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Tuesday July 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka Coronavirus battle stepped up with partial airport shutdown

CORONA CONTROLS: A worker sprays disinfectant to sanitize a public bus as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus at a bus station in Colombo on March 16, 2020. Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka stepped up its battle against Coronavirus (COVID19) with a partial shut-down of its airport for two weeks and most businesses and state agencies closed to prevent people moving.

Arriving passenger will not be accepted from March 18 midnight until further notice, Director Operations Airport and Aviation Services, Director Shehan Sumanasekara said.

“Cargo flight will be accommodated as usual,” he said.

Transit and departures will be operated.


Sri Lanka airport to suspend arrivals for two weeks

The government has declared a three-day holiday asking all non-essential businesses not to operate on March 17, 18 and 19 while asking some key government services and private businesses in banking, food transport, and distribution to operate.

“Do not consider these Public Holidays (government agencies),’ Director of Government Information Nalaka Kaluwewa said in a statement.

“Except for health, food supply, transport, essential services, banks, District Secretary and other divisional secretary offices, the holiday would apply to all ministries, departments, corporations and state agencies.

“The government is asking the holiday to be given to the private sector as well. Monitoring the transmission of the COVID19 virus the government may or may not extend this holiday.”

On Monday Sri Lanka’s confirmed coronavirus patients jumped by 06 to 35 patients including the first Chinese tourists. There were 203 persons under investigations at 18 hospitals as of Monday.


Sri Lanka Coronavirus count climbs to 35 on March 17

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said a soldier working with quarantined passengers had also become ill after an altercation with Italian returnees at the airport who refused to be quarantined.

Sri Lanka’s stock market would be closed on Tuesday, a spokesman for the stock market regulator said.

Sri Lanka had closed schools, universities, museums, zoos in a bid to keep people at home and stop the spread of the virus. Court hearings and exams have been postponed. Church services have been closed until the end of the month.

“The idea is to prevent the gathering of people in one place,” Information Minister Bandula Gunewardene told reporters Monday.

“Many religious leaders are also asking people to engage in religious activities at home. The senior theros of Sripada (a popular seasonal pilgrimage location) is also asking the same.”

On Monday Sri Lanka added Qatar, Bahrain, and Canada to the list of countries from which travelers would not be allowed.

Qatari, Canadian or Bahraini nationalities or any passenger who has a travel history in the last 14 days will not be permitted to land in Sri Lanka from midnight March 17 for two weeks, Civil Aviation Authority Chairman Upali Dharmadasa said in a statement.

Carriers were also asked not to board anyone with a travel history in Iran, South Korea, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and Denmark would for the last 14 days.

Infections confirmed so far have been among mostly from Sri Lankans returning from infected countries, who were either working or on holiday.

Sri Lanka also asked anyone who had arrived from Europe, Italy or Iran to register with police or risk punishment under the provisions of a Quarantine Ordinance as confirmed cases went up.


Sri Lanka asks returnees from Europe, Korea to register or risk punishment

Sri Lanka bars travelers from Qatar, Bahrain and Canada to control Coronavirus

The head of Sri Lanka’s health service Anil Jasinghe asked anyone experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus to go to one of the designated state hospitals and not to stay at home, or go to private hospitals.

People who go around without getting admitted would be prosecuted he said.


Sri Lanka wants to prosecute patient who delayed testing for COVID19

Sri Lanka foreign ministry suspends consular services in Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said it was suspending regular consular services in Colombo.

Infections are spreading in new countries. Overnight a returnee from India’s Kerala region was confirmed with Coronavirus.

Sri Lanka has asked the public not to travel abroad or use the holiday to travel domestically and avoid all public gatherings.

Many countries are urging all returnees from abroad to go into 14-day self-quarantine.

Coronavirus hits older persons and those with a history of diabetes or chronic conditions, who develop a form of pneumonia, health officials have said while younger people get a fever and a cough for about a week. Children are hardly affected.

Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) asked the government to close borders, as the health service did not have ventilators in (to support intubated patients in intensive care units) to treat patients with pneumonia or severe complications.

British officials are advising older people to go into self-quarantine until the epidemic runs its course and the population develops immunity.

Several European countries have also asked all businesses to close except for those in food distribution and essential services.

Sri Lanka’s central bank said it was cutting rates and a reserve ratio releasing liquidity in the banking system from March 17, despite not having a free-floating exchange rate. On Friday the central bank injected 50 billion rupees.

Sri Lanka oppositions have called for upcoming elections in April to be halted.


Sajith demands the postponement of polls to save lives from COVID19

JVP led NPP decides to temporarily halt election campaign

Another party said it was halting campaigning. (Colombo/Mar17/2020-sb)

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Sri Lanka to introduce digital program for foreign workers facing problems

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will introduce a digital program via smart phones for migrant workers to report any concerns while employed abroad, Minister of Labor and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara said.

“We will have a digital program that is accessible from their smart mobile phones where domestic workers can notify us if they have not got their salary or if they have fallen into some trouble,” Nanayakkara said in parliament on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka has sent 301,000 domestic workers and 360,000 skilled workers abroad, Nanayakkara said.

Several workers, especially domestic workers, face abuse at the hands of foreign employers.

Nanayakkara said that the government only receives 0.001 percent of complaints with regard to abuse.

“We can only act on complaints received from people who go through legal channels. We are educating those who go through the Foreign Employment Bureau on how to escalate complaints.” (Colombo/Jul23/2024)

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Sri Lanka cabinet approves apology from Muslims for COVID-19 cremation ahead of election

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal to tender apology for the grievance caused for ethnic minority Muslims due to the cremation of bodies during the Covid-19 pandemic, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said.

The move comes ahead of the upcoming presidential poll in which Muslim votes are likely to become crucial for all candidates.

The government of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa led by current ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) forced Muslims and Christians to cremate the dead bodies of those who died of Covid-19 in 2020.

The   Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which includes Islamic states globally raised the forced cremations issue at the 46th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in February 2021 after the SLPP government rejected repeated requests by local and global Islamic bodies.

The policy was later reversed, but the move hit diplomatic ties with Middle Eastern and OIC nations which is the highest source of employment for Sri Lankan expatriates.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa later said the decision was based on expert advice. Rajapaksa who was seen as an anti-Muslim leader was heavily criticized for his decision ahead of 2020 parliamentary polls while his elder brother and then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa declined to discuss the issue with Muslim parties which asked to reverse the decision.

Hundreds of Muslims were cremated during the Covid-19 period before Rajapaksa government allowed a separate burial ground for Muslim Covid-19 victims in the Eastern town of Oddamavadi.

“A joint Cabinet Paper presented by Ministers Ali Sabry, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe & Jeevan Thondaman apologising for the grievance caused to the Sri Lankan Muslim community due to the cremation of bodies during the Covid-19 pandemic, approved by the Cabinet,” Minister Sabry  tweeted quoting Cabinet Spokesman.

Already President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Estate Infrastructure Minister Jeevan Thondaman had tendered an apology in the parliament. The latest cabinet move is a formal and official apology.


Along with the apology, the Cabinet approved proposed law on burial or cremation of dead bodies on religious discretion.

“As stipulated in the guidelines published by the Ministry of Health on the Clinical Management of COVID19, cremation was made compulsory in removal of the dead bodies of the persons who died due to the COVID-19 virus. The decision created displeasure among the various religious groups and human right activists especially Muslim religious persons,” a government document on the cabinet decision showed.

“The studies made in this respect have been confirmed that the faeces and the urine are the primary source of transmission the virus but not with the safe burial. Therefore, in order to prevent arisen of such condition in future, attention has been drawn to introduce a law, a certain person or relations to be selected the burial or cremation of the dead person at their discretion.”

“Further, it has been seemed that introduction of new laws is appropriate to donate the dead bodies to the Medical Faculty, if necessary.”

“Accordingly, Cabinet of Ministers has approved the joint proposal presented by the Minister of Justice, Prison affairs and Constitution Reforms, Minister of Foreign affairs to instruct legal Draftsman in order to prepare a draft for the introduction of new law.”

Rajapaksa’s arrogant policy led the OIC and Middle East nations to reject Sri Lanka’s repeated requests for credit lines and loans to buy oil before the country collapsed following an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022.

Minister Sabry faced harsh criticism from human rights defenders and from members of the Muslim community for what they claimed was his silence in the face of the inhumane, unscientific decision by the Rajapaksa government.

The Rajapaksa government’s stubborn insistence on cremating Muslim and Christian victims of the Covid-19 virus was against the communities’ religious beliefs and drew widespread condemnation and concern of Muslim countries and leaders.

Rajapaksa, after the economic crisis hit the country, was forced to flee in the face of massive protests against him in July 2022. (Colombo/July 23/2024)

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Fireworks erupt in parliament over Sri Lanka’s VFS Global controversy

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s parliament erupted in heated debate after government legislators raised a privilege issue against Committee on Public Finance Chair Harsha de Silva, who last week tabled report on a controversial visa deal with the IVS-GBSVFS Global, consortium.

Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa questioned the propriety of raising a privilege issue against a Committee chairman, who was acting under powers derived from the Constitution, saying it amounted to challenging the Speaker himself.

Related Sri Lanka visa deal with IVS-VFS be cancelled or revised, forensic audited: COPF Chief

Sri Lanka’s Department of Immigration had awarded a visa issuing monopoly to IVS-GBS-VFS Global without tender which was charging 25 dollars per visa compared to an earlier 1 dollar by Mobitel, and it should be terminated or revised, de Silva said presenting a report earlier this month.

Privilege Over VFS Report

State Minister Shehan Semasinghe said de Silva had presented a defective and false report misleading parliament saying among other things that the report was unanimously approved by the COPF membership.

As a result, privileges of 16 members had been broken, and misleading a parliamentary committee was a punishable offence and de Silva should be referred to the privileges committee.

De Silva said he severally and individually rejected the charges and all views of the members were attached to the final report and he would stand down as COPF chair until the matter was decided.

“This was not done secretly. There were three weeks for members to respond,” de Silva said.

“There was a debate about the tourism arrival numbers, which was included. If I am to be imprisoned, do it. I am not afraid. Give me an opportunity and I will show how each word is true.

Semasinghe said there was no desire on the part of government members to remove de Silva from the COPF.

Government member Nimal Lanza said that he was under the impression that tourist arrivals had fallen due to the VFS deal but there was an increase this year. There was no desire to imprison de Silva, he said.

Verbal Exchange

Public Security Minister Tiran Alles said five years of data was given, and there was an increase in tourism arrivals. And after April there were 53,000 tourists under new categories, which brought revenues of 1.4 billion rupees.

The report was also attached as an addendum, de Silva said.

Minister Alles questioned why the Deputy Speaker was allowing a debate over the VFS deal which would now attract media headlines.

“If you are allowed, all our members must be allowed to speak,” he said.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said if competitive tenders were called, there would not have been a charge of 25 dollars per visa as Mobitel was charging only one dollar.

Premadasa said he was responding due to charges made against de Silva and claims that he had committed a punishable offence. The opposition leader questioned how his microphone was muted.

Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa said while it was fair to allow de Silva to respond to the initial charge, a long debate should not have been allowed on the matter and also the contents of the report.

“The second bad precedent is this. It is not important whether it is Harsha de Silva or not. There are many committees. Can the Chairman of a Committee be called over a privileges issue?

“Under the Constitution there are powers to make standing orders. It is implemented through the 1953 Privileges Act. The Chairmen have certain powers. The Chairman has acted under the limits of his powers.

Parliament Undermined

Minister Rajapakshe said while there may be errors in a report, the Parliament’s powers were diminished if privilege questions were raised against Chairmen of a committee who carried out there duties.

“There may be errors in the report. We have seen that. But I am raising a question on the constitution.

“In this way, in whatever Committee, if he did his official duties, if he is made an accused in another committee of the same parliament and there is an investigation, it is the parliament’s power that is degraded.

“So it is the confidence people have in the parliament that is reduced. There is a legal question here. The Chair should consider whether it is possible to raise a question like this

“Ultimately the final responsibility of all these Committees rests with the Speaker. It is the Speaker’s powers that are delegated to the Chairman of a Committee.

“So, this challenge is made against the Speaker. How is the Speaker doing this?

“If the next day, the COPE, or COPA issues a report, someone asks to put him in the punishment log (dandu kanda) or to do whatever and calls him to the privileges committee.

“What are you going to ask at the Privileges committee? What punishment are you going to give? (Colombo/July23/2024)

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