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Resumption of burials a high risk the country cannot afford to take – MP Muzammil

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‘We shouldn’t seek exclusive rights during a grave crisis’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) National List MP Mohammed Muzammil yesterday strongly urged the government not to resume burial of Muslim corona victims under any circumstances, though a section of the Muslim community is demanding that Muslim covid-19 victims be allowed to be buried.

Muzammil, who represents the National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent of the SLPP, said that the country was struggling to cope with the corona pandemic and no one should be allowed to play politics at a time of national health emergency.

The NFF has five elected MPs and one National List MP in the 145-member SLPP parliamentary group.

In a brief interview with The Island over the phone, the former JVP MP emphasised that whatever the religious dictates and sentiments, the Sri Lankan Muslim community should adhere to specific instructions issued by the government as regards the cremation of corona victims.

Pointing out that the ongoing corona second wave could lead to a an unprecedented catastrophe, Muzammil said the Muslim community had no option but to follow government guidelines. The national economy was already in tatters, as in many other countries, with all major revenue sources such as tourism, garment trade and foreign remittances badly affected, and, therefore any further deterioration of health situation could be disastrous, the MP said.

The government would have to take decisions for the benefit of all people, the MP said, adding that the burial of corona victims was against the health guidelines now in place. Commenting on other Muslim members of parliament pushing for the burial of Muslims dying of COVID-19, Muzammil said that they should be free to express their views. “There is nothing wrong in them taking a stand on this sensitive issue,” the MP said, emphasizing the responsibility on the part of the government to do the right thing.

Muzammil said that he deeply regretted the issue caused by the demand for Muslim burial rights. Responding to another query, the MP pointed out that the Catholic community accepted the government dictates in that regard without causing unnecessary issues.

The MP warned of dire consequences if decision-makers allowed burials at the expense of, what he called the overall health of the country. “Let me explain how burial of bodies could cause a catastrophe. Unlike Catholics, we do not cover a hole dug in the ground to receive the body with sand. Instead, we place some planks and then cover them with sand. This can pose quite a health hazard. Therefore burials shouldn’t be permitted under any circumstances,” Muzammil said.

The MP pointed out how the community could be affected if bodies were released to the families. There could be corona outbreaks all over the place, lawmaker Muzammil said, pointing out how the situation could go out of control.

Responding to another query, Muzammil said that he might earn the wrath of a section of the community for taking a stand contrary to that of their other members of parliament. The lawmaker said that he felt it was his duty to educate the Muslims of the need to follow the government guidelines and also strengthen the government initiatives to contain the rapidly spreading virus.

The MP urged that no one should play politics with the issue at the expense of the country. The country should be told in no uncertain terms that decisions were taken by the government, in consultation with the health authorities, and the military, and it would be the responsibility of all communities to follow specific instructions.

All communities, including the Muslims, should be prepared to give up traditions, and practices, until experts had finalized studies, he said.

“We are still in control of the situation. But, we are certainly not in a position to take a chance. Decisions must be followed to the letter. I also believe Muslims have to be buried. I support that position. But the extraordinary situation on the ground makes my personal stand, on this matter, irrelevant,” MP Muzammil said.

Whatever the politicians say, the vast majority of Lankans realized that the country should follow what was best for all, the NFF representative said.

Muzammil warned that burial of COVID-19 victims could, overnight, cause the rapid deterioration of the situation. Urging the government to be firm on the matter, the MP said: “Please don’t let a few illogical men jeopardize the health of all.”

Muslim burials were done in accordance with Arabian customs which the Sri Lankan Muslim community would have to give up or face the consequences. “We shouldn’t be part of the problem,” the lawmaker said.

Lawmaker Muzammil said that though he wanted to oppose resumption of burials and generally dealt with the issue, he couldn’t get an opportunity to address the parliament when the Corona threat was debated on Oct 23. “The government parliamentary group was allocated 162 minutes. There were 31 speakers, I wasn’t among them.”

Muzammil said that the Muslim community should speak in one voice on this matter.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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