Written by Staff Writer
07 Apr, 2020 | 10:00 pm
COLOMBO (News1st): Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an address to the nation on Tuesday, urged the public to support the government’s efforts to defeat the Coronavirus and rise as a strong country self-sufficient of food and own industries.
Rajapaksa said that the country has faced bigger challenges in history especially during the period of terrorism when people lived for twenty to thirty years in camps for the displaced.
“I call on my beloved people to make that sacrifice. I am confident that we can rise up without facing the disaster that other countries have faced. We must not rise as a developed nation but also as a healthy nation,” the Prime Minister stressed in his 15-minute televised address.
“I believe it is not impossible for you to spend a little time at home for the country.”
Earlier Tuesday, the country reported its sixth death due to the disease, as medical staff continued to treat 137 cases, with their efforts bearing fruit in the form of 42 recoveries.
Rajapaksa said thousands who evaded quarantine were identified thanks to the state intelligence units which had traced contacts of affected patients.
“The Director-General of the WHO complimented the President on the program that we have initiated,” the Prime Minister remarked.
Sri Lanka has tightened movement in the country by isolating certain areas and imposing curfew restrictions and is also carrying out more tests as it seeks to tackle the novel coronavirus.
The Prime Minister explained that his government has never taken decisions based on political, racial or religious lines.
“We will not do so in the future either. This is a moment when all political party leaders have with great dedication come forward to assist the government. This is not a time to be divided along religious or racial lines,” Rajapaksa said.
“At his moment, we can have only one enemy. That is the enemy called Corona. Whatever religion or race we belong to, we all have to realise this truth.”
The full text of the speech is as follows ;
I am addressing you at a moment when our government and the public are engaged in a massive war against the Corona Pandemic. You can see from the news how more than 200 countries around the world are fighting this pandemic and how thousands of bodies of their citizens are being transported to the cemeteries.
Whether we will live or not will be decided by how steps are taken to control this pandemic. Our focus, our dedication and our discipline will decide whether we live or die in a pandemic of this nature.
For this reason, the President and the government acted giving great attention to the lives of the general public from the moment this pandemic was reported around the world. It was because this situation was well understood that steps were taken to send a
plane to Wuhan in China and bring back the Sri Lankans trapped there, even before many others around the world. By the time this group reached Sri Lanka, we had already established a quarantine centre in the country. From then, we have in a very short time set up in the country, a large number of such centres to quarantine the hundreds who were returning to Sri Lanka. We have now set up nearly forty such centres that could quarantine thousands at a time. These quarantine centres are not ordinary guest houses. High quality buildings, beds, doctors, helpers, medicines, equipment, sanitary facilities and healthy food are all provided. Besides, the thousands housed in them are provided even a cup of Coriander over the 14-day period. Those who frown as they are being taken to the quarantine centres come out with smiles because it has been possible to provide these things without any shortcomings. In addition, we built within six days, a special hospital in Welikanda to treat the Corona patients.
In addition, we took action to check those arriving in Sri Lanka and if any were suspected of having the disease, thousands who associated with them were also identified and subjected to ‘home-quarantine’. The President has also been compelled to deploy even the state intelligence services to identify those evading quarantine and to protect the society from them.
As soon as the first Corona patient was reported, we took steps to protect the children by giving holidays to all schools and universities. We were the first among Asian nations to set up a Special Presidential Task Force on Essential Services in this regard. We stopped arrivals to the country at the airport. Our policy at all times was to satisfy the needs of the public without causing any inconvenience to them. Even during the time of
the war, we did not declare curfew. In the current situation, we declared curfew in deference to the wishes of the specialists in the health sector. You are aware that with the declaration of curfew, thousands of factories, businesses, as well as government offices had to be closed. The government however, continues to perform the onerous duty of maintaining the day-to-day life of the people. The government has now undertaken the responsibility of supplying electricity, water and gas without any paucity. The Special Presidential Task Force which operates from Temple Trees is fulfilling the responsibility of distributing essential items including food and medicines to the entire country under the direction of the President and myself. Similarly, we have set up a mechanism to monitor and check whether these activities are being carried out efficiently.
Everything possible has been done to control the prices of food items. The number of senior citizens receiving assistance is 416,000. However, we have quickly made payments of Rs. 5000/- each to 442,000 senior citizens. Next, we had to look at the subsistence of persons with special needs. There were 22,000 of them receiving this allowance. We gave Rs. 5000/- each to an additional 38,000 as well. We had to give this assistance to 160,000 farmers. Four thousand six hundred fishermen were given this allowance. There were 25,000 kidney patients, and 13,850 in the waiting list were also paid this allowance. Items including Thriposha have been distributed to pregnant mothers and malnourished children in their residences by government employees. In the past few days, six hundred and forty five thousand pensioners were paid their pensions on time.
With government institutions closed now, 1.5 million government employees are at home. Steps have already been taken to pay even the April salaries to the entire 1.5 million employees. We were ready to recruit to the government service 40,000 unemployed graduates. We are taking steps to give them economic strength by deploying them on quarantine activities. There are also 1.7 million Samurdhi beneficiaries in the country. There are another 600,000 in the waiting list. Even as we face this situation, we have given the Rs. 5000/- allowance to the entire 2.3 million. We had to also give attention to the business enterprises that had halted. There were 1.5 million people in employed as three-wheeler, van and school bus drivers, and in similar activities. For all these people, we gave relief in respect of the lease rentals. The government had to also give relief to those who could not continue business activities due to the curfew. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka has already begun giving relief to the small and medium-scale entrepreneurs.
It is without getting a budget approved in Parliament that we have allocated this large amount of money and given relief to the general public. The President did not have the opportunity to get the assistance of Parliament to do any of these things. Parliament did not support us when we tried to get an interim budget approved before Parliament was dissolved. The public who have the sovereignty ask us as to what use there is of resummoning Parliament in such a situation.
The entire world knows that the President of the World Health Organization called the President and commended and praised our programme of action. At this moment, the government has completed giving direct relief to over 5 million people. As we face these challenges, we are not interested in engaging in debates. When we gave relief to one quarter of the population of the country, it was not because the country’s economy was doing well. At this moment, all avenues of government income are inactive.
Because this virus is spreading, the export of our garments to European countries is at a standstill. The remittances sent by workers in Italy and the Middle East form an important part of our country’s economy. That income is also not being received by Sri Lanka due to the spread of the Corona pandemic.
All over the world, tourism has crashed. This has an impact from the international airline companies to the seashells on our beach. As it has happened around the world, the food and transport activities in our tourist hotels too have stopped. It is in such a situation that we have to face this pandemic. However, we won’t say no. We won’t tell the public, “No we can’t.” We will not give up this battle.
At no time did we take decisions based on political, racial or religious lines. We will not do so in the future either. This is a moment when all political party leaders have with great dedication come forward to assist the government. This is not a time to be divided along religious or racial lines. At his moment, we can have only one enemy. That is the enemy called Corona. Whatever religion or race we belong to, we all have to realise this truth. See how the Mahanayakes requested that people don’t come to the temples on this Poya Day. What an expression of concern and love for the people? This is not a time to follow the traditions as required by a religion or a race. This is a time to think about the country. We must remember that we can jump over this grave only if we think collectively as human beings.
Remember that we have doctors and a medical staff who come to treat the patients knowing very well that they have to face the danger of this disease, despite having children and wives at home. Some doctors say they will not leave the hospital until they become Corona positive. Other countries even have nurses who have left the service because a face mask was not given. We are proud to say that we have a nursing staff who sew their own face masks and come and perform their duties. The attendants and ambulance drivers have never abandoned a single patient. Similarly, we have with us public health inspectors who go from house to house and perform their duties despite the danger to their lives amid death threats. You and I are living in a country with such a health service. We have to also remember those other government employees performing essential services. We all have to appreciate the dedication shown by the local authorities.
The youth who in the past came and joined the tri-forces and the police knowing very well that they would face death, are today seeking the virus and following it there. They are giving up their barracks and sleeping on the cement floor. There are also hundreds of thousands of our children ready and waiting in their homes, for a call from us to assist this operation against the Corona pandemic. You will not be stranded in such a country. We must overcome this pandemic fast, without taking much time. I also wish to call on you to assist the government in every action being taken by the government to protect you.
We have to think now about how we will live after overcoming this disaster. An earlier government took action with the intention of moving away from state intervention in production, distribution and marketing in the country. Today, we remember the cooperative movement. That government acted on the premise that it was cheaper to even import a kite as much as food and drink. In that era, the home garden programme that we set up to ensure a self-sufficient home, and even the paddy cultivation, crashed.
Today, the people of this country have begun to think again. We can hear the sounds of preparation for cultivation from every household from the city of Colombo to the far flung villages. We get the feeling that the public are getting ready for us to prepare our own food. We encourage that. The beds needed for our intensive care units are being turned out by our own youth. Some youth are even developing robots for patients. That means we can. I am proud of all of them who think of the country. We must therefore defeat the Coronavirus and rise as a strong country that produces its own food, develops its own industries and shows the world our strength.
We have faced bigger challenges in our history. During the period of terrorism, people lived for twenty or thirty years in camps for the displaced. They slept through the night with their small children in the brush jungle. Having made such sacrifices, I believe it is not impossible for you to spend a little time at home for the country. I call on my beloved people to make that sacrifice. I am confident that we can rise up without facing the disaster that other countries have faced. We must not rise as a developed nation but also as a healthy nation.
I wish you the best for the future.
May you be blessed by the Triple Gem!
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