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The Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva has been tasked to spearhead the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID- 19 Outbreak, which has been set up on the directive of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at No. 1090, Sri Jayewardenepura, Rajagiriya.

This Centre will coordinate preventive and management measures to ensure that healthcare and other services are well geared to serve the general public.

All officials depending on the exigency of services will be utilized for the services coordination under National Operation Center and they should be available on call service.

As a measure to contain the outbreak of COVID – 19 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa instructed officials to suspend all inbound passenger flights to the country for 2 weeks with effect from mid-night tomorrow (18).

President also directed heads of Departments and other entities to ensure uninterrupted economic and trading activities as well as other essential services.

President issued these directives at a meeting with officials of the Task Force on Prevention of COVID – 19 virus held at the Presidential Secretariat today (17).

While we have to take stern measures to control the situation, we cannot let the country to suffer, President said adding that he is willing to take right decisions and requested the cooperation of all parties to implement them.

President elaborated on the steps taken by the Government so far and said the task force was set up on January 26th, being the first country to establish such a mechanism. 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 have been given to sectors other than essential services.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said around 300 are currently scattered in various places in India who were on pilgrimage. President ordered relevant officials to send a flight to bring them back to the country.

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 fiestas and public gatherings as much as possible, was stressed.

Also stressed was the need of taking swift action against those who spread rumours and fabricated stories regarding the spread of the virus, with the intention of frightening the general public.

The President pointed out that granting leaves in a manner that it would disrupt the economic and civilian life is not a solution to the problem.

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi and members of the Coronavirus Prevention Task Force and Heads of health and essential services institutions participated in this meeting.

The Government yesterday warned those who spread false information on COVID-19 that they would face harsh penalties under the Quarantine Ordinance. Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena pointed out that some individuals spread rumours through social media and put the country into various difficulties in order to gain personal benefits.

“Some Opposition politicians have forced Buddhist monks to protest against the proposed Quarantine Centres. Such ideas are being fabricated by Opposition politicians in order to create instability in the country,” he said.  “Sri Lanka has a very strong Quarantine Ordinance Act introduced when the country was under British colonial rule. Rumour mongers should be aware of this before resorting to their various gimmicks.

At this moment all Sri Lankans need to think and act as one nation without resorting to petty politics or creating other differences,” Minister Dr. Gunawardena added.

Police also warned that legal action would be initiated against anyone found spreading false rumours regarding the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic over social media with the aim of causing panic among the people.

The Police Media Unit issuing a statement refuted claims that many COVID-19 infected persons had been reported from various parts of the country.

There were rumours being circulated over social media that the son of the Coronavirus patient had also tested positive for the deadly virus. However, the Police said that the family had not been tested positive for the Coronavirus and they are currently being quarantined at their home under the supervision of the Health Ministry as a precautionary measure.
 
Police urged the public not to be misled by these rumours circulating over social media and said that legal action would be taken against anyone found to be spreading false rumours through social media.

The Government yesterday announced a series of measures to curb COVID-19 in the country, including the immediate commencement of the vacation for all Government schools and Pirivenas. Two hotlines (0710107107 and 0113071073) were also established yesterday for the public to receive accurate and confirmed information on COVID-19. The service is free of charge and available 24 hours.

The Government also called on the public to cooperate fully with the measures adopted by the authorities to combat COVID-19, including strict quarantine measures for returning Sri Lankans. The public should also rely only on verified information given through mainstream media and not social media such as Facebook or What’s App, stated Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena. Addressing the media at the Education Ministry, Education Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said the vacation for schools was a precautionary measure taken in view of the present situation and there was no need for parents to panic.

“This is not a closure of schools per se, actually what we are doing is bringing the first school term vacation that generally comes in April a bit forward.

Schools will re-open as scheduled on April 20.” Dhamma schools will also not function until April 20 and schools have been requested to cancel all educational tours. The Minister requested the private schools and private tuition classes to abide by with the Education Ministry’s decision on Government schools.  When questioned as to why the Ministry does not order private tuition classes and private schools to close their institutions, the Minister said that the Ministry can only make a request from those institutions. However it was later revealed that most private schools had followed this decision. Meanwhile issuing a media release, Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has also appreciated the decision taken by the Education Ministry to grant an early vacation for schools. The release stated that all Catholic private schools will also be closed during this period. According to the Minister, the Ministry decided to close schools on the directives of religious and political heads who wish to ensure a safe environment for the 4.3 million students.

Asked whether there is any possibility to hold the term tests at schools, Alahapperuma said that with the closure of schools term tests cannot be held. When questioned on the fate of big-matches scheduled to be held in due course, the Minister responded that the final decisions on such events are taken by principals of the respective schools.

An awareness programme on COVID – 19 is now underway for the staff members of Ministries, Departments and Corporations.

The first in the series was held at the Presidential Secretariat today (12). Dr. Deshantha Dissanayake enlightened the staff on symptoms, prevention and precautionary measures relating to COVID -19.

Accordingly, this will continue at both State and private sector entities.

The staff members are expected to share their knowledge and understanding with their family members as well as with the society. The programme aims at preventing the disease becoming an epidemic at the national level.

The Director General (Administration) of the Presidential Secretariat K. B. Egodawele and other staff members attended the programmes.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested the heads of research organizations to find ways and means to uplift a small country like Sri Lanka with a comparatively small population and an economy.

Since the current global economy is based on knowledge, ours should be developed centered around our workforce that can be easily trained, President observed.

President Rajapaksa made these observations during a meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat today (13) with Chairmen and Director Board members of state- sector research entities. This is the fourth of the series of meetings organized to enlighten heads of government institutes on ‘Saubagyaye Dekma’ Policy Statement. Heads of Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute, National Science Foundation, Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies and Institute of Post-Harvest Technology were among the participants.

“There is a visible breakdown in our political culture. The people of this country elected a person who was not a politician as their President with the hope of rectifying this. This is the challenge before me. The State sector has an enormous responsibility in fulfilling aspirations of the people. If the public institutes function in an efficient manner we will not have any issue in carrying out our duties”, President Rajapaksa said.

The President emphasized that conducting comprehensive researches is crucial for economic development and said that his main objective is to ensure higher standard of living for the lower segment of the society. He also said that the programme to recruit 100,000 unskilled persons from the underprivileged families was designed to achieve this objective.

‘We are an agricultural country. But our farmers have always been poor. Second and third generations choose the agricultural field if it is the only option for survival. Modern technology should be introduced to this field to attract new generation. India has successfully achieved results by doing so. Researchers should introduce new technologies to agriculture in order to free the underprivileged people from poverty’, President Rajapaksa emphasized.

Explaining the role and responsibilities of the research institutes, the President said it is imperative for researchers to identify accurately what our people need. Researches need to be done to introduce new techniques to agricultural sector as well as to the fisheries sector. Even though we have many problems about use of chemical fertilizers, we still haven’t been able to shift to use organic fertilizer. When considering the fisheries sector, researches can be used to identify areas where fish are abundant. President pointed out that the results of researches should be socialized as a product.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, Ministry Secretaries and other senior officials were also present in this meeting.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has paid his attention to enhance the efficiency of railway services and to make it a people- friendly service while identifying the existing shortcomings.

The President instructed the officials to devise necessary strategies and to take required decisions to improve the service by eliminating delays and upgrading compartments facilities.

President Rajapaksa made directives at a meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat, today (11) to discuss the steps to be taken to improve the railway services.

On a daily basis, over 385,000 passengers travel by train. The President said that by providing improved services to these commuters and attracting more people will help easing traffic congestion on roads.

Our trains are often over crowded. During this meeting the steps that should be taken to rectify this situation were discussed in detail.

The President also required trade unions to make their representations to enhance the efficiency of the railway system.

Daily train schedules should be designed based on public needs. The President also highlighted the importance of identifying potentials of the current workforce of the Railway Department with the objective of improving their skills in order to provide more efficient service.

The train delays are mostly caused due to the out-dated signal systems. The President also instructed relevant officials to take necessary remedial measures in this regard with the assistance of the local engineers. Attention was drawn to the possibility of using railway lines for freight transport after peak hours. The President said that it would be of great importance to the national economy as well.

Discussions were also focused on modernization of the railway service in an attractive manner targeting foreign tourists.

Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, Mr. S. Atigala, Secretary to the Finance Ministry, Mr. H.M.Gamini Seneviratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, Railways General Manager, M.J.D. Fernando and Senior Officials were present in this meeting.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa seeks cooperation of all sections of the society to stop the spread of COVID – 19 in Sri Lanka.

The country will have to face disastrous consequences if we behave in an irresponsible manner, the President emphasizes. Many countries in the world have been affected by the deadly virus. President highlighted the importance of the cooperation of everyone to the quarantine process commenced with the objective of protecting citizens of this country.

The government was successful in containing the disease without causing any hardships to the public since its eruption in Wuhan in China.

Further spread of the disease was thwarted through a coordinated effort by various sectors including Health authorities. In order to continue this positive vibe, the fullest assistance and cooperation of every citizen is required, said President Rajapaksa during a discussion with specialists and experts in relevant fields on future measures held at the Presidential Secretariat today (11).

The first Sri Lankan COVID – 19 patient was identified yesterday (10). The 52-year patient is a travel guide working with tourists from Italy by the time of diagnosis. The guide together with the team had travelled through Habarana and Dickwella.

The Director General of Health Services, Dr. Anil Jasinghe said all the required steps have been taken to inspect these locations and people.

Around 685 people have been quarantined at two centres in Batticaloa. Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva said that the Army and health officials have taken steps to provide them with maximum possible facilities within a short period of time. Hadala and Diyatalawa centres are also now ready to use for the purpose of quarantine.

The Sri Lankans as well as foreigners arriving from South Korea, Italy, and Iran will be sent to these centers for a 14-day quarantine period. The Government has taken all necessary steps to provide health and other facilities needed for them. Therefore, the President requested everyone arriving from foreign countries to assist this process for the safety of the people living in Sri Lanka.

During the meeting, it was discussed to issue a certificate after the quarantine process is over.

The President further requested those who arriving from other countries to Sri Lanka to cooperate with this process by living in isolation in their own houses.

The attention was also drawn regarding the immediate suspension of the group tours. President Rajapaksa advised to store essential medicines without shortage and to streamline the necessary facilities required for the testing process.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, specialists representing several fields attended this meeting.

 
 

Information, Media, Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena yesterday said that the government will soon begin the construction of fully fledged university in Kotagala, Hatton for the benefit of students in the plantation sector who qualify for university entrance.

Minister Dr. Gunawardena made these remarks when he visited Kotagala along with Minister Arumugam Thondaman to inspect the land which has been earmarked for the construction of the new university.

He said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to build a new university for the benefit of children in the plantation sector to pursue their higher education in the run up of last Presidential election.

“Steps would be taken to fulfill the pledge made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the plantation sector people,” he said.

The Minister said the proposed university will introduce novel study courses in the field of bio technology, engineering technology and Information Technology on the directive of the President.

“A generation armed with cutting edge technology will emerge from the plantation sector with the commissioning of this new university,” he said.

The Minister also said the Thondaman Vocational Training Centre will also be upgraded to a University College status soon.

Dr. Gunawardena also added that students of all communities in the plantation sector will receive an opportunity to have a degree from a university which is established in their area itself.

“This university will introduce novel study courses through which those who pass out can receive gainful employment projects without participating in protests seeking for jobs,” he said.

He said that the President succeeded in fulfilling his pledge of granting employment to the graduates before the election.

Dr. Gunawardena also opined that the rifts developing in the United National Party will help the Government secure a 2/3 majority at the upcoming election.

The Old Parliament Building where the Presidential Secretariat is currently located will be open for public view every weekend from 10 am to 4 pm, from March 14th Saturday. Public is also allowed to take photographs within the Old Parliament premises.

For reservations, people may reach the Director General(Admin) via fax 011-2441685 or Telephone number 011-2354354.

The Old Parliament Building represents a crucial era in the Sri Lankan political history. The Building was constructed 82 years ago and its construction was inspired by the Greek Ionian order which is considered to be one of the oldest architectures of the ancient Western classical time period. The outer appearance of the Old Parliament Building resembles the Athenian “Parthenon” in Acropolis dedicated for their patron goddess Athena.

The Building was initially established as the “Legislative Council” by the Governor Sir Herbert Stanley in 1930. Following amendments to the Constitution and ensuing amendments to the name of the Legislature, the Old Parliament Building was called a number of names throughout history. Between 1931 and 1947 it was called the “State Council”, while it was changed to the “House of Representatives” from 1947 to 1972. During 1972-1978 period it was called the “National State Assembly” and finally, it was called the “Sri Lanka Parliament” from 1978 to 1982. As the parliament was moved to the current Parliament Complex in Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte, this historical building was designated as the Presidential Secretariat in 1983.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa instructed members of the special task force set up to monitor and discuss preventive measures against Covid – 19 virus in Sri Lanka to formulate a scientific mechanism to prevent the disease entering the country.

Sri Lanka is one of the countries in the region which has so far been successful in the battle against this global health threat due to diligent steps taken by the government and medical experts in the country, President said at a meeting convened at the Presidential Secretariat today (6) to discuss future measures to continue this positive atmosphere.

Covid – 19 rapidly spreading across the globe and the situation is severe in countries such as Iran, South Korea and Italy. The task force members recommended to quarantine those who arrive in Sri Lanka from these countries. This will help to prevent the spread of the disease, they pointed out.

At present patients who are suspected to carry the disease are successfully quarantined in many hospitals throughout the island. Not a single Sri Lankan infected with Covid-19 has been found within the country so far. President Rajapaksa said that it was the duty of the people arriving from foreign countries to act in a socially responsible manner if they had any symptoms of this disease without hiding themselves.

The President also emphasized the need of continuous promotion through the media of the health practices that should be observed to prevent the spread of the disease. If necessary, President advised the officials to provide necessary facilities, resource personnel and equipment to the quarantine process in the future.

Governor of the Western Province Dr. Seetha Arambepola, Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Bhadrani Jayawardena, Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe and members of the task force were also present at this meeting.

 
 

Minister of Information and Mass Media and Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Dr. Bandula Gunawardena requested the graduates, who did not receive their appointment letters for the graduate trainee program, to send in their appeals to the President Secretariat via their respective divisional secretariats.

The applicants should attach the photocopies of the original applications they sent by post or email along with the appeal, Dr. Gunawardena also said.

Dr. Gunawardena also observed that the trainee appointments are in no way a political campaign.

Dr. Gunawardena said that there is no political agenda behind these appointments and pointed out that all the graduates are a part of the new generation who should be contributing for to the country’s economy.

“This is not an attempt to give jobs to Pohottuwa supporters. We are giving appointments to educated youth in the country, without any party politics.” Dr. Gunawardena observed.

The Minister made these observations at a press brief held at the Department of Government yesterday evening.

M.A.A.

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