Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant on an ambulance in Atulugama on March 29, 2020, after the town was sealed off by health authorities following fears that it could be a cluster for COVID-19 infection after two positive cases. (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2020

Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

  • Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival

COLOMBO: To help its overseas migrant workers deal with the coronavirus, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations has launched an online portal where citizens can voice their concerns, officials said on Sunday.

“All Sri Lankans living abroad were invited to register voluntarily on the platform . . . allowing the government to reach out and provide assistance during emergencies such as the Covid-19 outbreak. This platform will allow the ministry to access real-time data for quick action,” an official from the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Since its launch on March 26, the “Contact Sri Lanka” portal has seen 17,000 registrations, with several saying they want to return home as soon as possible.

“A bulk of the 700 inquiries received through the portal relate to the possibility of a return to the country,” excerpts from a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and made available to Arab News, read on Sunday.

Registration by residents in the country will also allow the ministry to propose concrete policy decisions in critical response situations, such as evacuation measures, depending on the number of emergency assistance requests generated, the statement said.

It added that establishment of the portal was based on a “call made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for coordinated efforts by all government stakeholders to fight the Covid-19 outbreak and to harness digital technology to prompt faster and more efficient service delivery.”

Deputy General Manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) W. Leelaratne told Arab News that Sri Lankan employees, particularly at missions in the Middle East and Asia, would be working with host governments “to secure fair treatment and concessions for expatriate workers to the maximum extent possible.”

“This includes safeguarding the rights of the workers related to the payment of salaries and ensuring job security, ” he said.

Leelaratne said that due to the current global situation; the SLBFE has opened a 24/7 help desk for all migrant workers who could seek assistance by contacting the hotline.

Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, director general of Health Services, said that the number of coronavirus cases had risen to 110 with the detection of four new cases on Sunday.

Two of the four cases were arrivals from the south Indian city of Chennai, with Jasinghe saying that the government had requested all those flying in from Chennai to report to the nearest health facility for mandatory quarantine arrangements.

As an additional measure, the villages of Atulugama, Akurana and Kadayankulam have been placed under lockdown, while the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam and Jaffna have been declared high-risk zones with a full-day curfew to continue in these areas until further notice.


Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

Updated 29 May 2020

Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

  • Intelligence, immigration officials investigating illegal facilities that catered mostly to foreigners

MANILA: The Philippines has intensified its crackdown on uncertified medical facilities offering treatment to people, particularly foreigners, with COVID-19 symptoms.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to help the Philippine National Police (PNP) track down foreign nationals behind the illegal clinics.
“It seems that clandestine medical clinics catering mostly to foreign nationals have sprouted and have been operating without proper authority,” Guevarra told reporters.
He said the facilities could have compromised the health of those who had undergone treatment.
“I’ll therefore ask the NBI and the BI to help the police in locating other similar underground clinics and the people running them, and if warranted, to file the appropriate charges against them,” he added.
Guevarra issued the order following a raid on Tuesday on an illegal clinic catering to Chinese patients in Makati City. Arrested in the operation were Chinese nationals Dr. David Lai, 49, and Liao Bruce, 41.
The clinic was reportedly operating without a permit, while the arrested did not have a license to practice medicine in the country.
Seized from the site were swab sticks, vials, syringes and boxes of medicine with Chinese labels — believed to be unregistered with the Food and Drug Administration.
Last week, law enforcers also swooped on a makeshift hospital for Chinese patients in the Fontana Leisure Park in Clark, Pampanga province.
The raid came after police received information that a COVID-19 patient was “undergoing medical attention” in a Fontana villa.
Arrested during the raid were Chinese nationals Liu Wei, who reportedly supervised the facility, and Hu Shiling, allegedly a pharmacist. Both were released on the same day without charge.
Immigration officials on Thursday said the duo had been placed on their watch list to prevent them from leaving the country while an investigation is underway.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said intelligence operatives will trace four of the patients, and are looking into the case of the Chinese nationals arrested in Makati.
“I’ve instructed our intelligence division to investigate if these alleged Chinese doctors are legally staying in the country,” he said.
“Should we find they violated our immigration laws, they’ll be charged with deportation cases before our law and investigation division,” he added.
“Even if no criminal charges were filed against them, they can be charged for immigration law violations if we can establish that they violated the conditions of their stay in the country.”
If criminal charges are filed, however, the BI will only deport them after their cases have been resolved or they have served their sentences, if convicted.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for the “immediate deportation and blacklisting” of the Chinese nationals because of their “blatant disregard of our laws.”
She added that while the Philippines is working hard to protect its people from the virus, “these criminals freely roam and pose a danger to public health.”