Sri Lanka far ahead in controlling spread of Covid-19 -Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka far ahead in controlling spread of Covid-19 -Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi

25 October, 2020

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said the Government has taken every possible measure to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, setting an example to the entire world. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said when compared with other countries, Sri Lanka is far ahead in controlling the spread of the disease and providing facilities to the Covid-19 hit patients. The Minister said no country in the world has adopted various mechanisms as in Sri Lanka to successfully contact trace.

Q: Could you explain the prevailing situation with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka?

A: The Government is taking every possible measure to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in the country. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has said to consider a total lockdown only as a final resort. This disease is totally new to the world and to us. As a result we lacked much understanding about it and went for a total lockdown the last time.

At present however, we are taking all precautionary measures to control the spread of the disease while managing the economy and the day to day life of the people. If a Covid-19 threat is detected in any area, steps will be taken to lockdown only that area. Combating this disease should be a joint effort of the Government and the people. The people have also a responsibility to follow the health guidelines and avoid public gatherings or large groups. For example, if a Covid-19 infected person who has not shown any symptoms attends a wedding or other public function, he can contract the disease to thousands of others. That is why we request the people not to attend public gatherings.

Q: Has the Government taken any decision to go for a total lockdown in the next few days?

A: That should be done part by part depending on the requirement. At present, Covid-19 patients have not been detected everywhere in the country. As I mentioned earlier, even the WHO has instructed to go for a total lockdown only as a final option. At present, we do not wish to impose a total lockdown and wreck the livelihood and the economy of the people, causing them hardship. That would not be done.

Q: The Minuwangoda Covid-19 cluster has exceeded 2,500 cases. Has the situation been brought under control yet?

A: The Government has taken all possible steps to control the situation. The first patient of the Minuwangoda Brandix cluster was detected following the PCR test. When that first Covid-19 patient was found, we once again drafted new health guidelines. When a Covid-19 patient is detected, all his contacts are traced and isolated from society and sent for quarantine. Thus, when the first Covid-19 patient was found at Brandix, all its employees were sent to quarantine centres and PCR tests conducted.

Q: The Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament that the Government should tell the country the true situation of the Covid-19 pandemic and that the Government has so far failed to identify as to how the Brandix employee contracted Covid-19.

A: We have already received information in this regard and have analysed them from several aspects. First we have to find out how the Brandix employee contracted the virus. That was not the first patient found. We are still studying the incident and once we confirm the accuracy of the facts we would inform the people. When nearly 50,000 expatriates are brought to the country without providing them the basic facilities, they could get infected with Covid-19 in the aircraft, airport or at quarantine centres. We don’t bring Covid-19 patients to the country.

Sri Lankans in foreign countries are brought to the country after conducting PCR tests in those countries. At that time, they may not have been infected with the disease and the PCR test may be negative. Once they return to the country and the PCR test is done, sometimes it could be positive.

Such patients may interact with the passengers in the flight and the airport. Thereby they could infect others. In addition, the PCR tests of some people become positive after they are admitted to quarantine centres. There is a possibility of infection as long as it prevails in society. Unless the disease is completely eradicated from the world and a proper vaccine is given to all the people in the country, we can’t say the disease is no more in society.

Q: Some countries have drafted new legislation to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic situation. Have you also focused on drafting new legislations to address the situation in our country?

A: Our Quarantine Act is very powerful. The Health Minister is vested with powers to draw legislation in keeping with this Act even without seeking Parliamentary approval. That is how we issued the Special Gazette notification on new quarantine laws to deal with the Covid-19 situation in the country.

Q: Has the Government focused on how other countries have implemented their mechanisms to control the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: We should try to admit Covid-19 patients to our hospitals as much as possible. In most countries, Covid-19 patients are kept in self-isolation. Under such circumstances, if the situation of a patient becomes serious, it would be a problem. Even in our country, nearly 50 to 60 percent of the Covid-19 patients don’t show any symptoms. However, we hospitalise all of them and send their close contacts to quarantine centres and do our utmost as a Government.

Q: How do you view the progress achieved by Sri Lanka to control the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: We are far ahead compared with some other countries due to the strategies adopted by the Government to control the spread of the disease. No country in the world has set up quarantine centres like us.

The Government has already set up 84 quarantine centres and nearly 10,000 people are undergoing quarantine in them. We have set up 26 laboratories to conduct PCR tests.

Earlier, we had only the IDH hospital to treat Covid-19 patients. At present, 30 hospitals countrywide have been arranged to treat Covid-19 patients.

When the pandemic first emerged in the country in March this year, only 250 PCR tests were conducted daily. Now it has been increased to 8,000. I would also like to mention that no country in the world has adopted various mechanisms like us to trace the contacts of Covid-19 patients.

Q: In a natural disaster such as this a responsible Opposition should extend support to the Government. Without doing so, the present Opposition attempts to take undue political advantage from the situation. Your views?

A: It was the present Opposition Leader who made a big hue and cry during the tenure of the General Election to reconvene Parliament. Now he requests not to conduct Parliament sittings. The Opposition attempts to gain political mileage even from such a natural disaster.

Q: Do we have adequate health facilities to face the second wave of Covid-19 that has emerged in the country?

A: Definitely. More than any other country, we as a stable Government have taken steps to improve the health facilities of hospitals and increase the number of wards, PCR tests and laboratories. We are far ahead when compared with the Covid-19 situation we faced in March this year.

Q: How do you view the protest by the main Opposition SJB when the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in Parliament?

A: When the President and the Prime Minister are heading in two directions and clashing with each other, it is difficult to govern the country. That is what happened during the former Yahapalana Government. When direct power is given to the President by the people, it is easy for him to govern the country.

There won’t be any issue within our Government. Our Party Leader is Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and all 150 Government MPs are with him. However, a country cannot be taken forward according to the 19th Amendment. When an issue props up between the President and the Prime Minister as was in the Yahapalana regime, the Government would be stagnated.

Q: The Government lawmakers pointed out that the 19th Amendment was an utter failure which dragged the country backwards creating many issues in the administrative sector. Do you hold the same view?

A: Yes. It led to a series of issues in governance. The ‘good governance’ concept introduced by the former regime failed miserably due to the 19th Amendment. It also created issues between the President and the Prime Minister of that Government.

Q: Even some constituent parties of the Government raised concern on the clause in the 20th Amendment allowing dual citizens to enter Parliament. Your views?

A: The 19th Amendment was brought by the former Yahapalana Government to take revenge on the Rajapaksa family and prevent them from staking a claim to high profile offices.

A prime objective of the 19th Amendment was to prevent Gotabaya Rajapaksa becoming President. However, their attempt was in vain and over 6.9 million people gave a resounding mandate to Gotabaya Rajapaksa and elected him President. We should put an end to the revengeful politics introduced by the 19th Amendment. We should like to state with responsibility that nobody with dual citizenship in our party would contest the election. If such a person wants to contest the election, he would withdraw his dual citizenship before he contests the election. I can say that with responsibility.

Q: The Opposition claims that the 20th Amendment would further strengthen the powers of the President and curtail the powers of the Prime Minister. What is your comment on this?

A: We are all of one view that there should be a strong President to take the country forward. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would entertain less power compared to the powers exercised by former Executive Presidents.

The 19th Amendment was brought as Ranil Wickremesinghe was not in a position to become the President. Therefore, he fielded Maithripala Sirisena as the Presidential Candidate and he contested from the Colombo district and became the Prime Minister with the intention of governing the country.

Q: The Opposition asked, when the Government has two- thirds majority in Parliament why it was in a hurry to bring in the 20th Amendment instead of introducing a new Constitution.

A: It will take some time to introduce a new Constitution. The President has already completed one year in office. We should create a conducive environment for the President to take the country forward.

That is why we introduced the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Our intention was to give the same powers exercised by former Presidents to the incumbent President as well. However, it would take time to draft a new Constitution.

Q: It seems the Maha Sangha and some who were in the forefront to bring in the present Government to power raised concern on certain clauses in the 20 th Amendment?

A: I don’t think the Maha Sangha has any serious issues regarding the 20th Amendment.

Actually, they sought some clarification on certain clauses in the 20th Amendment. The Government made that clarification and there is no big issue right now.

The Government could pass the 20th Amendment in Parliament on Thursday with a two-thirds majority.