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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has pledged USD 5m contribution to the SAARC Corona Emergency Fund.

During the videoconference among leaders of the SAARC region on March 15th, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi proposed the emergency fund with an initial offer of $10 million from India

Special Fund to combat COVID – 19 established by President

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had set up a special fund to strengthen the mitigation activities aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 virus in the country and related social welfare programs.
The Fund is named “COVID – 19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund”. President Rajapaksa has instructed to donate Rs. 100 million from the President’s Fund for this purpose.
A special account had been opened at the Corporate Branch of the Bank of Ceylon under the account number of 85737373.
Local as well as foreign donors can make their financial contributions to the COVID – 19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund. Donations will be exempted from tax and foreign exchange regulations. Deposits could be made through cheques or telegraphic transfers.
The management of the Healthcare and Social Security Fund will be entrusted with a highly qualified panel of professionals in the fields of administration, finance and banking sectors. The panel will comprise IGP, secretaries to the Ministries, Director General of Health, audit and banking experts.
President requests everyone to work in unison and brotherhood in the wake of the present challenge before the nation. Secretary to the President Dr. P. B. Jayasundara hopes that this would be an opportunity for the local and foreign companies to make their contributions towards a humanitarian mission. It is expected that foreign States, international financial organizations and leading conglomerates in Sri Lanka, as well as abroad, will take a leading role.
Dr. Jayasundara reminds that the people of this country rose again in the same manner in the aftermath of 2004 tsunami and at the end of the humanitarian operations in 2009.

The curfew is in no way a hindrance to the smooth operations of essential services, said Co-Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Bandula Gunawardena.
He was addressing the weekly Cabinet briefing held at the Government Information Department yesterday (20).

Therefore, the minister noted that passes for the smooth functioning of essential services could be obtained from the police, urging the people to stay indoors and assist the government in bringing this situation under control through self-quarantine.

All wholesale shops were open until around 2.00 pm yesterday in Pettah and the security forces personnel carried out a disinfection programme thereafter. The minister noted that all shops can reopen on Monday from 6.00 am.

The Minister also noted that at a time when the whole world is in an economic crisis, the government has taken steps to limit the import of other items giving priority to essential commodities.
He said this decision was taken in order to minimise the devaluation of the rupee.

 

Issuing a special statement Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said that these measures have been taken at this point of time to ensure the safety all citizens and especially the children. Therefore, he called on the entire nation to stand together at this hour of turmoil.

 The Prime Minister, explaining the measures taken to arrest the spread of the Coronavirus made a special statement yesterday (20).

 “At a time when the whole world is facing the threat of the Coronavirus, we as a government have taken all possible measures to ensure the safety of our people. As you know, from the start of this epidemic we were fully focussed on it and before many countries, Sri Lanka took measures to bring back our students stranded in Wuhan, China.

We have never at any moment disregarded the lives of all our citizens be it those in the country of Sri Lankans in other countries.

We have taken all steps to bring back those who went on pilgrimage to India as it is our responsibility to ensure their safe return.

Therefore, as soon as we heard about a patient or someone who had associated with a Coronavirus infected patient, we sprang into action. It was because of this readiness and focus that we have been able to hold thousands at quarantine centers and feed them, provide medication and other facilities.

As a country, it is undeniable that this is an arduous task. However, no matter how hard the task is, we as a government will always ensure that the people are cared for. Taking into consideration the safety of our children, we took measures to close the schools and universities. We have systematically stopped all incoming flights to the country and closed the arrival terminal. We have taken these measures taking into consideration the world situation and in the best interest of the country.

This is how we intend to take action in the future too.

At this time as I address the nation, the whole country is under curfew. Even during the height of terrorism, the whole country was not under curfew.

However, due to the irresponsible actions of a few, we had no other choice and had to take this drastic decision.

These measures have all been taken for the safety of you all and that of your children. Hence, the government regrets any inconvenience that the people may have to endure.

Rest assured that the government is well geared to provide all essential requirements including food and fuel, for the next several months. There is no need to worry.

Moreover, as a government we have no intention of hiding the facts from the people and we will be honest in announcing the number of persons affected and the situation regarding
this virus. We will notify the people constantly regarding the latest situation for the safety of everyone.

At a time when the whole world is facing a hard time, I urge all Sri Lankans to act with responsibility and foresight. If we all follow the advice of the medical experts and act
diligently, I am certain that we could overcome this epidemic in no time.

As a nation let’s stand together in facing this threat. We are a nation that overcame much greater adversities and I am confident that if we all stand together, we could overcome this
challenge too.

May the Triple Gem shine upon you all!”

The curfew is in no way a hindrance to the smooth operations of essential services, said Co-Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Bandula Gunawardena.

He said this addressing the weekly Cabinet briefing held at the Government Information Department yesterday (20). Therefore, the minister noted that passes for the smooth functioning of essential services could be obtained by the police, urging the people to stay indoors and assist the government in bringing this situation under control through self-quarantine.

All wholesale shops were open until around 2.00 pm yesterday in Pettah and the security forces personnel carried out a disinfection programme thereafter. The minister noted that all shops will reopen on Monday from 6.00 am.

The Minister also noted that at a time when the whole world is in an economic crisis, the government has taken steps to limit the import of other items giving priority to essential
commodities.He said this decision was taken in order to minimise the devaluation of the rupee.

The Director General of the Government Information Department Nalaka Kaluwewa also participated in this media briefing.

The Presidential Secretariat announced that curfew will be imposed country-wide from 6.00 pm today (March 20) until 6.00 am on Monday (March 23). 

The Judicial Service Commission has issued a special circular describing criterion for court proceedings for a week from tomorrow (20), with the aim of preventing the spread of COVID-19 virus in the country.

The Circular has been issued focusing cases to be called in Commercial High Courts, High Courts, Civil Appellate Courts, District Courts, Magistrates Courts and Labour Tribunals from 19th to 27th, this month.

No case shall be heard in open court except for cases which are decided by the judge as urgent and necessary.

All scheduled cases will be called on other days, and accepting applications for court bail will proceed as usual. The Commission further state that if a lawyer wants to make a plea to the courts to hear a case due to an urgent reason, only requests made by a motion before 10.00 a.m. will be considered.

The Commission also advised to use video technology in the process of extending detention period of inmates instead of bringing them into the courts.

Provisions for police bailouts should be used as far as possible, and the Magistrates must maintain proper coordination with the police in respective areas.

The Judicial Service Commission has issued this circular with the aim of preventing the spread of coronavirus with in the country as much as possible, by reducing public gatherings.

The government has taken every possible measure to contain the spread of COVID – 19.

It is the responsibility of every government, semi-government and private entities as well as the general public to ensure that the situation does to escalate to a pandemic.

After careful consideration of every aspect, the government has declared a period of work from home for both public and private sectors starting from March 20 to 27.

This duration is not public holidays except March 21st and 22nd.

The government should continue public services without any disruption. However, as a measure to prevent congregation of people, the government has decided to declare a week of work from home. The experience derived from this methodology will be used to implement a distant-public service mechanism in the future.

The relevant authorities should take steps to ensure continuous supply of essential services including health, public administration, transportation, banking, food, water, electricity, distribution of fertilizer and buying paddy.

The activities of District Secretariats and Divisional Secretariats should also be continued. When implementing the remote working system, the relevant Heads of Departments should take steps to limit to the extent possible summoning their staff to the office. The institutions can use alternative approaches like technological means such as e-mail, SMS and telephone, as well to do the file work from home.

Technological approach should be used to prevent the public from gathering at the offices, and to maintain the delivery of public service properly while solving the problems. If there is any additional cost involved in using personal telephones, the government will provide necessary reliefs in this regard.

In a situation like this the government expects all government officials to follow the proper strategy to maintain the delivery of public services.

The main objective is to prevent the spread of coronavirus to the level of an epidemic. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Heads of Institutions to apprise their employees regarding their strategies while implementing a proper system to limit their staff, as the services provided by various organizations are different.

The Private Sector has also been advised through all Chambers of Commerce to do their business as per above mentioned guidelines.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the Special Task Force to combat the global pandemic COVID-19 sternly said stringent measures must be put in place, including restriction of all arrivals at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) for the next two weeks, over concerns that many passengers from COVID-19 affected countries might be unaccounted for.

“We have asked for schools to remain closed, for public gatherings to be restricted but what use is any  of it if people are going to be irresponsible enough to congregate and move freely,” President Rajapaksa said. “We must restrict all arrivals at the BIA with immediate effect. We need to contain the spread of the virus.” Officials said that over 200 passengers had arrived during the last few days while another 270 were waiting to be quarantined,

The President said that although restrictions had been placed on March 9 including barring arrivals from selected countries, there had been a steady stream of passengers arriving since March 1 to the country. “There are over 1000 individuals who arrived from overseas now placed on self-quarantine. I have asked PHIs, police and the army to make house calls and put up posters in these vicinities.”

The President was irate that despite the restrictions many continued to act irresponsibly putting ordinary people at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. “The individual who came from Kuliyapitiya had visited his father in Galle, but never revealed that information. Ultimately his father contracted the virus. In another instance the husband of a Foreign Ministry official was absconding from authorities. He had switched off his phones and instead of seeking treatment, had been to three private hospitals for medical check-ups. I have asked that legal action be taken.”

In response to concerns posed by officials that a ‘lockdown’ would serve as an effective containment measure, the President responded by saying that “we have not reached a point, where we need to quarantine the whole country”. “We have sent all arrivals and suspected cases to quarantine, the rest have been asked to stay at home. If we can do this effectively, we can contain the spread of the virus.” “I requested that the Royal-Thomian encounter be stopped, but that was not heeded. I have asked that all public gatherings be restricted and I have been informed that hotels will refund any payments that had already been made.”

The President appealed to the members of the task force to not panic but reach decisions rationally. “We cannot afford to panic, if we panic, the ordinary citizen will panic. We need to remain firm and use our intellect. We can face this collectively if we collaborate and take decisions that will restrict the spread of the virus.”

The President was dismayed that some officials had conveyed to him the containment measures taken by other countries. “We need to have faith in ourselves and the measures we have taken. We were among the first countries to set up this task force as early as January 26. One of the first decisions was to bring back 35 Sri Lankan students who were stranded in Wuhan. We keep referring to the actions other countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Italy have taken. But let’s examine our progress and correct our shortcomings instead.”

He added that merely because of 28 individuals are confirmed of having contracted the virus, the country cannot be placed on lockdown. “When I was the Defence Secretary, we had bombs going off everywhere, many were dying, thousands were rendered disabled. But that did not force us to put the country on lockdown and there is no reason why we should do so now.”

During the discussion it was brought to the President’s notice that although restrictions had been placed from March 9, there had been many arrivals from March 1. The majority of these individuals have been identified as geographically hailing from Chilaw, Puttalam, Negombo and Natthandiya. Officials said that some of these individuals were not to be found at their residences in places like Natthandiya.

The President responded by agreeing to restrict movement of individuals from selected townships in an effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the Nation yesterday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced a number of concessions to help the public and business enterprises affected by the coronavirus (Covid–19) outbreak.

President Rajapaksa also instructed the banks and financial institutions to offer a six month grace period for loans obtained by business enterprises and provide working capital for loans at 4 percent.

The President said as a concession to the public that he has ordered officials to maintain a maximum retail price of Rs. 65 per kilogramme for dhal and Rs.100 for canned fish from yesterday night.

He said that more concessions will be announced in the future.

President Rajapaksa also called on all Sri Lankans to cooperate with the government to ensure that the threat posed by the virus does not get out of hand.

He also called on the public to continue to have faith in him and also added that he requires a stable Government to do more for the country and to take forward his policies and vision for the country.

The President in his address also gave details of the various measures taken by the government to combat the Coronavirus spread.

President Rajapaksa said that when the global attention was drawn towards the threat posed by the virus, he had taken steps to bring back the 34 students who were at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China. “They were quarantined and allowed to return to their families safely after two weeks,” the President said.

He said even before the first patient was found on Januray 26 a Task Force had been set up to deal with the issue.

“The first Covid-19 patient, a Chinese woman tourist was found in Sri Lanka January 27. She was treated in a government hospital and was released on February 19 after after been completely cured”.

The President went on to say that after the first detection no patient was found in Sri Lasnka for about one month.

He said that the the government had imposed bans on flights arriving from the worst affected countries and also initiated compulsory quarantine procedures for passengers arriving from virus hit countries in government centres and also had initiated self quarantine measures.

“Many of the people infected with the virus were already in quarantine,” he pointed out.

He said flights have been stopped from today as a further measure at controlling the spread.

He called on Sri Lankans returning home to act responsibly and support the quarantine measures initiated by authorities.

He said public holidays were also given as a measure to control the spread. Despite these mesasures the government was also providing essential services and other necessary help to the public.

President Rajapaksa said that after he won the Presidency, he had to function with a minority government.

“The former government had not presented a Budget and we had to work with a Vote on Account. The former government had not approved monies for many essential payments. We tired to get these monies approved through a Vote on Account but the opposition did not support the effort”.”

The President said due to this he could not fully implement the pledges he made to the people.

“In order to fulfil the promises that I made, I need a stable majority government. Therefore, I had to dissolve Parliament at the first opportunity and call for an election,” he added.

The President said after dissolving Parliament he was able to get a Vote on Account approved through the powers vested on him in the Constitution. The President said that is how he found monies to make essential payments and to face the current crisis.

The President while noting that he needs a stable government to carry forward his strategy to develop the country, sought the people’s support to form a stable government with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a veteran politician and a most beloved leader to fulfill his mandate.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa today (15) proposed to leaders of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to formulate a collective response to combat COVID – 19. He further called for SAARC Ministerial Meeting to discuss measures to overcome this deadly health threat.

President Rajapaksa made these proposals participating in a video conference with all SAARC leaders under the theme of “SAARC Leader on Combating COVID – 19, Setting an Example to the World”. This was an initiative by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa noted that presently there are 11 confirmed cases in Sri Lanka. The first identified was a Chinese tourist. She was successfully treated at the specialized Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) and has since returned back to china. The second case was a Sri Lankan tourist guide, but the tourists he was with who he had obviously contracted the virus from had already returned to their home country. Sri Lanka too has not reported any deaths due to the virus.

“Our biggest challenge is to stop or minimize the virus entering into Sri Lanka and control the spreading of the virus within Sri Lanka,” stated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. “For this purpose, we have banned tourists and other people from about 12 countries, especially some EU countries, entering into Sri Lanka, following the guidelines and statistics relating to the spread of the virus, issued by the WHO. We have also banned tourists and others from South Korea and Iran coming to Sri Lanka.”

However, the challenge is with the Sri Lankan expatriate community wishing to return to Sri Lanka. “We have a large number of Sri Lankans working in Italy and South Korea. We cannot stop these Sri Lankans coming back to their home country”. Therefore, the president explained that steps had been taken to subject those returning to Sri Lanka to a 14-day quarantine period in quarantine centers.

The 34 students flown back from the then high risk Wuhan province by the national airlines carrier were also quarantined for two weeks, remarked the President. However, they did not contract the virus. The other 750 Sri Lankans who were living in other parts of China were put on a self-quarantine program.

President Rajapaksa explained that besides the IDH that is close to Colombo, 12 other hospitals have also been designated to treat suspected or confirmed cases. Those who show flu symptoms have been asked to self-quarantine whilst seeking medical attention. Both the police and the Public Health Inspectors are closely monitoring the progress of the suspected patients. Furthermore, a National Task Force with all major stakeholders empowered to take crucial decisions have been set up and meet on a daily basis with close and constant monitoring of all aspects relating to the spread of this deadly virus.

A number of measures had been taken to avoid all large gatherings, including cinema halls, sport events and international conferences, noted President Rajapaksa. All education centers from pre-schools to universities had been closed, ranging from two to six weeks. Even religious gatherings have been discouraged for two weeks. Besides these measures, sanitizing of public transport has commenced and 16 March had been declared a public holiday to keep people from the roads.

Like the other SAARC countries, Sri Lanka’s economy too had taken a nosedive, noted President. “Most of our tourists are from Italy, Germany and other EU countries, and now there is a ban on their coming.  Our tourist industry was just recovering after last year’s April 21st terrorist attack. Our exports are also adversely affected. Therefore, I strongly recommend to the SAARC leaders to formulate a mechanism to assist our economies to tide over this very difficult period.”

Today’s initiative by the Indian Prime Minister to address the CORVID 19 pandemic was greatly appreciated by all other SAARC leaders. This was an initiative to discuss with the SAARC leaders a roadmap to combat the virus.

PM Modi, as he opened the forum noted that our societies are deeply connected and thus we must be prepared together to face the challenges ahead.

“We know we have a serious challenge ahead of us,” he observed. “However, we still do not know the shape of the pandemic that we are to face in the coming days.’

He emphasized the need to be careful instead of panicking and that the threat should not be underestimated.

All the leaders spoke of their countries’ experience and the current status of the situation. While the situation is still within control, the austere measures taken to contain the virus had severely affected the economies. As the Bhutan Premier Dr. Lotay Shering noted, it is the smaller economies that have got hit disproportionately.

This was also attested by the President of Maldives HE Solih as he spoke of the effect on the Maldivian economy with the drastic decrease in the tourism sector. A quarter of Maldives’ GDP and two thirds of their Foreign Exchange comes from tourism. In addition, almost all forms of employment in Maldives are directly or indirectly related to the tourist industry. Even though there had been only 13 confirmed cases and no deaths yet, the industry had been declining since February.

At the conclusion of conference, PM Modi advocated a joint effort to combat the challenges posed to the region by the virus. He proposed a CORVID 19 emergency fund for the SAARC countries can draw from to deal with the related issues. Contributing to this fund would be an entirely a voluntary decision, said PM Modi. As a starting point though, he pledged USD 10 million, which through the India Foreign Ministry and related missionaries could be accessed.

PM Modi also assured shared resources and knowledge as medical expertise, testing kits and other equipment as well as online training for health workers. He also advocated the use of existing facilities as available in SAARC disaster management.

President Rajapaksa reiterating the need to work together appreciated the Indian prime Minister’s offer especially when there is a shortage in testing kits worldwide. President also emphasized the need to create social awareness and the reasons behind government decisions to avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications. He also advocated the need for one central place to disseminate information or otherwise confusion will result. President Rajapaksa thanked PM Modi for taking this initiative to get all the SAARC leaders together to discuss this important issue. This sentiment was echoed by all other leaders and they too repeated that this should be a more frequent exercise.

The Government has taken several more measures to limit congregation of people in the wake of COVID – 19 outbreak in the country.

Several decisions related to justice and prison activities will be implemented from tomorrow (17) onwards.

The Judicial Services Commission which met today (16) sent out a circular relating to judicial cases to be taken up  from March 17 to 20. All the court cases which are to be called at Commercial High Courts, Court of Appeal and District Courts will not be called at open courts. The public can obtain information on their cases at Court premises in the first week of April. The circular has further advised to take up only the urgent cases at the discretion of Judges concerned. This practice is to be adopted at both High Courts and Magistrate Courts.

The congregation of public near prisons will also be limited.

However, normal commercial, banking and trading activities will continue as usual.

The National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID- 19 which has been set up on the directive of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will operate from  No. 1090, Sri Jayewardenepura, Rajagiriya.

The Government takes maximum possible steps to ensure  to-today activities without causing any disruption to the civilian life. The Government requests the cooperation of the general public to contain the spread of COVID – 19 virus with a proper understanding on the prevailing situation.  

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa 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 today 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.

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