By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, March 19: The effectiveness of the measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus will determine whether or not the Sri Lankan parliamentary elections will be held as stipulated on April 25, a top source in the government said.
“As on date, there are 41 positive cases. Barring eight, these patients are imports from specific countries. Now that all incoming flights have been barred for two weeks, the number of patients is unlikely to go up very much, if only we can prevent locals from spreading it through irresponsible behavior. If the increase is low over the next couple of weeks, there will be no need to postpone the elections,” the source said.
The government has done the right thing to give the task of COVID-19 management to the Commander of the Army, Lt.Gen. Shavendra Silva, the source said. “The situation calls for action on a war-footing and that can be done best by the armed forces.”
The government has done its bit by ordering the closure of public venues and banning public entertainments for two weeks, but the population should cooperate too.
Govt Keen On Polls
Even though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that it is for the Elections Commission to set a date for the elections, he has clearly indicated that he wants parliamentary elections, as already envisaged, on April 25. He said that nominations for the polls must be received as planned on March 19 and elections must be held if the country is to contain the COVID-19 scare and meet its other commitments to the people. He said that he had to dissolve parliament and seek the election of a new parliament because the Opposition did not allow him to pass the budget. The Election Commission’s Chairman, Mahinda Deshapriya, is set on holding the elections on April 25 as scheduled and does not see the need to consider postponement at this point of time.
The opposition, led by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) is hell-bent on getting the elections postponed and the reason is not far to seek. Although the health crisis generated by the spread of the COVID-19 virus is touted as the reason, the real reason is the prospect of defeat if the polls are held next month. According to a former MP from the United National Party, postponement will improve the chances of the opposition.
“The Gotabaya regime, already a disappointment, will become more and more unpopular in the coming weeks. It has not at all lived up to its promises on the economic front. There appears to be a underlying conflict between the President and the Prime Minister, though they are siblings. There is a perceived incompetence in dealing with the coronavirus threat. When the number of positive cases mount, the government will be seen in poorer light. And when the anti-incumbency factor comes into play, chances of the opposition winning the elections will increase,” a source in the opposition said. The word that the opposition is spreading is that the government of the Rajapaksas’ is only interested in grabbing power as quickly as possible and not in saving peoples’ lives.
President Rejects Lockdown Demand
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) sources believe that the opposition’s hyperbolic demand for an island-wide lockdown is basically meant to create a fear psychosis among the people and make them demand postponement of the elections.
President Gotabaya has set his face against a country-wide lockdown of the Chinese type, on the grounds that it will cause immense hardship to the people, especially the poor.
“People still need to go ahead with their lives, there are people who are on daily wage, the economy needs to function, factories need to operate. We cannot afford to come to standstill. We need to instead measures that will prevent the spread of this virus,” the President said.
“As a Government, our main responsibility is to ensure community life. The State must intervene to facilitate the various needs of the people. Certain parts of the country are affected by a drought. We must supply drinking water to those people in these areas. For some areas, to begin the Yala season, we must provide with clay fertilizer. In some other parts, as the harvest comes through the State must be ready to purchase the paddy. If vegetables are not purchased on time, those farmers will face a difficult time. At the same time, the vegetables must come into the market. Likewise, we need to control the cost of living.’
“If Government Officers did not engage in these tasks, all these will collapse. Therefore, we must look at this whole picture when we take decisions.”
Countering the opposition’s propaganda that the government has been indifferent to the COVID-19 threat, Gotabaya said that government has been proactive. “ In January, while the world was just getting to know about the Coronavirus, I took the decision to bring back the 34 Sri Lankan students who were studying in the Wuhan Province in China. At the time, there was not a single infected case reported from within Sri Lanka. Yet, to face a possible detrimental situation that could arise in the future, on 26 January we established a special National Task Force Committee.”
“On 27 January, a Chinese lady who had come to Sri Lanka as a tourist was identified to be the first infected case in the Island. She was immediately admitted to the IDH hospital and treated. On 19 February, after recovering fully, she left the country. A special aircraft flew in the Sri Lankan students from Wuhan to the Matthala Airport, where they were quarantined and then taken to a quarantine center in Diyatalawa that was specially set up for this purpose. They were quarantined for two weeks in this camp and sent home on 14 February. At the same time, the necessary instructions were given to the airport authorities to take steps to conduct a preliminary examination of the health of all those who are arriving.”
“After the first case was detected with the infected Chinese lady, for up to about a month, no other case was found. Yet, as there was a danger of this virus being spread to countries apart from China, it was decided to quarantine all arrivals from Italy, South Korea and Iran for 14-days. This decision was taken on 10 March. Accordingly, directing travelers to the Kandakadu Qurantine Center in Batticaloa began.”
“On 11 March, the first Sri Lankan infected with the virus was reported. He is a chauffeur-guide to Italian tourists. From the investigations we conducted within and out of the quarantine centers, we found a number of other infected cases and today 34 such cases had been identified. Out of this group, except for four who had arrived from Germany, the rest being from Italy or those who had an association with those from Italy is noteworthy.”
‘From 13 March onwards, quarantining of travelers coming from Italy, South Korea and Iran began. Soon thereafter, travelers from France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden and Australia were also added to the quarantine list. Presently, all travelers from UK, Belgium, Norway, Canada, Qatar and Bahrain are also being quarantined. However, from Wednesday onwards until further notice, all arrivals into the country has been suspended.”
“Since setting up the two quarantine centers in Kandakadu and Punani on 10 March, 16 new quarantine centers have been established. By 6 am, Tuesday morning, 1,882 travelers had been directed to these centers. Out of this number, 92 had been admitted to various hospitals. At this moment, our biggest problem is the travelers, almost 2,000 in number, who had entered into the country from high risk countries for about two weeks before we actually started the quarantine process on 10 March.”
“Currently, out of the 34 infected, 19 had been identified from those who are being quarantined after arriving from Italy. The rest are either those who had arrived before the quarantine process began or those who had got infected from those who had come from abroad. Before we started quarantining, we had identified everyone who had come from the above mentioned countries as well as their closest relatives and had asked them to be self-quarantined in their own homes. We have deployed the police, the tri-forces, public health inspectors and grama niladari for this purpose and I request that they be given the fullest cooperation.”
“I also request that Sri Lankans who had come from other countries too to act responsibly. The reason to give a special holiday was to minimize the spread of the virus. To ensure this, I request you to avoid travel, gathering as a group and from celebrations and parties. By adhering to these instructions along with the steps we had taken, we will be able to completely control this situation,” the President said.
(The featured image above shows Lankan Director General Health Dr.Nalin Jasinghe expains the working of an coronavirus hospital equipment to minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi)