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HRCSL recommends guidelines on regularising quarantine processes

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…acknowledges need to restrict movements et al

Acknowledging the need to restrict freedom of movement and liberty of people in the interests of public health and public order during an extraordinary health emergency such as that facing the country at present, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has in a letter addressed to Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, head of the National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID 19 Outbreak, made a series of recommendations to address public concerns.

HRCSL Commissioner Ramani Muttettuwegama said that the Commission appreciated the efforts that were being made to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the country. The Commissioner said: “The Commission continues to recognise the need to restrict freedom of movement and liberty of people in the interests of public health and public order during an extraordinary health emergency such as that facing the country at present. The Commission has observed that a large number of persons have been subject to quarantine processes in view of the resurgence of the fear of spread of COVID-19 pandemic and has received a variety of complaints and expressions of concerns relating to the process.”

The Commissioner said: “The Commission has observed that a large number of persons have been subject to quarantine processes in view of the resurgence of the fear of spread of COVID-19 pandemic and has received a variety of complaints and expressions of concerns relating to the process. In this regard, the Commission welcomes confirmation that first contacts of the COVID-19 infected patients who were earlier sent to quarantine centres, will now be home quarantined. We are in agreement that quarantining persons to their home will be the best option.

Since it is incumbent on the Commission under Act No. 21 of 1996 to examine whether restrictions on liberty are compatible with our Constitution and international human rights obligations, having given due consideration to the concerns expressed by the general public, the Commission presents the following guidelines:”

The Commission is of the view that the quarantine process can be regularized under the law by:

(i) Transparency in delegation of powers by the “Proper Authority”;

(ii) Vest powers of testing on designated qualified personnel;

(iii) List the places designated as quarantine centres and the designating authority.

(iv) Clarify the period of required quarantining.

(v) Create a receipt system for quarantined persons including the reason for quarantine, the place they are being taken to and the length of isolation;

(vi) External scrutiny of quarantine centres, especially by the “proper authority”;

(vii) Prohibit those handling quarantine from informing the media of the proposed quarantining efforts, exposing those being quarantined to public gaze as though they were offenders rather than unfortunate victims of a virulent virus.

The Commission is also of the view the hardships imposed by the quarantining process can be ameliorated by:

(i) Ensuring quarantined period is considered paid/ duty leave;

(ii) Ensuring financial or any other assistance to families of those in quarantine;

(iii) The Grama Niladhari be immediately informed when a person is quarantined;

(iv) In the circumstances where the vulnerable dependents in the families are left behind due to quarantine process, the Grama Niladhari to ensure provision of all necessary support to vulnerable persons including alerting the proper authorities.

The Commission wishes to emphasize that nothing in these recommendations should be construed by any member of the public to act contrary to health guidelines issued by the public health authorities in regard to the COVID 19 pandemic or act in a manner that would be harmful to public health in general. The Commission also reiterates that placing the persons of first contact with COVID 19 patients under home quarantine will remove most of the concerns listed above but is issuing these recommendations in the event the  government wishes to establish quarantine processes again in the future.



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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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