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Lokuge accused of overriding Covid-19 counter measures

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Piliyandala removed from isolation list: DGHS helpless

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Asela Gunawardena, who is the state authority for the national campaign against the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic, has acknowledged that his directive that Piliyandala police area be isolated on May Day was overridden.

Appearing on Hiru TV ‘Salakuna’ programme on Monday (3) night, Dr. Gunawardena admitted that the very basis of the mechanism in place to isolate areas threatened by the Covid-19 epidemic had been violated.

Dr. Gunawardena said so in response to ‘Salakuna’ anchor Chamuditha Samarawickrema repeatedly pressing the DGHS over the removal of the isolation directive issued effective at 6 am on May Day following Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge’s intervention. Samarawickrema sought an explanation as regards the removal of the directive at 5 pm and the subsequent isolation of five Grama Niladhari areas in the Piliyandala police area.

Samarawickrema pointed out to DGHS that politicians had been allowed to behave in a manner inimical to the entire national effort to counter the pandemic whereas the public and in some instances even the media were repeatedly criticized for not cooperating with government efforts.

Dr. Gunawardena recently issued a dire warning over the absence of sufficient hospital facilities in case the situation further deteriorated rapidly. The number of deaths reported till Monday stood at 709 with the country recording well over 1,000 new cases every day for about a week.

Responding to Samarawickrema, Dr. Gunawardena explained the mechanism in place to control the pandemic. According to the DGHS, the Medical Officer Health (MoH) responsible for a particular area brought the situation to the notice of the Provincial Authority who in turn alerted him. Once the DGHS decided to act on recommendation made by MoH and Provincial Authority, the Commander of the Army who is also the head of the Covid-19 Task Force General Shavendra Silva was informed, the DGHS explained.

Samarawickrema asked the DGHS how isolation of Piliyandala had been removed if such measures were taken in terms of scientific foundation as he mentioned.

In the wake of Samarawickrema challenging the DGHS to act on Minister Lokuge’s intervention, the latter promised to look into the matter.

Samarawickrema told The Island that he raised the issue at hand particularly against the backdrop of the government banning May Day rallies as part of the overall measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Samarawickrema said that Minister Lokuge had told the media, including Hiru that some persons on his staff, too, were tested positive. In spite of that the Minister accompanied by a group of people were on the move in the Piliyandala area, Samarawickrema said.

Responding to another query, Dr Gunawardena  said that he announced the isolation of Piliyandala on Hiru at 6.25 am on May Day. Then several hours later, another statement was received regarding the removal of the isolation directive, Samarawickrema said.

The Island didn’t receive a response to sms sent to Minister Lokuge and Dr. Gunawardena seeking clarification regarding the issue at hand.

Minister Lokuge was shown on Hiru main news bulletin Monday night assuring the Piliyandala electorate as the people’s representative he had a right to look into their grievances.



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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament

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Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.

 

 

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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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