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Five Sri Lankan embassy staffers test positive for coronavirus

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.

Accordingly, the embassy will be closed on 21 and 22 of May. A statement by the embassy encouraged sending emails as much as possible during the closure but added that anyone that wishes to contact them can do so via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling the Toll-Free No 800119119.

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."

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It would take five years to control the COVID-19 pandemic: WHO's chief scientists warns

The coronavirus pandemic may continue into the latter half of the decade, a senior global health official has warned, as the death toll of the virus approaches the grim milestone of 300,000.

“I would say in a four to five-year timeframe, we could be looking at controlling this,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist, told the Financial Times’ Global Boardroom webinar on Wednesday:

Swaminathan said a vaccine appeared to be the “best way out” at present but warned there were lots of “ifs and buts” about its safety, production and equitable distribution.

The development of an effective vaccine and successful confinement measures were both among the factors that would ultimately determine the pandemic’s duration, she added.

COVID-19 here to stay forever?

At a separate media briefing, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said at the organization’s Geneva headquarters on Wednesday that the coronavirus “may never go away.”

When asked to address Swaminathan’s comments earlier in the day, Ryan said no one would be able to accurately predict when the disease might disappear.

He added that trying to control the virus would require a “massive effort,” even if a vaccine is found.

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EU provides Euro 3.5 million to revive tourism industry

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.

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Sajith requests EU to assist Sri Lanka's SME entrepreneurs

A special discussion was held yesterday (14) at the Opposition Leader's Office between the Ambassador of the European Union Denis Chaibi and the former Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, Sajith Premadasa.

Premadasa stated that the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) was taking steps towards strengthening Sri Lanka's economy and the people's lives, including through representations made through the European Union, and requested the EU Ambassador to extend the fullest cooperation of the EU to rebuild our country.

The Leader of the SJB requested that the EU to consider providing financial assistance to improve the liquidity of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) which are in need of assistance, and to resolve the wage problems of factory workers.

The Ambassador of the European Union Denis Chaibi stated that 22 million Euros (approximately 4.5 billion rupees) had already been received as aid from the European Union for Sri Lanka. This included 410 million rupees for medical equipment, 710 million rupees for developing tourism, and 3.37 billion for developing agriculture.

The tourism sector and the agricultural sector have been severely affected. There is a shortage of equipment in the health sector. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya which is genuinely interested in the well-being of the people, has initiated a project to provide equipment required by some of the hospitals.

We call upon our government to responsibly utilize the sum exceeding Rs. 4 billion granted by the European Union, for the benefit of all the people of this land, Premadasa said.

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Gotabaya is headed towards a dictatorship: Vickramabahu

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.

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Gamini Senarath's appointment withdrawn; Atygalle resumes work from home

A senior official at the Presidential Secretariat said that the president is yet to decide on the appointment of Prime Minister's secretary Gamini Senarath as the acting secretary to the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury.

He had made this comment in response to the article that was carried out by theleader.lk under the headline, 'Gamini Senarath to be appointed as acting secretary to the finance ministry.'

The official said that the secretary to the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury, S.R. Attygalle had sought treatment for an ailment and had recovered. He had been working from home since. He further said that president's secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara has been advising the officials at the finance ministry.

According to the constitution, only the president is vested with the power to appoint secretaries to ministries.

The president has the power to appoint secretaries to the ministries.

Gamini Senarath is a Special Grade Officer of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS). However, a powerful government minister said that there was no possibility of the president appointing Prime Minister's secretary Gamini Senarath to oversee affairs of the finance ministry.
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SLT & Mobitel donate Rs. 50 million to "Itukama" initiative

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.

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Mangala summoned to the CID

Former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera who had been a harsh critic of certain actions carried out by president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government, has been summoned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at 2.00 pm, today (14).

According police sources, the CID has summoned the former finance minister to be questioned regarding an investigation that is being carried for providing transport facilities via the SLTB to 12,500 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) residing in the Puttalam district to travel to the Northern Province to cast their votes during the last presidential election as per the request made by the 'Project Management Unit of Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons.'

The organisation for IDPs had requested then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to provide transport for these displaced persons to go to their respective villages in order to cast their votes.

Accordingly, the Director of the Prime Minister's Public Relations had formally written to the Secretary of the Ministry of Resettlement to comply with the request.

It is said that under those circumstances, the former finance minister has authorised the payment to the SLTB to transport the IDPs in the Puttalam district to the Northern province.

It is further said that CID will also grill Mangala Samaraweera on certain other matters as well. 

Tamils and Muslims displaced for decades:

The plight of displaced Tamils and Muslims of Sri Lanka is still a burning issue even after many decades.

It has been nearly three decades since the Muslims were expelled from the North in 1990.  Although Jaffna has been under the Sri Lankan government since 1995, both the Rajapaksa government and the 'good governance' government failed to resettle these Muslims.

Therefore, the Rajapaksa government headed by the president should focus on providing an equitable solution to the problem faced by the displaced Tamils and Muslims in the country for many decades instead of hunting down political leaders who criticize the government.

However, it may be an act of collective folly to presume that the minority communities will get relief from the Rajapaksas' who are trying to appease the Sinhala extremists with an impending election.

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Rishad Bathiudeen files FR in Supreme Court against compulsory cremation of Muslims

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:

"In light of the fact that there is no danger in carrying out burial which is practiced by many countries of the world, where COVID-19 death rates are very high, there is no reason for foregoing such religious practice of burial."

“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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Sri Lanka ponders opening of borders in July

Sri Lanka – similar to Maldives – is considering reopening its air and sea borders in July to foreign tourists.

However, Sri Lanka Tourism’s chairperson Kimarli Fernando said arrivals would be mostly overseas Sri Lankans returning to visit relatives and friends. In anticipation of this, the government is planning to aggressively promote domestic tourism in nine provinces to help fill hotels and resorts.

She was speaking at a webinar on Monday hosted by the Cinnamon group of hotels, titled Charting a course for Sri Lanka’s tourism future, in conjunction with several other tourism stakeholders.

To reassure travellers, Fernando shared that hotels will have to go through a new certification process to ensure their properties are compliant with globally accepted health and safety standards. Also in the works is the Visit Sri Lanka Year campaign in 2022.

Another positive sign Fernando shared was that several airlines have expressed an interest in resuming flights to Colombo, and were actively seeking partnerships with tourism authorities.

Anita Mendiratta, UNWTO’s special advisor to the secretary-general, shared that according to latest projections, there will be a 60 per cent drop in global tourism travel, yet Asia will be the first region to recover. Business travel and people travelling to meet their loved ones overseas would be the first to take off.

Dillip Rajakarier, CEO, Minor Hotels Group, believes that tourism will take 12 to 18 months for a full recovery.

“We are looking at cash flows and how to sustain during this period,” he said, adding that in light of the situation, buffet-type meals will also not be offered for a long time to maintain social distancing.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators has issued a set of guidelines for DMCs to follow once tourism gets underway. For instance, group photographs will be discouraged, while local guides on the tour bus will have to speak from behind a screen.

 (Feizal Samath - TTG Asia)

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"I am also responsible for the neglect of IDPs for 3 decades" - Mangala says after giving statement at CID

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) recorded a five-hour statement from former finance minister Mangala Samaraweera who was summoned to the CID yesterday (14) at 2.00 pm. He was requested to appear next Tuesday (19) at 9.00 am for further questioning.

The former finance minister was questioned regarding an investigation that is being carried out for providing transport facilities via the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) to 12,500 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) residing in the Puttalam district to travel to the Northern Province to cast their votes during the last presidential election as per a request made by the 'Project Management Unit of Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons.'

The CID has commenced an investigation based on a complaint lodged by a well-known 'voice cut' Thero. The Thero has filed a complaint claiming that the government had authorised a payment of LKR 9.5 million to provide 22 buses for the transportation of 12,500 internally displaced persons from Puttalam to Mannar to vote at the presidential polls.

"I am proud as a Sri Lankan citizen"

Samaraweera, speaking to media after giving his marathon statement at the CID yesterday, said that he was happy not only as the minister of finance but also as a Sri Lankan citizen to have helped citizens victimized by LTTE terrorism and to have ensured their right of franchise. “I told the CID I am proud of that,” he added.

The former minister noted that he was interrogated for over five hours by the officers of the CID and that they conducted the investigation in a professional manner.

Samaraweera pointed out that although these persons have suffered for 30 years at the hands of the LTTE, no government was able provide anything to these people. "All of us have to take responsibility for that," he said.

He further said that he was happy to have done the responsible thing and guaranteed these internally displaced persons' right to vote. Samaraweera noted that even Basil Rajapaksa had done the same deed during the previous Rajapaksa regime and facilitated transport facilities to these IDPs.

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All-party meeting to decide on general election remains inconclusive

An all-party meeting convened by Sri Lanka''s election commission to decide whether to hold parliamentary polls in June remained inconclusive, party members said on Wednesday.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the opposition-controlled Parliament on March 2, six months ahead of the schedule, and called a snap election on April 25 to elect a new 225-member House.

However, the election commission in mid-April postponed the parliamentary polls by nearly two months to June 20 due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 889 people and claimed nine lives in the island nation.

The new date clashed with the constitutional imperative that the new Parliament has to meet within three months since its dissolution.

Several opposition parties and civil society organisations have filed petitions in the Supreme Court, arguing that according to the Constitution the elections must be held and a new Parliament must be summoned within three months of the dissolution order.

The Elections Commission (EC) on Tuesday convened an all-party meeting to decide whether to hold parliamentary polls in June amid fears that the coronavirus could spread if movement curbs were lifted further.

However, the talks ended without an agreement, the participant said.

"There was representations that democratic rights must be ensured by holding the election," said Sagara Kariyawasam, general secretary of the ruling SLPP party.

Though COVID-19 restrictions are now being eased in the country, some argue that the election should be put off until the pandemic is under control.

"We are not against holding the election, but it must not be held over dead bodies," said opposition JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

Several participants also raised concerns that if elections are to be held in June, political parties have to do poll campaigns which would violate all quarantine rules.

They also argue that in view of the health threat caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the conditions for a free and fair poll would not be available.

President Rajapaksa on Monday ordered easing of the lockdown, which was in force since March 20 to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

A 24-hour curfew was lifted on the island, except for Colombo district.

The state and private sector offices were asked to follow strict health guidelines under quarantine ordinance.

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