All-out effort to check coronavirus - Dr. Ramesh Pathirana | Sunday Observer

All-out effort to check coronavirus - Dr. Ramesh Pathirana

Cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Plantation Industries and Export Agriculture Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said the people should not panic over the corona outbreak since the Government has taken preventive measures to check the spread of the virus. The health set up is in place to tackle the situation and the public awareness campaigns have been launched.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the authorities are well aware of the current situation. The testing and treatment facilities are available at Government hospitals and the situation can be controlled. Dr. Pathirana said corona is a new virus and due to its fast rate of spreading, the people have got panicky about it. There is no reason to postpone the upcoming General Election on account of the corona outbreak.

Q. What steps have been taken by the Government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus?

A. The most important fact is that the people should not panic over the situation because the spread of the disease is at a very low rate in the tropical climate. When we look at India as a very populous country, the spread of the disease is minimal compared to its population. We know the virus spreads faster and one infected person can spread the disease to three more persons. But nearly 80 percent of the affected recovers without any implications unless they are very old or have other complications. Fourteen percent is moderate while only six percent gets affected severely. The mortality rate of the infection is about two to three percent. The Government has taken adequate preventive measures. The people who arrive in the country from Korea, Italy and China where the disease is widespread have been sent to quarantine centres where they are looked after very well.

The Government has closed schools until April 20 because of the panic situation. It is also a good preventive measure. Our health set up is in place to tackle the situation and awareness campaigns have also been launched. The authorities are aware of the situation and the testing and other facilities are available in the Government hospitals.

Q. What are the obligations on the part of the people to help control the situation?

A. It is about basic health needs, such as frequent washing of hands and other health care. One has to wash one’s hands frequently. They should not touch other people and also the public spaces. Whenever they go out and come in, they should wash their hands and should take care not to touch sensitive areas, such as mouth, nose and eyes.

If the disease begins to spread fast, the people might have to wear facemasks. It is advisable for people to consume a lot of water and a good diet. Drinking hot water as well as hot water baths are also important. Generally, the virus thrives just above 26 degrees centigrade.

Q. Two quarantine centres have been set up at Batticaloa and Kandakadu. Will there be a need to set up more such centres?

A. If more infected people are detected, we might have to set up a few more quarantine centres and perhaps, a separate section or a hospital to keep the patients separately.

Q. Some countries have suspended flights from other countries. Is the Government contemplating to adopt such a measure?

A. It is advisable to think about cancelling flights for a short period from Korea and Italy and some other countries where the disease is spreading fast. But no decision has been taken as yet.

Q. Now that the schools have been closed until April 20, will there be a need for a national emergency to contain the coronavirus outbreak?

A. There is no need for such a measure. There are only five detected cases. This is nothing for us to panic about.

Q. Will the corona issue have any impact on the forthcoming General Election? Is there a possibility to postpone the election?

A.There is no need for such a scenario. During the past three months, 6,000 people have died worldwide because of simple influenza virus infection. This is a much greater number compared to deaths due to the coronavirus. But nobody makes a note of it. The severity of the coronavirus is much less. Nobody talks about the 6,000 deaths because that is a common occurrence. This strain of corona is a new virus. Because of its fast rate of spreading, the people have got panicky about it. There is no reason to postpone the election.

Q. Giving nominations to former President Maithripala Sirisena has created some controversy within the SLPP as some of the SLPP frontliners have proposed a National List slot for him. Some SLPPers have viewed former President Sirisena’s contesting the election would cause confrontation among their candidates. Your comments?

A. According to my knowledge, there is no such a move. Both the SLPP and the SLFP have reached consensus to contest the upcoming polls under a common alliance.

Q. Former North Central Province Chief Minister Peshala Jayaratne has said that if allegations continue to be made against the SLFP and its Leader, the SLFP is ready to contest separately under the SLFP symbol?

A. Former President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent ‘hawk story’ paved the way for the SLPP members to react to it. All of us need to keep our mouths shut to avoid such controversial remarks. That would have not happened if the former President didn’t come out with the ‘hawk story’. Every action has a reaction! I don’t think this would create a split in our front.

Q. Minister Prasanna Ranatunga asked people not to vote for former President Maithripala Sirisena or any of those near and dear to him. Does this mean that there is a clash between the SLPP and the SLFP though the two parties have joined hands to contest the election under a common alliance?

A. Generally, these things happen at the political front. We had a bitter experience in relation to the formation of the Yahapalanaya Government. Some of those who contested from our side under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa crossed over to the other side and helped the UNP form a Government which eventually resulted in a political debacle. The people are worried about those personalities. The people will make a wise decision in electing their representatives.

Q. Will Minister Chamal Rajapaksa’s public utterance that preference should be given to SLPP candidates during the election not cause further rift between the SLPP and the SLFP?

A. I think most SLFP members have signed their nominations. It won’t be a big issue.

Q. Will two UNP factions contesting the election separately not be a blessing in disguise to SLPP contestants?

A. It is a sort of blessing in disguise for the SLPP. From 1994, the UNP is in a declining phase. The UNP will not be a strong party after the election. It is dying a natural death.

Q. Former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera has said that if the Government implemented their fuel price formula, the prices of a litre of petrol and diesel would have reduced by Rs. 20 by giving the benefit to the consumers. Could you explain?

A. Fuel prices increased throughout during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government despite the operation of the price formula, except only one occasion.

There is a logical argument in relation to falling crude oil prices at the World Market and that the benefit should be transferred to the people. We are losing money heavily on all types of fuel, including super diesel, super petrol, diesel and petrol. We have to give concessions to the Petroleum Corporation and the consumers in the context of fuel price revisions. Considering both sides, there will be a price revision in the next weeks.

Q. When in the past Joint Opposition MPs such as Johnston Fernando, Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Namal Rajapaksa volunteered to appear in courts, how is it that those against whom including a UNP heavyweight arrest warrants have been issued are evading arrest?

A. That is an important question. We hope the law enforcement authorities, especially, the CID will arrest the people needed by the court of law and produce them before courts.

Q. Is the SLPP serious about increasing the women’s representation in Parliament as demanded by women’s organisations, including former female MPs?

A. Policywise, yes. All political parties have found it difficult to select female candidates willing to contest elections. We are for the increase of women representation at all levels. It was our reforms which made it mandatory to increase the women representation at Local Government bodies. This should be applied to parliamentary elections as well.

Q. Would you like to respond to former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s statement that this Government has done nothing to benefit the peoples?

A. What have they done for five years in the Government? Knowing their record very well, the people rejected them. We know the people have confidence in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his style of governance. What the people expected and what we promised to the people is a safe and secure country. We are building a safe and secure country and economic prosperity is yet to come.

We have to form a stable Government and look forward to a new Budget. We didn’t have money to implement development work because we were running on a Vote on Account. We need more money to pay the bills of the former Government. The people have given the verdict. There will be more votes for the SLPP at the General Election.

Q. Splits in political parties such as UNP, SLFP and TNA are a bad feature for democracy as it will not help form a solid Government. Your comments?

A. When one party goes down, another party emerges. That is what has been happening right through. That is a natural political phenomenon. There is no threat to democracy from such a scenario. Sri Lanka has been a vibrant democracy from 1948. That will be further strengthened and enhanced with the passage of time. 

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