be it military or otherwise, have committed murder, they should be punished. Minister Weerasekara asked MP Fonseka “not to be a hero” by making such statements “without knowing the whole issue”. He accused Fonseka of making false statements without any provocation, because “he is under the diaspora dollars”.

Weerasekara also noted that the majority of the hard work pertaining to the COVID-19 operations are being carried out by the police and the military. “Moreover, the military is engaged in maintaining quarantine facilities and preventing Indian fishermen from entering Sri Lankan waters,” he added.


Long-term plan needed to prevent COVID-19 - Dr. Amarasuriya

A scientific and structured long-term plan is necessary to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic, NPP MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya stated in Parliament yesterday.

Joining the debate on the pandemic, Dr. Amarasuriya said that the government should not adopt ad hoc plans to reduce the virus’ spread.

She said, “This is not a war, but a health crisis. We need to address it as that. Even the way we speak about the topic should not have a military tone into it.”

“We need to improve and enhance our research sector to carry out more research regarding COVID-19. It is important to provide correct information to the public, and that credible sources provide information to them. We cannot go that far by manipulating the number of PCR tests carried out in the country,” she added.

“We cannot increase or decrease the number of tests according to our whims. We need a long-term plan to curtail this pandemic. It should be a scientifically-approved, structured mitigation plan. We cannot curtail the pandemic just with vaccination alone. We need to have multiple methods to stay safe from this virus,” Dr. Amarasuriya said.


Government handling pandemic in responsible manner - Kanaka

Company Estate Reforms State Minister Kanaka Herath said that the government has taken on the responsibility of dealing with the third wave of the pandemic just as they handled the first and second waves.

Joining the Parliamentary debate on the current situation in the country, he said, “As a responsible government, we have taken steps to order the required vaccines from the manufacturing countries to ensure we don’t face any shortage.”

Moreover, he said that the Opposition is requesting the government to go for a lockdown, rather than raising issues about farmers and their plight.

The state minister said there are around 800 to 1,000 patients at a number of hospitals.

‘Health sector toiling to curb COVID-19’

Pharmaceutical Regulation State Minister Prof. Channa Jayasumana told Parliament yesterday that the health sector has worked tirelessly during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that the Opposition only found fault with the government and blamed them during the two-day debate regarding the matter.

“According to MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, the government has been negligent about the recent developments regarding the pandemic. I disagree with his statement. We tested all the samples and did everything we had to do with regard to the cases detected on April 8.”

He said that currently, the highest number of infections are attributed to the British strain of the virus. “The British strain is responsible for a worldwide spike in COVID-19 cases. Moreover, we are doing our best to prevent the Indian variant from entering the country. Former Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has levelled false allegations against us, claiming that there was a shortage of medicine in the country. I challenge him to prove his statement. There is no such shortage.” Responding to Dr. Senaratne’s allegations that all citizens of the country would not receive the vaccine, Prof. Jayasumana said that there are certain age groups that are recommended to receive the vaccine. Meanwhile, health sources said vaccinations with the Sputnik V vaccine will begin from Gothatuwa today.