Colombo, March 17 (newsin.asia): The Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on Tuesday allayed fears that the government is thinking of imposing a lockdown of the country to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Speaking on TV, the President made no mention of a lockdown, though the air was thick with the rumor that it was imminent. He, however, advised people not to go out of their residences unnecessarily and avoid gatherings during the crisis period.
He emphatically said that normal trade, transport and banking activities will be allowed to continue as usual so that the economy does not come to a grinding halt.
He even fixed the prices of essential commodities. A maximum retail price of Rs 65 for 1-kilo dhal and Rs 100 for a tin of canned fish have been fixed with effect from Tuesday night.
Further, the President has given directions regarding loan repayments which can be a burden on businesses owing to the current situation in the country. He has instructed banks and other financial institutions to halt collection business loan repayments for a period of 6 months.
Earlier at a meeting with officials of the “Task Force on Prevention of COVID – 19 virus” held at the Presidential Secretariat on Tuesday, the President said: “ While we have to take stern measures to control the situation, we cannot let the country suffer. I am willing to take the right decisions and I request the cooperation of all parties to implement them.”
Incoming flights Stopped For Two Weeks
Having discovered that the infection had come from passengers from specific countries or regions, the government has stopped all incoming flights from these countries from the midnight of March 18 for two weeks.
However, outgoing flights will be allowed to operate. Cargo movement to and from various countries will also be continued unimpeded.
On the opposition’s demand for the postponement of the parliamentary elections fixed for April 25, the President said that fixing of the date for the elections is the prerogative of the Elections Commission. However he indirectly hinted that he would like the elections to be held as scheduled when he stressed the need for the formation of a stable government to carry out its developmental programs and to pass the annual budget.
In the parliament which was dissolved, the Rajapaksa government was in a minority.
The President elaborated on the steps taken by the Government so far and said that with the Task Force being set up on January 26th, Lanka became the first country to establish such a dedicated mechanism to tackle COVID-19.
Sri Lankans including students in Wuhan and other cities in China were brought back. Several quarantine centers were opened at different parts of the country. Last Monday was declared a public holiday with the objective of curbing the spread of the virus. Three more holidays had been given to sectors other than essential services.
The President pointed out that with the World Health Organization’s announcement of the COVID-19, the government had taken every step possible to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
President Rajapaksa has instructed the police to find out about the people who are hiding in the country without getting quarantined and make people aware of them.
“The existing situation should not be used to achieve narrow political gains. There is no need to reconvene the Parliament. If there is need to postpone the general election, the Election Commission has the power to do so’, the President said.
During the meeting, the importance of limiting parties, various feasts and public gatherings as much as possible, was stressed. The President stressed was the need of taking swift action against those who spread rumors and fabricated stories regarding the spread of the virus, with the intention of frightening the general public.
President wants ad-hoc actions halted
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has directed that no instruction or communication by any Government Agency is issued without the prior concurrence of the Presidential Secretariat and any such action is taken only in consultation with the Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva who is the head of the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID – 19 outbreak.
The decision was taken by the President following observations made at the COVID -19 National Level Task Force Review meeting that various Government Agencies have issued ad-hoc operational instructions disrupting the routine regular work of the Government and not consistent with the Government’s overall strategy with COVID – 19 management issues.