Want rules and regulations imposed by the Health Ministry to combat COVID-19 legalised
The PHI Union states that it is unable to impose quarantine guidelines because the rules and regulations imposed by the Ministry of Health and have to be regulated by the PHIs are not legalised and remain as restrictions (AFP)
Public Health Inspectors (PHI) Union of Sri Lanka is to instigate a trade union action within next few days following Ministry of Health’s failure to legitimise delegation of powers vested on them under the Quarantine Act over the past several weeks.
Meanwhile, it intends withdrawing from election related duty work for the same reason and will be meeting the members of the Election Commission in due course to inform its decision.
(PHI) Union’s Yasas Mudalige confirmed planning its course of actions when contacted by the Daily Mirror. He said that the union was unable to impose quarantine guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health as it is now known to the people that the rules and regulations imposed by the Health Ministry and regulated by the PHIs, are not legalised and remain as restrictions.
According to the PHI Union, if the quarantine regulations and the restrictions imposed by the Presidential Task Force are to be constitutional they should be approved by law. If the Ministry of Health cannot establish that the restrictions are imposed by law, the fundamental rights of the people are violated. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to make sure that these restrictions are imposed by law. The sources further said that the guidelines have been drafted with the participation of few Health Ministry officials, Government Medical Officer’s Association (GMOA), representatives from the World Health Organization and the Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte Municipal Council.
"There were people from all faiths that couldn’t have a fitting final tribute to their loved ones"
“We are puzzled as to why the Members of the Kotte Municipal Council were allowed to be present at these discussions. What was their role? Instead of them a representative from our union should have been asked to join in when these decisions were made,” he added.
According to the sources, when the quarantine guidelines were imposed with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, people had to abide by these rules as they feared that health and security officials would take legal action against those who violate the guidelines. However, this trend declined after late Minister Arumugan Thondaman’s funeral. Thereafter attempts taken to implement these guidelines became futile as people have inquired from the PHIs about the legal status of these rules. “Since these regulations have not been legalised, in the event if a citizen of this country files a Fundamental Rights Application against the PHIs we will be in trouble,” sources affirmed.
Questions are raised as to why members of the Presidential Task Force of the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID-19 outbreak didn’t take action against former Minister Arumugan Thondaman’s family for violating health guidelines when conducting the funeral for the late lawmaker (AFP)
According to the sources, the Legal Draftsman has approved these guidelines to be legalised and that all powers should to be vested on PHIs. “These documents have been with the Health Minister over the past several weeks, but there has been a failure to gazette them; hence the reason for driving fear into us. The law should be equal to every citizen of the country irrespective of status. There cannot be two different laws. We have made several requests to the Health Minister, the Director General of Health Services and all those who are responsible in the Prevention of COVID-19 to enact these laws, but to no avail. Therefore, we have taken these decisions in order to safeguard us, from possible legal action,” Mudalige noted.
Meanwhile questions have been raised as to why the Head of the Presidential Task Force of the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID-19 and the Director General Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe together with his team of professional Consultant Doctors are quiet over the PHIs demands. This poses the question as to how they could control the spread of COVID-19 in the event the PHIs take trade union action as these officers have carried out a yeoman service during and after the country’s lockdown.
"Although we were told that he had died due to rat fever, which is common in this area, his body was not allowed to be brought home"
The quarantine law in Sri Lanka is primarily governed under Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance No.03 of 1897 (QPDO). The ordinance was introduced (inter-alia) to prevent the introduction of plague and all contagious or infection diseases to Sri Lanka and the spread of such diseases in and outside Sri Lanka.
According to the sources, in order to thwart the pandemic during the lockdown, strict action was taken by the Army and the Police against those who violated these laws. Strict guidelines were introduced not to gather more than 15 to 25 people at a wedding or a funeral. However the reason why the members of the Presidential Task Force of the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID-19 outbreak were silent when they could take action against former Minister Arumugan Thondaman’s family for violating these guidelines have raised eyebrows of the law abiding citizens.
"According to the sources, the Legal Draftsman has approved these guidelines to be legalised"
“It was reported that Minister Thondaman’s daughter was allowed to enter the country from overseas and attend her father’s funeral without being quarantined. We are yet to receive confirmation on this from the respective area PHIs whether this report was true. If the daughter of the deceased was allowed to attend her father’s funeral, who is responsible for the approval given? There was yet another unconfirmed report that one of the family members of this politician has carried out a threat on the competent authority that enforces the Quarantine Act. At that time we had given instructions to the people not to gather more than 25 people for a wedding or funeral. But no action was taken against this politician’s family. They not only obstructed the duty of law-abiding public officials, but also campaigned for votes in cover of the funeral to gain political mileage. PHIs have been unable to take stern restrictions after this incident,” Mudalige pointed out.
According to him, the frontline workers including the medical officers, nurses, PHIs and security forces personnel have worked untiringly in controlling the pandemic.
Another senior member of the PHI Union, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the law was so strict that it did not allow a father, under quarantine, to be with his family and share grievances at his little daughter’s funeral. He was only allowed a few minutes to pay his last respects to the daughter from afar and was taken back to the quarantine center. There were occasions when the mortal remains of some who died, who were not COVID 19 infected, had to be cremated within 24 hours; disregarding rituals associated with their religions. President of the PHIs Union was referring to a death of a Muslim boy in Akurana who died on April 2 due to pneumonia. His remains were cremated. The Navy officer, who died due to rat fever, was cremated within 24 hours. The government has given a wrong precedent to the people by allowing a violation of the regulations.
"The law should be equal to every citizen of the country irrespective of status"
There were people from all faiths that couldn’t have a fitting final tribute to their loved ones as the funerals had to take place within 24 hours with no more than 15-25 people being allowed to attend the funerals.
Weligama Urban Council Chairman Rehaan Jayawickrema told the Daily Mirror that he was saddened as to how he personally had to allow every cremation or burial in the Weligama UC limit in keeping with the quarantine regulations. “The cremation or burial orders were signed by me with a heavy heart. Although the relatives of the deceased pleaded with me to give them one extra day to keep the remains, but I couldn’t. I had to abide by the regulations as a law abiding citizen of this country and presume all mortals are equal. Sadly this rule has been bent by politicians to suit their needs although the law cannot be varied from one another,” Jayawickrema said.
Jayawickrema further said as to how he had to interfere when the health authorities and security personnel in Weligama tried to cremate the remains of some deceased Muslims. Those who died hadn’t been infected with the COVID 19 virus.
"Since these regulations have not been legalised, in the event if a citizen of this country files a Fundamental Rights Application against the PHIs we will be in trouble"
K. Anura, a resident at Weligama, told this newspaper as to how the final rights of his father-in-law (who was a
It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to make sure that restrictions are imposed by law during the COVID-19 pandemic
born Muslim, but converted to Buddhism after marriage) had to be conducted within 24 hours. “Although we met UC Chairman Weligama to obtain his approval to keep his body for 48 hours in order to allow his relatives, who reside far away, to pay their last respects, we were told that the UC was bound to adhere the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health. We salute the Chairman’s decision, but why couldn’t the Central Government have taken such a stern decision? We need rulers who stick to principles,” Anura said.
Meanwhile a resident at Galenbindunuwewa said that they were deprived of paying a final tribute to their neighbour the late Navy officer who died of Leptospirosis in April during the lockdown.
"The quarantine law in Sri Lanka is primarily governed under Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance No.03 of 1897 (QPDO)"
“Sunil Bandara was attached to the Navy Headquarters and died while taking treatment at the Intensive Care Unit of the Navy Hospital in Colombo. Although we were told that he had died due to rat fever, which is common in this area, his body was not allowed to be brought home and only members of his immediate family were allowed to pay a final tribute and his remains were cremated in Colombo. Why could we not pay our last respects to our neighbour in a fitting manner?” he questioned.
Police Media Spokesman SSP Jaliya Senaratne however said that if the PHIs are to take trade union action and stay away from their work claiming the guidelines have to be legalised, it is a misleading argument.
“The Director General Health Service can impose any guideline and those need not be gazetted. Is there any gazette notification issued giving powers to send people for quarantine and to maintain quarantine centres? We should be practical. As state officers we have to urge the people to follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health or the Presidential Task Force,” SSP Senaratne claimed.
When asked as to why the police failed to take action against those who violated quarantine guidelines at Minister Thondaman’s funeral and why some protesters at a Kollupitiya and Lipton Circus were arrested, the Police Media Spokesman did not comment on quarantine violations taking place at Thondaman’s funeral, but said that the police cannot allow protesters to disrupt the quarantine guidelines by exposing the society to danger. “In addition to this they were arrested for breaching the court order and obstructing the police from carrying out their duties in maintain law and order in the country,” the SSP said.