Govt. all out to check spread of Covid-19 - Minister Dr.Ramesh Pathirana | Sunday Observer

Govt. all out to check spread of Covid-19 - Minister Dr.Ramesh Pathirana

11 October, 2020

Plantation Minister Dr.Ramesh Pathirana said the Government is taking all measures to control the spread of the fresh Covid-19 cluster that emerged at the Brandix plant in Minuwangoda. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said there is no need to panic as the Government has already taken all precautionary measures to address the situation. However, we might need to take further action depending on the evolving situation, so that we are closely monitoring the situation, he said. Dr.Pathirana said at the same time, the people must ensure that they protect themselves by adapting to the social norms they have been practising during the past few months. The people have forgotten the danger posed by Covid-19 and started to relax their guard since the Government controlled the pandemic efficiently compared to most other countries.

Q: Is there a second wave of Covid-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka due to the fresh cluster that emerged at the Brandix plant in Minuwangoda?

A. We have experienced such an outcome relating to this pandemic a couple of times earlier as well. The Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre for drug addicts were used to treat Covid-19 patients. We have managed to control those Covid-19 cases well.

However, this time around it seems to be a relatively large outbreak and over 1,000 people in an apparel factory at Minuwangoda have been infected with the virus. The Government is taking all precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. Within a couple of days, we will have to analyse the situation and take other necessary steps.

Q: The health authorities have warned that the Brandix Covid-19 cluster is a difficult and challenging cluster to tackle. Has the Government looked into this situation and taken precautionary measures?

A. Yes. The Government is taking all measures that are needed. There is no need to panic. At the same time, the people must ensure that they protect themselves by adapting to the social norms they have been practising during the past months. The people have forgotten about the danger posed by the Covid-19 and started to relax their guard since the Government controlled the pandemic efficiently compared to most other countries. The Government is taking steps but we may need to take further action depending on the evolving situation. So we are closely monitoring the situation.

Q: Will there be a need in the next couple of days to go for a total lockdown or impose island-wide curfew if the situation aggravates?

A. At present curfew has been imposed in a few Divisional Secretariat divisions in the Gampaha district. Depending on the number of cases we encounter during the next couple of days, we will take further steps to strengthen the situation or take safeguarding mechanisms.

Q: At present some false news is being circulated on social media regarding the current Covid-19 pandemic situation in the country. Has the Government looked into this and taken necessary action?

A. The Government is closely monitoring what is going on. We request the public not to be misled by this false information published in some social media networks. We call upon people to follow the instructions of the Government which are clearly given regularly via social media as well as the print and digital media.

Q: The main Opposition SJB and some other Opposition parties have criticised the vesting of more powers with the President through the 20A . What is your comment on this?

A. This is one of the key pledges we made during the election campaign, to abolish 19A to the Constitution. We must remember that two main issues such as the tenure of the Presidency restricted to five years and the term of the President to two have not been changed. We have also safeguarded the Right to Information Bill. Hence, we have retained some of the salient features in 19A. On the other hand, if the President is elected by a popular majority, he should have the power to develop and safeguard the interests of the nation. That is a requirement of the people. So the mandate has to be practical to establish necessary laws to ensure that the President can work safely for the betterment of the country and its people.

Q: The Opposition SJB has raised concern on the release of former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother by the CID after detaining him for over five months in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks, due to lack of evidence. Some Government lawmakers too have requested to conduct an independent inquiry in this regard. Your comments?

A. Conducting an independent inquiry is something worthwhile. On the other hand, the police has informed the public that despite the earlier claims made about this person, the links they unveiled at that time were related to their business links.

This person had not had any direct links with the said terrorist organisation or the suicide bombers. The Police has detected this after the investigation, and it is the explanation given by the Police Department. However, the people need to know the truth behind this incident, and although we intend to do that the Police say there is no strong evidence to link this person to the Easter Sunday attacks. That is why he was released on bail.

Q: There are dissenting views on some of the clauses included in the 20A by NFF Leader Minister Wimal Weerawansa and SLPP Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. How do you view this situation?

A. They have the freedom to express their views in relation to 20A as this is a democratic country. As an alliance the Government has given them full freedom to express their views. Those matters can be considered at the time of bringing amendments to the final draft of 20A. The Government is open-minded about all suggestions that are put forward and will consider them positively.

Q: Thirty-nine petitions have been filed at the Supreme Court challenging the 20A and the Government is waiting for the Supreme Court determination as to whether it needs to hold a referendum on 20A or not. What is your comment?

A. We will abide by the Supreme Court ruling. If the Court asks us to remove certain clauses in 20A we will bring in the changes. At present, the Government has no intention to go for a referendum. So the clauses that could be approved without a referendum only will be considered.

Q: How do you view the protest by the SJB and other Opposition parties against the 20A ?

A. That is the usual culture in Sri Lankan politics. Whatever the good things or the bad they oppose. If the Government does something bad the Opposition can oppose, which would then justify their act.

It is the mandate of the people that clearly acknowledged abolishing the 19A and vesting more powers with the President.

Hence we are duty bound to fulfil the pledges given to the people during the election campaign.

Q: Some question as to why the Government is in a hurry to bring in 20A without bringing in a new Constitution within a year?

A. We have already reached one year since the Presidential Election. We couldn’t do anything mainly in relation to development and other activities due to the Covid-19 that prevailed in the country. We are late in not delivering as expected.

Why should we continue another year in the same old manner until we bring in the new Constitution without getting down to work promptly?

Q: Are you confident that the Government will be able to secure a two-thirds majority to pass the 20A in Parliament?

A. We will certainly get a two-thirds majority as we already have 150 seats in Parliament. Other parties too might extend their support when necessary.

However, nobody will be taken to the Government as crossovers. Anybody willing to support the Government can do so while remaining in the Opposition.

Q: At present tea exports are also hit by the Covid-19, which is a major revenue earner for us. What are the remedial measures taken to address the situation?

A. Fortunately, we managed to export our tea to other countries despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The silver line in the dark cloud is the fact that we managed to establish through the online auction system with 137 years of Colombo tea auction. We are able to continue our tea exports which have not been much affected. We have certain issues but I don’t think our tea exports will be curtailed. Tea is a beverage enjoyed by millions of people around the world.

Q: The Government took a policy decision to increase the daily wage of a plantation worker to Rs.1,000. Have you initiated discussions with plantation companies to provide this to the plantation workers?

A. We have had many rounds of discussions without much success. The model that they have forwarded is something attached to the attendance and productivity based incentive which the trade unions didn’t agree with. We are continuing to talk to them.

At the same time, we must also acknowledge the fact that the companies too are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their revenue has also decreased. This is a difficult time for them to go ahead with the salaries. The Government is keen and we are heading towards the next collective agreement which will be signed in February next year. We will work out a plan.