Sri Lanka will reimpose selective lockdown restrictions from Sunday to restrict large gatherings after recording its biggest daily surge in coronavirus infections — most found in citizens repatriated last week from Kuwait. The island nation on Tuesday lifted a shutdown on the capital and a neighboring district, two weeks after easing it in other parts of the nation. But after more than 250 returnees from Kuwait were found to be infected with coronavirus, authorities decided to impose lockdowns on days when crowds were likely to form — including the planned funeral of a popular minister. The health ministry said that out of 460 Sri Lankans who returned from Kuwait this week, some 252 had tested positive for coronavirus. All the returnees were being held in quarantine.
Officials said the lockdown will apply on Sunday (31), the day of the funeral of tea plantation trade union leader and government minister Arumugam Thondaman, who died Tuesday. Tens of thousands of mourners from his Ceylon Workers Congress party had been expected to attend.
It will then be lifted until Thursday, when it will be imposed again for two days to coincide with a Buddhist holiday. Under lockdown restrictions, no-one is allowed to leave home unless they are involved in essential services. Officials said new cases of coronavirus were also found at a navy camp outside Colombo. Some 771 sailors and their immediate family members have so far tested positive from the facility, out of a nationwide total of 1,469 cases.
Ten people have died from the virus, including a woman who returned from Kuwait last week. Officials said they were scaling back repatriations in order not to overwhelm facilities. “It is not easy to increase quarantine capacity overnight,” government spokesman Bandula Gunawardana told reporters.
“We are also building hospital capacity to bring back more Sri Lankans who are stranded abroad,” he said.
Some 41,000 of around 1.5 million Sri Lankans employed abroad have registered with authorities asking to return home. (AFP)
(AP) Sri Lanka's independent elections commission said Wednesday it cannot hold parliamentary elections on June 20 as planned because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Saliya Peiris, a lawyer representing the commission, told the Supreme Court that the elections can only be held 10 weeks after health authorities declare conditions are safe.
Several former lawmakers and civil groups had complained to the court that their fundamental rights were breached by the commission''s earlier decision to hold the election on June 20.
The election was originally set for April 25 but the commission rescheduled it for June. Peiris said the commission chose that date expecting the country''s lockdown would be lifted by the end of this month.
The petitioners also asked the court to annul President Gotabaya Rajapaksa''s move on March 2 to dissolve Parliament and reinstate the old Parliament because the constitution says the country cannot run without a legislature for more than three months.
Parliament''s term was to end in September but the president has the power to dissolve it six months ahead of schedule, and also to reconvene it in an emergency. The court has not yet said whether it will hear that case.
Sri Lanka has reported 1,027 coronavirus cases including nine deaths. The court was told that candidates campaign mostly through public meetings and canvassing door-to-door, methods that are not conducive for social distancing.
More than twenty trade unions in Sri Lanka have heavily criticized the government for neglecting its duty by not bringing back tens of thousands of workers stranded in the Middle East amid the Covid-19 scare.
The trade unions have highlighted that Kuwait alone has 19,000 workers who are forced to live under worsening conditions after their visa had expired. They remind that it is the duty of the government them home.
“A formal process should be initiated to bring the workers stranded in the middle east to the country and the government avoiding taking such action by claiming lack of facilities is disgusting,” said a joint statement by the 22 trade unions.
The government has announced that about 41,000 Sri Lankans abroad have expressed their willingness to return to Sri Lanka.
“H.E the President has instructed to pay special attention to the Sri Lankans in the Middle East and the Maldives in regard to repatriation to Sri Lanka in future. However, we have to inform that, they have to be repatriated systematically,” said co cabinet spokesman Dr. Ramesh Pathirana a week ago.
The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been temporarily closed after five of its staff members tested positive for Covid-19, the ministry of foreign affairs announced.
The embassy noted that they will not be able to answer any calls right away due to the large volume of calls but assured that they will call back "within 24 hours."
The Finance Ministry is now preparing another 3-month Vote on Account commencing from June 2020, the third for the year, to raise the necessary finances from the Consolidated Fund, Treasury Secretary S.R Attygalle said.
The money will be used for uninterrupted government services, COVID-19 eradication activities and holding of Parliamentary elections.
There is special provision given under existing laws to withdraw money under the warrant of the President when the budget for the new financial year is not presented or the elections are underway and when a caretaker government is in place,he disclosed.
This procedure is being followed under the present unforeseen circumstance for the second time during the current financial year; he said adding that in a similar manner two Votes on Accounts were presented in 2010 as well.
Authorisation of the President will be given for expenditure from the Consolidated Fund pending approval of the new Parliament, he disclosed.
This will be in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (3) of Article 150 of the Constitution.
Mr. Attygalle noted that income has come down in April due to the lock down of economic activity while revenue collection of relevant authorities dwindled to a very low level.
Revenue collection of Excise Department and Motor Traffic Department came to a standstill while non tax income was marginal last month.
He noted that income and expenditure estimates of the new Vote on Account have not been finalised as yet.
According to provisional estimates of the proposed, new Vote on Account, a total provision of around Rs. 1.2 to 1.4 trillion will be provided for government expenditure comprising both recurrent and capital expenditures.
The European Union (EU) has offered a grant of Euro 3.5 million to resurrect the beleaguered tourism industry during a discussion with Minister of Industrial Exports, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Aviation Prasanna Ranatunga.
EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka Denis Chaibi requested Minister Ranatunga to submit the requisite proposals which will match up to the grant which was made at the meeting between the two.
The EU said that the grant was a measure of goodwill of the EU to resurrect the already beleaguered Sri Lankan tourism industry
The government plans to increase tourist arrivals to seven million and to increase the foreign exchange revenue to US$ 10 Billion by 2025, Minister Ranatunga added.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has requested India to provide a special USD 1.1 billion currency swap facility to boost the country''s draining foreign exchange reserves in view of the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The President's Office said that the new request is in addition to the USD 400 million amount Sri Lanka has sought from the Indian government under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) framework.
The Sri Lankan President made the request during his telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, it said.
Modi discussed the situation arising out of the COVID-19 crisis with Rajapaksa and said that India will continue to support â€œour close maritime neighbourâ€ in dealing with the pandemic and its economic impact.
The two leaders agreed to accelerate Indian-assisted development projects in the country and also strengthen investment links.
Rajapaksa''s office said: â€œIf the government of India could provide USD 1.1 billion special SWAP facility to top up USD 400 million under the SAARC facility, it would enormously help Sri Lanka in dealing with our foreign exchange issues.
Sri Lanka had previously asked India for a USD 400 million foreign exchange swap under the SAARC arrangements.
Rajapaksa also asked the prime minister to expedite investments in Colombo port's east terminal.
According to President's media division, Rajapaksa asked Modi to "direct those responsible from India''s side to expedite construction of the east terminal of the Colombo port as soon as possible."
Facing issues in its foreign exchange during the coronavirus pandemic, Sri Lanka has taken drastic measures to keep its foreign reserves and currency stability. Import restrictions announced are meant to stop the flow of foreign reserves.
The Opposition has accused the government of printing money to create liquidity in markets.
India has sent four consignments of essential life-saving medicines and medical supplies weighing over 25 tonnes to Sri Lanka in the last few weeks as a goodwill gesture. PTI
Sri Lanka’s president has embarked on a journey towards dictatorship by appointing ex-military brass to top government posts, alleges a veteran leftist.
Leader of the Nava Sama Samaja Party says that some retired military officers are prepared to perform any illegal act to serve a Fascist rule in order to continue in power.
“Therefore, there is a bureaucracy that is ever ready to say yes sir to anything, create laws, adjust laws, shorten laws and chop the law,” said Vickramabahu Karunaratne.
Denouncing the appointing of former military commanders to positions of authority by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Professor Karunaratne told journalists that the first Rajapaksa rule faced international condemnation for militarization.
His statement comes in the wake of questions raised about the president choosing retired military generals to run the country.
President Rajapaksa’s inner circle in Sri Lanka’s top administration is “an alarming collection of alleged perpetrators of war crimes and bureaucrats” according to the damning report by International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) led by acclaimed rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka.
The vocational training program targeting 5,000 prison inmates that was launched in February at the Welikada Prison will be carried out even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the Avant Garde Group said.
The "project on prison inmate rehabilitation through technical skills development for better social integration and employability", the brainchild of Avant Garde Chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi, was proposed to the government early this year with the intention of combating the drug menace and minimizing the number of crimes being committed in the country.
"The main aim of the project was to rehabilitate inmates through technical skills development and the assurance of gainful employment locally and overseas. The endeavour was aimed at minimizing crime in the country and to prevent individuals from ruining their lives due to impulsive acts. In turn, their contributions could be used for the greater prosperity and development of the country," the Avant Garde Group said.
Despite the global setback suffered due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the difficulties in continuing with a programme of this magnitude, Avant Garde reiterated that they were "prepared to overcome any challenge to move forward with the project for the development and prosperity of our motherland."
5000 loaves of bread!
During the last 45 days when the people in the country were badly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, Avant Garde together with the Prisons Department launched a pilot project at the Welikada Prison where the inmates participated in a programme to bake 5,000 loaves of bread each day to be distributed free of charge among the poor and destitute.
"The success of the pilot project has further strengthened our “Project to eliminate the drug menace and other social ills through the rehabilitation of prison inmates by developing technical skills,” the Avant Garde Group said.
The Chairman, Board of Directors, representatives of the Management and Unions of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) and Mobitel handed over a cheque to the value of Rs 50 million to president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, today at the Presidential Secretariat.
SLT & Mobitel, the Nation’s leading telecommunication solution providers continue to support the government of Sri Lanka in its commendable efforts in managing the present crisis.
Other than for this cash donation, the group has come forward to pioneer and lead numerous technological solutions exceeding Rs 350 plus million, in order to help restart economic activities in key sectors of the country.
Working without an interruption, SLT and Mobitel take pride in being the infallible team connecting the Nation through data, voice and mobile solutions during the recent lockdown and curfew periods.
‘Itukama’, the fund-raising initiative for the COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund established by president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to support and strengthen activities aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 was launched with a donation of Rs. 100 million from the President’s Fund.
Sri Lanka’s attorney general’s department should bear the responsibility of actively seeking help from Facebook to identify those who incited anti Muslim hatred through social media two years ago, says a former parliamentarian.
Following an investigation, Facebook.Inc apologized for its role in the deadly 2018 anti-Muslim riots that rocked the highlands.
The report on Sri Lanka details Facebook’s failure to respond to almost a decade of warnings about misuse of its platform from groups within the country.
In response to the social media giant, former government MP Mujiber Rahuman says that the attorney general is duty bound to take legal action against those who broadcast hate speech to incite racist violence.
He says that many who were physically involved in the riots have already been arrested and charged.
“Now is the time for the attorney general’s department to find those who spread racist ideology that fueled the violence,” said Mujiber Rahuman.
He further added that some in the present government were also accused of inciting the violence and hoped that the AGs department will continue with bringing the perpetrators to book.
Leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) and former minister Rishad Bathiudeen together with several former MPs have filed a Fundamental Rights Petition in the Supreme Court on Thursday (14) challenging the health authorities’ decision to cremate all coronavirus victims including those suspected to have died from it.
In his petition, ACMC Leader Bathiudeen has cited the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Director General of Health Services of the Ministry of Health, the Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services and the Attorney General as respondents.
“The Petitioners are making the present application both in their own personal interest as well as in the public interest” said ACMC Leader Bathiudeen in his filing and added:
“Since 28-03-2020, there have been occasions when the remains of a person who died in the context of the virus has been disposed of by the Government of Sri Lanka in exclusion of the right of the deceased or his or her relatives right to choose a mode of disposal of the cadaver in the context of the virus. Up to the date of this Petition, there have been nine (09) deaths reported from Covid-19," he added.
Bathiudeen pointed oiut that there has been some uncertainty as to whether the 9th person who died in fact died of Covid-19.
In the petition, he further states that:
"A person who has died of the COVID-19 virus could either be buried or cremated; World Health Organization (WHO) published interim guidance for the Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 virus is an acute respiratory illness caused by the said virus which predominantly affects the lungs;
The virus is transmitted between people through droplets, fomites and close contact, with possible spread through faces.
Unlike in the case of hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, Marburg, and Cholera dead bodies are generally not infectious.
In pandemic influenzas such the current pandemic, only the lungs are infectious and that too only if handled improperly during an autopsy.
I state that in March 2020, the Ministry of Health published Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 suspected and confirmed patients.
Chapter 7 of these MoH Guidelines dealing with ‘Autopsy practice and disposal of a dead body’ up until its third version published on 27-03-2020, provided that a body related to death either confirmed (Category I) or suspected (Category II & III) of COVID-19, should be disposed within 24 hours (preferably within 12 hours) according to the following guidance;
a) The body should never be washed under any circumstance;
b) Cremation or burial is allowed;
c) However, burial is allowed provided that all steps to prevent contact with body [are] ensured
However, on 31-03-2020, immediately after the second Covid-19 death who is identified as a person of the Islamic faith, the Ministry of Health without any notice suddenly amended the MoH Guidelines and the fourth version with the amendments provided that a body related to death either confirmed (Category I) or suspected (Category II & III) of COVID-19, should be exclusively cremated within 24 hours (preferably within 12 hours).
To my utter surprise and dismay, on or about 11-04-2020 the 1st Respondent Minister issued a Gazette Extraordinary 2170/8 dated 11-04-2020 purporting to create regulations pursuant to Section 2 and 3 of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance for the disposal of a dead body in the context of the virus.
I state that, Regulation 61A in such Gazette Extraordinary No. 2170/8 deals with the method of disposal of person who has died of COVID-19 and states that the method of disposal of the COVID-19 confirmed dead body to be cremation.
Section 3(1)(i) of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance permit Regulations to be made by the Minister for the following purposes, namely;
“(i) for prescribing the mode of burial or cremation of any person dying of disease;” I am advised to state that the aforesaid Regulation 61A, is ultra vires the powers granted to the 1st Respondent under Section 3(1)(i) the Ordinance.
I am advised to state that the aforesaid Section 3(1)(i) of the Ordinance only allows the 1st Respondent to prescribe the mode of burial or cremation in the context of the virus but does not allow the 1st Respondent to prescribe cremation in preference to burial or vice versa.
The Petitioners are advised to state that, the said Regulations are contrary to the provisions of written law including the provisions relating to sudden deaths and inquests in the Code of Criminal Procedure Act No 15 of 1979 (as amended).
I verily believe that there is no scientific evidence to support a conclusion that cremation is safer than burial to prevent the infection from virus.
I state that to the best of my knowledge, despite millions of infections of the virus across the world and hundreds of thousands of deaths and burials of cadavers across the world, hitherto there is not even a single report of infection being caused by burial of a cadaver.
The Government Medical Officers Association [GMOA] has by letter dated 03-042020 written to the 2nd Respondent Director General Health Services observing that the WHO guidelines prescribe both burial and cremation and suggesting that a team of experts of all relevant areas be consulted to decide on the best course of action.
In view of the imminent infringement of rights of many of the Islamic community on or around 08-05-2020, I wrote to the President informing of the importance of conducting one’s funeral rites while respecting their religious beliefs.
Thereby, requesting that the method of disposal of a dead body be amended to include burial as well.
I state that I am therefore entitled in law to seek an Order Quashing Regulation 61A in Gazette Extraordinary No. 2170/8 of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, published on 11-04-2020.”
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