All should unite to fight the Covid 19 pandemic – Minister Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

All should unite to fight the Covid 19 pandemic – Minister Prasanna Ranatunga

Minister of Industrial Export, Investment Promotion and Civil Aviation,Prasanna Ranatunga, said that in a national catastrophe like the Covid 19 pandemic, all political parties and religious leaders should join hands and discuss how they could make their contribution towards the national program launched to combat the outbreak of the  coronavirus pandemic. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said if the people act in a responsible manner during the curfew and if those who return to Sri Lanka from foreign countries register as requested by the Government, they would be able to control the prevailing situation. He said that  the country was far ahead in comparison to some of the  developed countries which are now struggling to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  He said that they believed  that if the people extend their cooperation to the Government and health authorities, they would be in a position to control this menace.

Q: The number of coronavirus cases in Sri Lanka has reached 166 and this shows a slight increase in the number of affected people. What preventive measures has the Government taken to control the spread of the disease without it reaching the next stage?

A: As a Government, we act according to the instructions given by the Health Ministry and the Special Presidential Task Force. If the people also follow the given  instructions, we can control the spread of the coronavirus. If they act in a responsible manner during the curfew and those who return to Sri Lanka from foreign countries register as the Government requests, we would be able to control the situation. We are far ahead when compared to other countries. We believe that if the people extend their cooperation to the Government, we are in a position to control this.

Q: Don’t you think that the irresponsible conduct on the part of some people has also led to the spread of the disease in the country?

A: This is why we requested from those who returned from foreign countries to register. It would pave the way to personally focus attention on them and guide them to quarantine. As a Government, we would like to stress that the protection of the lives of the entire  population will be decided based on our conduct. If we conduct ourselves irresponsibly, we would have to face the repercussions. Therefore, we request all to follow the instructions given by the Government and the health authorities as this is a challenge faced by all irrespective of caste, creed and petty political differences.

Q:   Considering the prevailing situation, will the curfew imposed in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam and Kandy districts be extended?

A: Even the Health Ministry and the GMOA say that the curfew should be continued for at least another two weeks. I think the Government would comply and follow these guidelines. Similarly, the Government has already set up committees at district, divisional secretariat and village levels to provide drugs and essential commodities to the people. There may be shortcomings in these programs due to some officials who are in charge of them. However, the Government has implemented a mechanism to provide essential goods to the people countrywide. The program launched to provide financial assistance to low income families and Samurdhi beneficiary families has been completed 99 percent. In addition, there are many who depend on daily wages such as three wheel drivers, bus drivers and tour guides. A program has been launched to provide some financial assistance to these people as well. As a Government, we would identify all these challenges and act accordingly. If the curfew continues further, it would help to minimise the spread of the coronavirus.

Q: The Director of the Medical Research Institute has said that there is a possibility of an increase in the number of corona affected cases within the next two to three weeks and has requested the people to act in a responsible manner by maintaining social distance.  Could you please comment on this?

A: Once the first corona affected case was reported in Sri Lanka, the Special Presidential Task Force set up to handle the situation said this particular period or the next two weeks would be more decisive for us. Therefore, we had to face those crucial two weeks. The highest number of coronavirus affected people was identified during these two weeks. If we can minimise this, it would be easy to control the disease in the future.

Q:  You had also requested the defence authorities to take stern action against those who misuse curfew passes issued to them. Could you explain?

A: While the majority of the people act in a responsible manner, a very small  number of people misuse the privileges given to them. That is why, we request the Police to check the curfew pass properly and take action against persons who misuse it. Otherwise, it would be difficult to control the spread of  the coronavirus in our districts. The officials should also take the responsibility to fulfill their responsibilities properly in their respective districts.

Q:  How do you rate the task fulfilled by the Special Presidential Task Force on Essential Services headed by Basil Rajapaksa?

A: It is very successful. There may be some shortcomings. However, we are far ahead compared to other countries. The Presidential Task Force has implemented a mechanism covering everybody. We issued a circular to District Secretaries and other top officials asking for the details of the number of people getting Samurdhi allowance and the number of those who get pensions and senior citizens’ allowance. We have also given instructions on how to provide medicine to them with the help of the Army. Another  circular has been drafted to get the assistance of GramaNiladaries, SamurdhiDevelopment Officers  and other top officials at village level to set up a committee with the assistance of the Members of Parliament in that electorate. That committee through the Divisional Secretary would issue curfew passes to distribute goods to the electorate. I think the Task Force has implemented a very successful program to cater to the daily requirements of the people in those respective areas. Some issues have appeared in certain areas as the relevant officials don’t fulfill their duties properly. On the whole, if we implement this program properly, we would be able to successfully face the next two to three weeks with minimum shortcomings.

Q:  When all incoming flights to Sri Lanka have been temporarily suspended,  Kuwait has ordered nearly 5,000 Sri Lankans working  there  without visas to immediately return to Sri Lanka before April 30. What action has been taken by the Government to address this issue?

A: Our Foreign Minister would deal with this matter at the diplomatic level. In a sudden disaster like this, most of the countries have extended the visas given to foreign nationals in their countries. We have also extended the  expired visas of foreign nationals up to May.. As neighbouring countries, we should help each other in a disaster like this. Otherwise, one country alone cannot recover from this crisis. The entire world should join hands to face the situation.

Q:  The World Health Organisation, foreign news channels and some world recognised websites have commended the moves taken by Sri Lanka to combat coronavirus. Your comments on  this?

A: Since inception, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister MahindaRajapaksa briefed the Cabinet of Ministers on the situation that we will have to face in the future due to the  coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, a decision was taken to act accordingly.  Even though certain sections with their ulterior political motives criticised that program, today we have been able to maintain the situation of the country at this level due to that decision. Like the way in which the President and the Prime Minister rescued the country from the terrorists, as political leaders, they are acting in a very responsible manner in this disastrous situation as well. That is why the WHO and even Sri Lankans in other foreign countries have commended the moves taken by the Government, health authorities, tri-forces and the Police to combat the threat of the coronavirus.

Q:  What action will the Government take to address the issues in the tourism sector which has faced a severe setback due to the prevailing situation?

A: Those who have engaged in the tourism sector have faced a great challenge due to the collapse of both local and international tourism. The President has taken steps to provide some grace period for the repayment of loans obtained by those who are in the tourism industry sector. At present, these people don’t have a mechanism to continue their livelihood due to the collapse of the tourism industry. The decisions taken by the Presidential Task Force would provide some sort of temporary relief to them. In the future, we have to decide on what action has to be taken to rebuild the tourism industry. However, that decision cannot be taken by merely considering our country’s situation. We have to lay emphasis on the international situation as well as the instructions given by the health authorities.

Meanwhile, the current crisis has had an adverse impact on our investments as well.  The apparel industry is one of our key foreign exchange earners. Our enterprises in foreign countries are collapsing due to the crisis in our local factories as well. The Presidential Task Force headed by Basil Rajapaksa also discussed this matter recently and also how we should face this issue in the near future. We also discussed what the apparel industry owners expect from the Government. Therefore, we have already focused  attention on this issue.

Q:  Do you think the closure of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) would have a serious impact on the economy?

A: Definitely. This has made a serious impact on the tourism industry. We have lost a huge income due to restricting the incoming flights to the BIA. The closure  of the BIA has affected all sectors of the country. We have also lost a large income gained from duty free shops at the BIA. Those who run the duty free shops have completely lost their income. We are ready to reopen the BIA at any time  in accordance with the instructions given by the Presidential Task Force, health authorities and the WHO.

Q:  Are you satisfied with the assistance given by opposition political parties towards the Government’s endeavour to combat the threat of the coronavirus?

A: I saw UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and a group of former UNP Parliamentarians discuss with the President and the Prime Minister. I think that is a very good beginning. In a national catastrophe like this, all political parties and religious leaders should join hands and discuss as to how they can make their contribution to the national program launched to combat this disease.

Q: Is there any possibility of holding the General Election this year due to the prevailing situation in the country?

A: Actually, that is a decision to be taken by the Election Commissioner. I think after the President explained the current situation in the country to the Election Commissioner, he will take a decision in this regard.

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