Tomorrow morn over six million people in Colombo and three other districts will officially enjoy the freedom of the streets even though they are officially padlocked at home under a 24/7 curfew that seems to never end. In the manner Buddhist hold on to a ‘soul, no soul’ concept to explain exactly what is reborn [...]


Lanka will have to learn to live and let live with COVID

Come what may, one certainty remains: The coronavirus is here to stay for the long haul

Tomorrow morn over six million people in Colombo and three other districts will officially enjoy the freedom of the streets even though they are officially padlocked at home under a 24/7 curfew that seems to never end.

In the manner Buddhist hold on to a ‘soul, no soul’ concept to explain exactly what is reborn when present existence comes to an end, the Lankans perforce must cling to a ‘curfew, no curfew’ policy depending on the governmental mood to decide whether or not to stay blessed at home or dare the corona challenge mingling in the metro.

TEMPLE LOCKDOWN ON VESAK DAY: A lone devotee lights a solitary lamp at the deserted Kelaniya Temple

The word curfew has come to mean many things to many people throughout its thousand year history.  It originated from the old French phase ‘couvre-feu’ which meant ‘cover fire’ in the time of William the Conqueror in the 11th century who changed the course of England’s history by becoming its first sovereign. Curfew’s original meaning stems from the law he promulgated that all lamps and fires must be covered at the ringing of the eight o’clock bell to prevent the spread of accidental fire when all were asleep.

In spite of gaining different shades of meaning in many parts of the world at different times, the word curfew today has come to universally mean a government imposed ‘regulation requiring people to remain indoors during specified hours.’

The present curfew in the Western Province of Lanka and Puttalam, whilst reflecting that contemporary definition of curfew to a large extent so far, will start emanating a whole spectrum of diverse meanings from tomorrow when the Government intends to put into effect its twice postponed master plan to return the country to normalcy even whilst the deadly COVID carries on regardless to claim its daily scalps without showing an early end to its gluttonous appetite. The present confirmed cases: 835 with naval personnel accounting for 404 cases, according to yesterday’s government update.

The people living in the Western Province of Lanka, which comprise Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara, number 5,881,000 according to the last count at the 2012 official census but, 7 years later, in 2019, it has been estimated to be 9 million, nearly half of the country’s entire population.

They have lived under the present curfew ever since it was first imposed on March 24 at 2pm and have lived gated without even an hour of relief or reprieve for exactly 47 days upto today. While the curfew imposed on the rest of the country has been for ‘specified hours’, the Western Province curfew has been ‘indefinite.’

And even when the Government implements its Grand Design tomorrow to restore civilian life and kick start the economy in the entire island, the indefinite Western Province curfew will enter its record breaking 48th day and still officially remain in force indefinitely.

Take a look at the Government roadmap to normalcy the people must read, understand and follow. All to be done under the blanket cover of an enforceable 24 hour indefinite curfew. The trick is to follow the signs without getting arrested as a curfew violator, go from lock down to lock up for transgressing the curfew laws in the concrete jungle.

The Government on Tuesday reviewed in depth the mechanism in place to resume day-to-day life and work in the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, and Puttalam from May 11 onward. So here’s how it will go.

First, both public and private sector entities should re-commence their work while strictly adhering to the coronavirus prevention guidelines prescribed by the Government and the Ministry of Health, which, in the main, call for all to keep a social distance whilst wearing the mandatory face mask.

Daily more than a million people converge on the capital Colombo from the outskirts of the city to their place of employment. Their mode of travel, apart from the trains, is mainly the buses, both government and private. The Master Plan, however, lays down that only government buses will be allowed to ply the roads and carry the people.

But will the limited number of buses the Sri Lanka Transport Board has in its depots be sufficient to transport alone the multitude that the government expects to throng to work on Monday and thereafter to give the city a semblance of normalcy and not a forlorn face of a ghost town under indefinite curfew? Even though the city and its environs are, in actual fact, under an indefinite curfew, the name of the game, as thousands walk freely and unopposed through the many checkpoints, is to pretend it is not under ‘couvre-feu’

But while the employed are undoubtedly the sacred cows, the untouchables, allowed carte-blanche the keys to the city to roam at will, what proof of employment must they carry with them if they are suddenly pounced on, questioned and tested positive as a curfew violator without any proof of employment, when the pretense comes to an end, the mask is off and the masquerade is over?

Must they carry their letters of employment and produce it on demand? How will the authorities check on the authenticity of the document? By calling the given number of the employer which itself maybe the number of an accomplice?

And to whom will the freedom of the streets belong, apart from those with a steady job? Will the daily wage earner on the look out for a daily chore qualify? A person searching for employment to bring home the bacon? Door to door salesmen trying to sweet talk a deal through their face masks? Pavement hawkers plying their wares on pavements? Beggars at street corners whose vocation is begging and minstrels on streets and buses whose occupation is singing? To the mammoth army of three wheeler drivers who have to make their monthly interest payments on their mortgaged Bajaj to finance institutions regardless whether they get a ’hire’ or not?

The figure-it-out-for-yourself government manual says that the left overs – the stay at homes – the children, presumably those below 18 since no age is specified, the jobless, again no definition is given and the elderly, again no age is given, must strictly remain at home behind curfew locked doors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while thousands of their fellow men are permitted to walk the roads flirting with COVID, having received special permission through government spokespersons and not through gazette notification to ignore the indefinite curfew without peril.

Relief will be granted to the kids, the jobless, the old, the condemned stay at homes once a week when they will be let out for walkies on days that coincide with the last digit of their identity card number. But with one restrictive proviso. They can only go out to purchase essential items from supermarkets or corner grocery shops, such as food and medicine from pharmacies.

Only one problem: The shops maybe open, goods may be on display, offices may be open, the in house chatter and cell beeps may be heard, but where will all the customers be? With shops selling nonessential goods declared out of bounds, and the stay at homes asked indirectly not to patronize them, private businesses may find keeping their premises open a dead loss and asking their employees to report to work to cater to a minute clientele not worth placing the staff at the corona risk – as some stores in certain America states which last week opened for business soon discovered.

And then of course, there is the legal dimension. Where is the legal basis for the curfew imposed continuously since March?

According to legal expert ex-TNA MP Sumanthiran, ‘’the curfew that is being declared presently is not legally valid. Curfew-like orders could be made under Section 16 of the Public Security Ordinance without Emergency being declared. This has not been done. Nor has the Minister of Health made a declaration under the Contagious Diseases Ordinance. The Government seems to be labouring under a misconception that this can be enforced under S 262, 263 and 264 of the Penal Code, which is erroneous. They are taking a huge gamble and arresting people for ‘violating curfew’, when in the eyes of the law there is no such ‘curfew.’

A perusal of the Contagious Disease Ordinance and the Quarantine and the Prevention of Diseases Act whole providing for the quarantine, disinfecting of persons and the cremation of the dead  does not provide for the imposition of a curfew by the Health Minister or any other authority.

Sections 262 and 263 of the Penal Code that Mr. Sumanthiran refers to deals with the instances of people who, unlawfully or negligently or with malicious intent, ‘does any act which is or has reason to believe to be likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life; while section 264 deals with the quarantining of vessels. All three sections haven’t the slightest to do with the imposition of general curfews.

The curfew hasn’t been imposed under Emergency Law. The Government has fought shy of invoking the jurisdiction of Emergency Law since it would have to be ratified by Parliament every month; and with Parliament dissolved since March 2, and with the President against recalling it under Article 70, it is a road the Government does not wish to travel upon. Neither has the curfew been effected under Section 16 of the Public Security Ordinance without Emergency being declared.

So, in the absence of answer forthcoming, isn’t it safe to assume that though the curfew lacks a legal basis, the doctrine of necessity to stop the spread of the coronavirus coupled with the acquiescence of the people driven by self interest, make the government’s general curfew orders obeyed without fuss.

But will it have the same response when the authorities start discriminating one section of the people against another section, allows one sizable group numbering tens of thousands to roam the streets on the basis they are employed and another section, namely, the young, the jobless and the old, condemned to stay put at home to prevent the spread of COVID during the time when the district is under a 24 hour indefinite curfew on the basis it is warranted by the coronavirus presence?

Will not some, who will not object to the curfew if it is applicable to all except for those in the essential services, start to make legal objections when they find that a sizable community is granted exemption not from some legal proviso but on some Government fiat which has no force in law? Will it not lead them to petition the Supreme Court on the grounds of equality and on the violation of their fundamental rights, particularly, the right to association, and the right to freedom of movement within Sri Lanka?

True, though the Sri Lankan citizen’s fundamental rights are enshrined in the Constitution, in Articles 12, 13 and 14, Article 15 possesses the power to render them null in the national interest.

Article 15 (7) clearly states that the fundamental rights may be subjected to restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of national security, public order and the protection of public health or morality. In this instance if the curfew has not been founded on law, or ‘regulations made under the law for the time being relating to public security,’ the petitioner’s right to his freedoms will not be affected by Article 15.  But unfortunately for the petitioner, Article 15 goes beyond the requirement of a legal basis.

It states that the freedoms shall be subject to restrictions if it is for the purpose of meeting ‘the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society,’ for undoubtedly it is the general consensus of all that a general curfew is a must to contain the spread of COVID which proliferates mainly through social mixing. On this sword, the petitioner will fall, unless  he can show in his petition to the Supreme Court under Article 126, that the ‘just requirement’  proviso does not entertain or authorize the practice of discrimination between people on the basis of their being employed or jobless and on the relevancy of age in this particular instance.

But all this will matter only if the ‘Operation Normalcy’ is implemented in the manner so far envisaged. On Friday, it was reported that the Government was still putting the final touches to the reopening plans and had still not finalized categorizing which business would function from Monday.

A senior official from the President’s Office explained, ‘Any private sector entity can open, according to the discussion that took place within the past few days. But it has not been specified. This will be mentioned in the new circular. It is being prepared by the Treasury, the Central Bank, the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Public Administration and Health authorities.”

In spite of the expected military precision with which the ambitious  plan to revive civilian life and business was to be attended and launched, it seems that while the Government appears to have a clear idea of where to go, it doesn’t have the foggiest on how to get there. Thus it seems dependent on taking the wrong turn and reversing and setting new course again and again in a frantic bid to arrive without going round in circles.

On Friday, it was announced by DIG Ajith Rohana that the Government was planning to issue a gazette notification on the restoration of civilian life from May 11 and that several government rounds of discussions will be held in the next few days in this regard.

DIG Rohana said that the necessary arrangements have been made to carry out the relevant activities planned for May 11th under the proper legal framework. Good. Its best to operate on a sound legal foundation rather than on the vague, near anarchical ‘Necessity knows no law’ primitive jungle basis.

It will become even more important to do so as Lanka nears the day the nation, however repugnantly, will have to come to terms with the COVID blight; and follow a policy of live and let live with the coronavirus which is still terrorising the entire world without relent and claiming victims daily in thousands.

We cannot, even in the midst of this unpresented pandemic, neglect the life blood of this nation, the economy; and leave it to its own dynamics to create the nation’s wealth. We cannot cocoon ourselves at home and wish the virus will go away and wait until it does in isolated inertia. We cannot keep shut the business houses or see ground to a halt the means of production any more than we can keep the temples, the kovils, the churches, the mosques  closed and prayer muted, with the spring well of hope dried out.

But we must approach the nation’s resurrection cautiously, patiently and prudently. The Herculean task of reviving normalcy without unduly disturbing the nest of COVID drones must not be done to satisfy a hidden agenda with another set of goals in mind.

In the meantime, if the government sets the ball rolling tomorrow to resume civilian life or even if they do lift the curfew altogether to usher a  sense of normalcy or  if is reported that the police are turning a complete blind eye to curfew breakers  and one has the freedom of the streets whether jobless or no, it is best to remember that while such activity may indeed go on in earnest, there is still a deadly coronavirus in town and on the prowl, lurking at every street corner waiting to plaster itself on you and give you the kiss of death.

Stay Blessed, for tomorrow as the nation opens the door guardedly on her unknown fate, she will perceive COVID standing ominously on her threshold, with one foot already in.

Pavithra comes to the rescue of the jaded beauty brigade

PAVITHRA: Strikes blow for women

Keat’s ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ written On a Grecian Urn may not exactly be what thousands of women had in mind when the curfew tolled the knell of passing weeks and showed what truth without make up really looked like when the COVID  shutdown prevented their regular visits to the beauty salons.

Not to worry. Just as they were thinking of using their face masks to conceal the curfew induced neglect on their faces and a head scarf to hide the streaks of grey in their dyed hair, now erupting like weeds sprouting from a bed of roses, when stepping out to the public glare should the barriers be brought down this coming week, the Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi rose to their aid; and in her dual role as ‘Minister for Beauty and Make-Up’ struck a heaven sent blow for all women by declaring that beauty salons would be open for business from  Monday 11 May.

Of course, she said, health guidelines will have to be followed and her ministry will draft it. Accordingly on Vesak day the 7th of May, the Health Ministry released the guidelines all beauty salons are expected to follow.

According to the guidelines what is permitted will be the

cutting and trimming of hair

dyeing, colouring, tinting  of hair,

manicure and pedicure of hands and feet

waxing of arms and legs to remove hair

All else will be prohibited. The guidelines also state the precautionary health measures that will have to be taken by the beauty salons that will effectively reassure the customers that the COVID threat is minimized.

No salon shall operate without a valid written commencement certificate issued by the area Medical officer of Health.

Barbers and dressers also have been told to wear a mask and goggles or eye shields while attending to customers.

A 1-meter distance should also be maintained except during the procedure. Barbers and dressers should also always attend to the customer from behind and sides only and avoid a face to face encounter. Air conditions are not recommended.

No sweat. Small price to pay, to feel and look top of the world to a posse of admirers. After the make up is done, time for the male look over  to get the final seal of approval.


PB’s plea to all Govt Servants: Give us this day your monthly paySecretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera has made the most extraordinary gesture three weeks ago on April 17 of donating his entire May salary, the Presidential Secretariat’s website revealed this week.

The donation, which includes his allowances for May, has been made to the Government’s Widows and Orphans Social Security Contributions.

He joins the exclusive club of Lanka’s greatest philanthropists who have rushed to donate their meagre livelihood to save the cash strapped nation in her dire hour. In fairness to others who made such supreme sacrifices, it must go on record that Minister Dulles Allahaperuma donated his entire ministerial salary on April 7 while Minister Gamini Lokuge donated Rs 10 million on the same date. On April 23, it was announced that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had agreed, together with the rest of the cabinet, to donate his salary with the entire cabinet.

Ah, as it is said, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man should sacrifice his monthly wages for his government.’

So far, so good. After all, it’s understandable that the donor should brag about his most noble and exemplary act. But when he, as the secretary to the president, asks all public servants to donate their monthly pay or even half of it to the Government, it causes a sudden rush of goosebumps. Especially when he starts reeling facts and figures to justify his plea. You realise then, he is not asking for charity but for government survival till the next full moon.

Read what he has to say when he asks more than 1,500,000 government servants for their pay packet for May.

In his letter he has requested all government servants to donate their salary for May, fully or partially, to the government, taking into consideration the crisis faced by the country.

‘If all public servants do so by half of their salary to their own widows and dependents, the Government revenue will increase by about Rs.50 billion and expenditure will decline by Rs.50 billion, thereby budget deficit by Rs.100 billion in one month.’

On 5 May, the plea was sent to all ministry secretaries, provincial, district and divisional secretaries, heads of department, corporations, state banks, state owned enterprises and statutory bodies. The letter implored all government servants to donate their salaries or half of it stating, ‘the current crisis has dried up government income and the government is under great stress to pay back foreign debt.’

On Friday, Minister Bandula Gunawardena of ‘dengue is no different from COVID’ infame, attempted to gloss the issue by stating: ‘Jayasundera had made this request, during the Vesak week, with good intentions. The Secretary to the President, in his letter, had clearly shown the dire economic situation faced by the country and government servants have the right not to donate their salaries.’

First, Vesak has nothing to do with it, since the plea was first made on 17 April. Second, the Mass Media Minister was stating the obvious when he said ‘government servants have a right not to donate their salaries.’

Or have they still? Has the coronavirus crisis cast its shadow on that right too and darkened it? And, following Jayasundera’s letter, the Miltonic question on the public lips:

‘Doth the Government exact month labour, salary denied?’

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