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Second death reported due to COVID – 19 in Sri Lanka

Another patient tested positive for COVID – 19 in Sri Lanka has died, raising the number of deaths caused by the virus upto two in the country, officials said on Monday.

The deceased, who has been identified as a resident of Kochchikade had been receiving treatment at the Negombo Hospital.

He had been suffering from heart and respiratory issues and had tested positive for the virus today (March 30).

So far, 122 people have tested positive for the virus in the country, with the number of recovered patients standing at 14.

The first person to have died in the country since contracting the virus was reported last Saturday. The deceased was a 60-year old resident of Marawila.

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Next few weeks crucial; each one must do our bit - Mangala

Former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera in a statement on Wednesday said that the upcoming weeks and months will be tough for all Sri Lankans as our health, livelihoods and economy are under grave threat and as such each individual must do their part to fight this virus.

"As citizens, we must all follow the guidelines issued by the health authorities at all times and join hands – irrespective of any and all differences – to fight a virus that threatens us all, without regard for borders or any differences created by man

Samaraweera criticised President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the present Government for failing to postpone the upcoming General Election until after nominations had been submitted, calling the nominations process and associated activity “a great public health hazard” that went ahead despite the rest of the nation being advised to stay at home. He also took the present administration to task for failing to reconvene Parliament, terming this “the gravest error of all.”
Sri Lankans have lived through countless crises. Civil wars, insurgencies, constitutional coups droughts and famines are but a few examples. Yet, even for the most seasoned among us, these are testing times. The entire nation - now in lockdown – is anxious. We are worried for our loved ones. We stress that our provisions will not last till the next time curfew is lifted. We fear that we will contract the virus when we set out. Day-earners, in particular, dread that their money will run out before the crisis ends.

We can all take encouragement and hope from the doughty and cooperative spirit we have demonstrated at this time. By and large, the Sri Lankan people and our state have risen to the challenge. Doctors and nurses - the generals and soldiers of our collective fight against the virus - have been doing an extraordinary job. They are at the frontlines, putting themselves at risk to keep us all safe. The public services, police and armed forces also bearing a great burden in supporting their efforts. I know the entire country is grateful to them all. The people have also largely acted with wisdom:  we can be proud that following public health guidelines is not the exception across the island, it is the rule. We can also be proud that the Sri Lankan spirit of generosity has been manifest throughout the length and breadth of our island.  This is true of the private sector too. Many firms are doing their bit to fight the virus. All in all, I think we can be very proud indeed to be Sri Lankans today. In fact, many tell me that the Sri Lankan people and state are setting an example for the entire region.

Unfortunately, this is not entirely true of our government. First, the Government initially ignored a number of warnings, including warnings raised in Parliament, and failed to take adequate preventative measures, such as in the case of travelers from Italy. Even more worryingly, a tourism promotion video was made by parties close to the very top of the Government just as the pandemic was spreading through the world. There are also reports that persons near and dear to those in positions of power and responsibility have been sent through the VIP lounge to avoid the screening and quarantine process.  

That said, once the WHO raised the alarm, the response has been largely swift and effective. We welcome the fact that the government is following scientific and public health advice.

With one important exception, which is my second point. Schools were closed, public places shut and holidays granted. The nation was coming to a stand-still. But the Elections Commission and political party offices were hives of activity. What choice did they have? The country was readying for polls. This was clearly a grave public health hazard. Elections are, after all, the precise opposite of social distancing. They involve campaigning, nominations and tens of thousands of public servants organizing a logistically complex operation over months.  

 There was no need for elections at that time. The President, although briefed on the coronavirus threat, decided to conduct early polls. Parliament’s term only finishes in August. Polls could be held then. Instead, the President chose to go ahead with polls. Even after the entire country was asked to stay at home the President did not revoke the Election Gazette. By this action he could have bought us all a few more days in the fight against the virus. Since early action matters so much, it may have avoided some of the hardship we are experiencing now. This is why the Elections Commission postponed elections the moment it had the power to do so, on the close of nominations. The Commissioners, sought public health advice, and learnt it was the responsible and right thing to do. The President had access to the same public health advice. Regrettably, his actions appear to have been dictated by other considerations.

Third, there is absolutely no doubt that emergency measures like curfews are necessary. But any disruption to public life of such a wide-ranging and sustained nature must be predictable, hygienic and adhere to the rule of law. The sudden announcement of curfew last Friday, the very short time-frame for purchasing essential items on Tuesday and arbitrary extensions in some districts are regrettable. Citizens, including senior citizens, were unable to maintain social distancing due to the crowds. Pandemonium reigned in the Pettah market. At many shops, citizens had to wait for hours in the hot sun. This is bad enough. But even those at the frontlines – nurses, police and PHIs had to queue-up to purchase provisions. The government should prioritize delivery services to their families. These risks, hardships and sources of anxiety are regrettable and avoidable. I request the authorities to issue clear and predictable instructions. I also request them to request public health experts to study the practice of other democratic countries to avoid these problems.

There is also the question of the rule-of-law. The relevant public health legislation and emergency, such as the Quarantine Act, gives the government the powers it needs to fight this virus. But it also specifies how those powers need to be exercised in order to prevent abuse. Therefore, it is my duty to ask, what regulations has the Minister of Health issued to give the curfew legal effect? What legal sanction can the government use to punish curfew-breakers? In fact, the Government has an obligation to publish online all the regulations, whether old or new, that are currently being used to manage this situation.

Fourth, although it is not yet apparent, perhaps the gravest error the Government has made is its failure to convene Parliament. A pandemic of this magnitude calls for the entire system of governance to work together. There is only so much the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet can do alone. This will become all the more visible should the pandemic mutate into an economic crisis. In order for Sri Lanka to meet both these challenges, it needs to have all arms of government active and working.  

Without Parliament, the government is fighting the virus and its effects with one-hand tied. Without legislative approval, the debt-ceiling cannot be raised to provide economic relief. Nor can any other economic relief measure involving government revenue or expenditure.

The Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report has just be published. That too is welcome. But it contains an insidious affront to democracy. It states that the Government intends to prepare what it calls a ‘Vote-on-Account’ using the powers of Section 150(3). First, Section 150(3) does not grant the President powers to prepare a Vote-on-Account. There can be no Vote-on-Account without a vote in Parliament. Section 150(3) of the Constitution clearly specifies that the President’s powers to draw on the Consolidated Fund after Parliament is dissolved is limited to funds necessary “for the public services”. In other words, funds necessary for paying the salaries of government servants and keeping the government running.

Second, the Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report’s stated intention to prepare a so-called ‘Vote-on-Account’ without a vote, usurps the Vote-on-Account voted by Parliament. The Parliament sanctioned Vote-on- ends on 30 April. However, the Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report states that the government intends to prepare a so-called ‘Vote-on-Account’ for March, April and May. It is unacceptable that a vote in Parliament, which the Constitution says “has full control over public finance”, could be overturned by Presidential decree. I will release a detailed statement on this matter in the coming week.

By depriving Parliament of the opportunity to meet the Government is - entirely avoidably and very irregularly - taking public finance into its own hands. This is even more true because, unlike in 2015 when a budget was passed before polls, the government failed to pass a budget before declaring elections.

In challenging times, it is also constitutionally proper to have the people’s representatives meet to steer the country through these perilous waters. Section 70(7) of the Constitution, which empowers the President to convene Parliament in an emergency, exists for precisely such an eventuality. Mr. President, I believe it is your duty and responsibility to ensure that Sri Lanka has a legislature at this time of emergency.

Even if Parliament, on public health grounds, cannot meet as a full House, there are other alternatives. The minimum quorum for Parliament to meet is 20. By mutual agreement, those twenty members can reflect the composition of Parliament. For example, in New Zealand, a Parliamentary Select Committee will function throughout the lockdown to ensure the Government remains accountable to its citizens.

The next few weeks and months are going to be tough for us all. Our health, livelihoods and economy are under grave threat. Each one of us must do our bit. The doctors and nurses are already doing an extraordinary job advising, directing and healing. Public servants are helping implement the measures they recommend. The Government must govern; humanely, scientifically and legally. The Opposition must both support and critique the Government; constructively, responsibly and creatively. As citizens, we must all follow the guidelines issued by the health authorities at all times and join hands – irrespective of any and all differences – to fight a virus that threatens us all, without regard for borders or any differences created by man.

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UNP Leader to meet Prez and PM: Will support the Govt unconditionally - Ravi

Deputy Leader of the United National Party (UNP) Ravi Karunanayake says the UNP has decided to extend its unconditional support to the government to fight the COVID-19 virus at a time where the virus has dealt a severe blow to countries around the world, both economically and socially.

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe together with several senior party leaders are scheduled to President and the Prime Minister today. "We have already been a given an appointment to meet them," he added.

The former minister made this statement by releasing a video on social media.

The UNP firmly believes that we should work together to defeat this calamity. We hope to meet the President and the Prime Minister and express our views on the matter. We've been allotted a time for that." Karunanayake said.

Don't politicize donation programs - Akila

Meanwhile, UNP General Secretary, Attorney-at-Law Akila Viraj Kariyawasam released a video on social media claiming that people's lives have been completely ruined due to the crisis caused by the Coronavirus.

Kariyawasam called on the government to refrain from politicizing any relief measure programmes and to protect all Sri Lankans who have gone abroad due to work or other reasons and requested the relevant authorities to immediately pay attention to these matters.

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Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus

The Prince of Wales has tested positive for coronavirus, Clarence House has confirmed.

Prince Charles, 71, is displaying mild symptoms “but otherwise remains in good health”, a spokesman said.

The Duchess of Cornwall, 72, has also been tested but does not have the virus.

Clarence House said Charles and Camilla were now self-isolating at Balmoral, adding the prince has been working throughout home over the last few days.

An official statement read: “It is not possible to ascertain from whom the prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks.”


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COVID-19 cases increase to 120

The Ministry of Health states that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country have increased to 120.

Meanwhile in view of the extension of the curfew by the Government, the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) has decided that the CSE will remain closed for Trading on Monday, 30th March 2020.

Accordingly, 30th March 2020 will be considered as a market holiday.

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Banking declared as an essential service

The government has declared banking as an essential service in the country, in the backdrop of a curfew, enabling the public to fulfill their essential needs.

Issuing a statement, the President’s Media Division stated that the President has issued instructions to ensure that all banks are kept open despite the countrywide curfew which is in effect.

The President’s Media Division added that the President has also instructed all financial institutions to provide working capital requirement loans at an interest rate of 4 percent.

Further, instructions had also been issued to waive off interest payments for at least six months for the industries of tourism, apparel, plantation, IT, logistics, and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises.

Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa has also instructed financial institutions to charge a maximum rate of 14 percent on local credit card transactions worth upto Rs 50,000.

Directives have also been issued to extend the repayment of all credit cards below the limit of Rs 50,000 until April 30.

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First COVID – 19 death in Sri Lanka

The second Sri Lankan who tested positive for COVID – 19 in the country has died, becoming the first death reported in the country, officials said on Saturday.

The patient, a 60-year old resident of Marawila, had died while receiving treatment at the Intensive Care Unit of the IDH Hospital in Angoda.

Statistics issued by the Epidemiology Unit show that the deceased, who was identified with the disease on March 12, had 17 contact points.

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102 people affected by COVID 19

The Ministry of Health has announced that the number of Sri Lankans tested positive for COVID 19 in the country has risen to 102.



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China extends US$ 500mn to Sri Lanka in Covid-19 support

The Sri Lankan government has signed a US$ 500mn deal with China Development Bank to help the country better mitigate the financial impact of Covid-19, as it continues to struggle with fiscal debt.

The facility has “concessional terms on both interest and tenure”, says a statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry. The loan has a tenor of 10 years and a three-year grace period, along with interest rates linked to the US dollar-Libor rate.

The funding is set to be disbursed by the end of March, with the aim of increasing the official foreign reserves of Sri Lanka to enable it to better manage the financial effects Covid-19 is having on the country.

As part of its response, the Sri Lankan government has imposed a nationwide curfew and closed all international commercial flights into the country.

Despite criticism that Sri Lanka has depended too heavily on Chinese loans in the past, particularly for infrastructure projects relating to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and as such has seen its sovereign debt spiral, the loan was “urgently requested”, says the statement.

Countries which depend on China, the country where Covid-19 originated, could suffer the most economically at the hand of the novel coronavirus.

“Countries that are most dependent on China stand to be hit the hardest; these include countries in Asia and the Pacific, due to their economic relations with China. Sri Lanka is no exception, given its close links to China in terms of trade, investment, and the movement of people over the past decade,” says Talking Economics, a Sri Lanka-focused socio-economic policy think tank.

Concerns over the sustainability of Sri Lanka’s debt to China peaked when the government was unable to pay back loans issued by China to build its Hambantota Port, which subsequently saw Beijing take control of the port under a 99-year lease at the end of 2017.

Basil to head Task Force

Meanwhile, the government announced a mechanism to distribute goods without any disruptions that came into effect from March 25.

A Task Force headed by Basil Rajapaksa has been appointed to manage the process of selling goods door to door in the country. The Task Force comprises of several entities including secretaries of ministries, district secretaries, and divisional secretaries.
However, many took to social media on the past few days complaining of not having adequate time to get essential food items during the short window where the curfew was lifted on Tuesday.

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COVID-19 cases increases upto 82

The government Information Department states that two more COVID-19 cases have been identified.

Thereby the total number of patients have increased upto 82.

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No new cases of COVID-19 in last 24 hours

No new COVID-19 positive cases were reported in Sri Lanka during the last 24 hours.

However, 99 patients are in hospitals after they were tested positive for the virus as three patients, including the Chinese national, the very first case in Sri Lanka, were discharged.

According to the data of the Epidemiology Unit at the Health Ministry, 225 persons are currently in hospitals with the symptoms of COVID-19 virus.

In the meantime, the second batch of 201 people who completed the quarantine period have left the Kandakadu (144) and Punani (57) Quarantine Camps yesterday (25).

The first batch of 108 persons from the Kandakadu quarantine centre while 203 from the Punani quarantine centre, quarantined after arriving in the country left the quarantine centers on 24 March, completing their quarantine period.

The first batch was released on 24th March and the military provided them with transport facilities.

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Government decision on prevailing police curfew

The President’s Media Division said, the islandwide police curfew currently imposed in the country has been extended till 6 AM on Tuesday (24th of March), to the Colombo, Gampaha, and Puttalam districts. To the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, and Puttalam, the curfew will be lifted at 6 in the morning on Tuesday, 24th March and will be re-imposed at 2:00 pm the same day.

The police curfew to the remaining districts will be lifted at 6 AM on Monday (23rd March) and re-imposed at 2:00 pm the same day.

Issuing a communique, the President’s Media Division said, the government also instructed all bars in the country must remain closed during this period.

The Government also requested the public not to panic unnecessarily about a shortage of food, as all the essential food items are adequately stocked and the distribution of these items will continue as usual. The government has also instructed the police to allow farmers in the country to continue with cultivation activities without any hindrance.

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