Yesterday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, following discussions with the Presidential Task force and Health officials, and after thoroughly evaluating the present situation over the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka, announced that curfew will be relaxed in 19 districts from Monday, from 5 am to 8 pm daily so that the country can re-start the economy.
He further announced that the five districts which have been declared as ‘High Risk Zones’ including Colombo, will relax its curfew in certain areas from April 22, from 5 am to 8 pm daily so that businesses can begin to function and people can restore normalcy in their lives, gradually.
Before this announcement, which came on Saturday evening, I took part in the District Development Committee meeting in Hambantota on Saturday morning with the participation of all government officials on ground and representatives from the JVP and UNP. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss post curfew methods in the district so that people can be given the freedom to restore their livelihoods but at the same time adhere to the guidelines issued by the Health Ministry as the threat of the pandemic still exists and we must prevent a spread of the virus.
During the Committee meeting, we discussed the strategies to be put in place, and I stressed that while safeguarding the economy was vital, we also need to ensure that the people in the Hambantota district are well educated on how the virus can overtake us if we give it a little leniency. For starters, we discussed about the farming industry, the fishing industry, the small and medium businesses and the agricultural industry – sectors which are the backbone of the southern economy. Once these sectors start, it can well start to benefit the domestic market with goods being distributed evenly which wil strenghten our domestic sector to a great extent.
Before people step out of their homes on Monday, they will be re-informed of the health guidelines and officials will be stressing on social distancing and maintaining the hygiene procedures. Throughout the curfew, strict measures were in place so that communities were safeguarded from a virus spread. Factories in the area will also implement strict measures to ensure employees are well protected whilst ensuring that work re-starts.
In addition, to the COVID-19 and post curfew discussions, talks were also held on how the district is going to face possible adverse weather patterns when we face the monsoon rains in the coming weeks. Local councils should prepare from now itself to face the possibility of floods which may also further pose a threat on spreading the COVID-19. Businesses need to be safeguarded to face these threats in the future and several suggestions were taken note of. It is always better to be prepared early than waiting and later having to see our citizens suffer because we failed them.
Yesterday’s meeting was not only a success but it was also a sign that parties in Sri Lanka indeed can work in unity. With the participation of other political party representatives, and several officials, it was great to see everyone coming together to serve the districts in dedication to ease the hardships on our citizens. Indeed if we remain united in such a manner, we can achieve greater heights. The work has already begun and we are confident that we cam overcome this virus as soon as possible, just the way we limited its spread in a short period of time.
Meanwhile, with the country shut for over a month now, families have suffered and livelihoods have come to a standstill. In order to provide some relief to those severely affected, the government started the Samurdhi program, to distribute Rs.5000 to each family. An initiative I have personally overlooked in the Hambantota district. To date, 95000 families have already enjoyed this benefit. In Hambantota alone, over 150,000 families out of the 188,000 families will receive this grant over the coming days. There will be no red tape in the process. The money will be distributed fairly and in an organized manner.
As Sri Lanka gradually opens this week in several districts, we have to ensure that we must behave responsibly as the COVID-19 threat still looms. However as the spread has been limited it is time we restart our economy gradually. We have always come out as a strong nation and I am certain Sri Lanka will emerge as a transpiring nation once again.
My best wishes are with you all. Stay safe. Stay Healthy.