A road closure for VVIP movement connected with the visit of the Chinese Defence Minister in Sri Lanka resulted in a spontaneous public protest by motorists who honked loudly from behind a traffic police line, a clear sign that the anger on the streets against the Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa government is mounting less than 18 months into his tenure.
The incident took place at the Marcus Fernando Mawatha round-about in Colombo 07 on Wednesday (28) night.
Vehicles honk in protest against the restriction of Traffic down Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha in Colombo (27), due to the movement of a VVIP convoy. #China's Defense Min. meanwhile arrived in #SriLanka last night.#Colombo #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/medzuhmnkE
— Newshub.lk (@Newshub_lk) April 28, 2021
Video captured of the motorists’ protest has gone viral on social media with citizens recalling that the Yahapalanaya administration suffered similar humiliation soon after the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 which killed 269 people in seven locations in the capital and Batticaloa. At the time, motorists reacted to a convoy carrying then State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardane which resulted in a road closure just days after the bombings that were a result of a serious national security failure.
Sri Lanka is running out of ICU beds and capacity at its government and military run quarantine centers where conditions are being described as “hellish” by those transported there after testing positive for the Corona Virus. Toilets at the facilities are “disgusting” some patients reported and with no medical or support staff available, patients have to check their own temperatures and even see to each other’s oxygen supply and other medications. Worse still, the Government is now reporting that its quarantine centers are at capacity, even as 1451 people tested positive for the corona virus on Wednesday (28), the highest ever number of infections reported in the island.
The country is grappling with the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, after opening up the airport and inviting tourists in. Medical experts say the decision to put the economy ahead of lives was going to cost the country billions. Reopening to tourists and neglecting public health protocols by the Government also invited mutant strains of the virus into the island, that are more resistant to the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. Over a million Sri Lankans, mostly in the Western Province and the Colombo District have been vaccinated with a single dose of the AZ vaccine which is not as effective against the British variant of the disease that is dominant in the island now. Public Health experts said the Sputnik and Pfizer vaccines could help Sri Lanka to achieve herd immunity if 85% of its population is vaccinated, but the orders will cost the country billions that it does not have.
Hospitals report that patients coming in with complications from Covid-19 are mostly between 35-60 and many require oxygen and therefore ICU care. The Government and health authorities took no additional steps over the past year to increase ICU capacity in the country. The Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime has also refused to permit those who test positive for the virus and do not need hospitalization or specialized medical attention to quarantine in their homes, putting a major strain on the government run facilities and treatment centers. Faced with dealing with a deadly pandemic in March 2020, President Nandasena Rajapaksa put his health ministry and the Covid-19 task force in the hands of his military generals, sidelining Sri Lankan medical experts and public health authorities who have the capacity and experience to deal with the crisis. The Government also delayed ordering the 14 million vaccines it requires to acquire herd immunity and ultimately relied on India’s generosity which provided 1.2 million doses to inoculate the worst affected district. With vaccine supplies disrupted all over the world, Sri Lanka is struggling to acquire doses to beat back the virus.
President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe with much pomp and circumstance on Wednesday. His Government grows ever closer to Beijing as it grapples with a severe debt crisis and a major economic recession.
China recently extended a USD 500 million loan facility to Sri Lanka which propped up the Sri Lankan rupee for 24 hours before it plummeting again to Rs 206 to the US dollar. The Government is determined to artificially prop up the rupee, a move economists have said will only keep draining the country’s rapidly depleting foreign reserves. According to foreign news reports, Beijing was hesitant to provide the loan as multiple rating agencies downgraded Sri Lanka’s sovereign debt rating as the island’s foreign reserves dwindled dangerously even as international debt repayments come due in July 2021.
However according to the reports, negotiations with Beijing restarted after the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government agreed to fast-track the Port City Bill which gives sweeping powers to a Commission to run the reclaimed city and a host of tax and legal exemptions critics say will create a parallel administration and create a money laundering hub inside the Port City peninsula. In exchange for USD 500 million as a loan, the Rajapaksa Government also promised to drop a key campaign pledge to renegotiate the lease of the Hambantota port with China Merchant Ports and allow the agreement to stand.