Sri Lanka army dismisses “fabricated attempts” to tarnish quarantine efforts

Army Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s army yesterday denied alleged mistreatment of apparel workers quarantined in military-run facilities.

“In full compliance with laid down strategic guidelines, once a need to move any close contact of a positive affectee arises, troops, engaged in COVID-19 preventive tasks inform all of them by phone well in advance and request them to be ready ahead of such preventive evacuations, but in many instances these evacuees even after arrival of the troops, do take more time for preparations before they board the buses but such instances are politely tolerated and managed. No tri-serviceman, as alleged by some quarters in Kalutara, would dare give them only ‘one second’ for such preparations, nor would the troops provide them with uncooked ‘raw fish’ as alleged by them, apparently to suit different agendas of interested parties or those who act as forerunners of hidden plans of action,” an army statement quoted Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva as saying.

Last week, a collective of labour rights activists representing a number groups and organisations highlighted concerns regarding the situation faced by free trade zone (FTZ) workers in light of the ongoing public health crisis. The collective called into question the manner in which the government and the military have handled the quarantine process. It said the way the authorities have dealt with women workers in particular has been deeply problematic.

Sri Lanka’s army chief, who also heads its National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCOC), refuting these allegations said the military is tasked only with taking suspected cases who have got in direct contact with a patient.

“We fully understand their predicament, but they should realise the gravity of the situation as it could be transmitted easily to society. Despite heavy workloads, I personally inquired into those allegations, but found that they are completely false,” the army statement quoted him as saying.

Silva claimed that he personally studies photographs taken of the meals provided to the people being quarantined.

“Those quarantine centres are run by tri-servicemen and this congestion took place only during the first few days when we had to cope with some 800 odd evacuees. People should note that we are trying to prevent the transmission into society and respective PHIs and Medical Officers are informed of our arrival to take away suspected cases. We are a group who gave away their mattresses and mosquito nets for the benefit of others and their dedicated services should not therefore be thus insulted or downgraded,” he added.

The army commander further said that the military treats garment workers, their contacts and family members in the “best possible way” as “our own Sri Lankan brothers and sisters”.

The army statement continues to highlight praise said to be received by health authorities for the quarantine facilities provided and run by the military for some 52,000 people so far. Up to 10,000 people currently in quarantine in these military-run facilities, the statement said, continues to receive good care.

“The army with other sister services is doing its utmost for the greater benefit of our society as the defenders of the nation and wants to ensure minimising further transmission of this deadly virus to other areas. People with common sense should therefore understand the challenging roles the army is playing and continue to cooperate with these efforts, some of which would perhaps have unintentional shortcomings, and help negate possibilities of further spreading of the virus,” the army chief said.

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According to the statement, Silva “flatly denied” the “unfounded and fabricated allegations”, calling them intentional fabrications that bear all the hallmarks of a precursor to a bigger future machination that interested elements are now mapping out in order to tarnish or ridicule the role of the troops when the whole country is afflicted with a global health challenge of this magnitude.

The army chief called on media personnel to conduct their own impartial investigations and find out for themselves  how the military’s quarantine procedures are adopted and what is going on there without leveling unfounded accusations. (Colombo/Oct19/2020)

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