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Hakeem, SJB appeal for burial of Muslims dying of COVID-19

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By Saman Indrajith

Muslim COVID-19 victims were being cremated to appease some extremist elements, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem told parliament yesterday.

“The issue of cremating the Muslims who die of COVID-19 will have far reaching implications which are detrimental not only to the government, but to the country as a whole. I am pleading on the floor of this House, for God’s sake, please revise this draconian policy without further delay.”

Hakeem said: Some 20 bodies of Muslims who have died of COVID-19 and not been claimed by their families are to be cremated. These bodies have not been claimed as an act of civic resistance against the government’s reluctance to change its decision to cremate COVID-19 killed persons. The civic resistance has been started by the Muslim community after pleading for months in vain. The government has not changed its policy and keeps on burning those bodies despite the fact that families of victims are suffering from severe trauma because of their action of not accepting the bodies of their loved ones.

“This policy has no scientific basis. The government could check it with scientists and epidemiologists. The government has many experts including Prof. Tissa Vitarana, who is a virologist. You can ask them. Already leading virologists have said this is unfair. “

Anuradhapura SJB MP Ishak Rahuman said that a 20-day-old child who died recently is also to be cremated and asked the government what sort of reaction they expected from the parents of the child.

All Ceylon Tamil Congress Leader Ganjendrakumar Ponnambalam, making a special statement, said that the WHO in its advice dated March 24 on infection prevention and control for the safe management of dead bodies in the context of COVID-19, had noted that people who died from COVID-19 could be buried or cremated. Dignity of the dead and their cultural and religious traditions should be respected. The Health Ministry issued guidelines on March 31, instructing that the bodies be cremated within 24 hours, preferably within 12 hours. Four UN rapporteurs have asked the government to revise that policy. UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo too has asked the government to change its policy.

 The ACTC leader said: “The Constitution does not recognise the right to life explicitly but it has been held in Ratnayake Tharanga Lakmali versus Niroshan Abeykoon by the Supreme Court that Article 11 which ensuring Freedom from Torture to be read with Article 13 (4) on Freedom from Arbitrary Punishment recognized by necessary implications the right to life. The court advances this argument on the basis that the Constitution is a living document and should not be construed in a narrow and pedantic manner. The court referred to the values embodied in the constitution- one such is the dignity of the people as well as Sri Lanka’s obligations under various international treaties in reinforcing the right to life.

“In Islam fire is equal to hell. So cremating is equal to punishment in hell. There are 190 countries in the world who have allowed burying their Muslim COVID-19 victims. We request the government to revise its policy and allow the Muslims to bury their own.”

 Kurunegala District SJB MP Nalin Bandara said that the government was making use of COVID-19 regulations to cremate the inmates killed at the Mahara Prison riots. “There were 11 inmates killed in the Mahara prison riots. It has been found the 10 of them were COVID-19 infected. Now the government is going to cremate them without holding a post-mortem and inquests. That is against the procedure. There should be investigations before their cremation.”

 Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said that the government should not dispose of the bodies of the Mahara victims without proper investigations and it should follow the legal procedures.



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COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk

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Top medical man in North threatens lockdown

Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area

20% of IDH patients need oxygen

By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita

Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.

“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”

He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.

 

Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.

One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.

On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.

Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.

Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.

PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.

“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.

Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.

All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.

Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.

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Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.

President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”

The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.

“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”

Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.

“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”

Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.

“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”

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CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.

Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.

“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said

About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.

“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”

Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.

“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”

 

 

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