Schools, Universities and Churches Shut in Effort to Contain Covid-19

Schools, Universities and Churches Shut in Effort to Contain Covid-19

Students at EBF Aiasa School in Balibo last year. Classes have been cancelled across the country from March 23 to 28. (Antonio Gonçalves)

DILI, March 23, 2020 (TATOLI) – Students have been told to stay home from the nation’s schools all week as authorities attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19.

On Saturday, Timor-Leste recorded its first confirmed case of the virus, which has now affected 332,000 people across the globe.

In response, the Ministry of Education (MEJD) declared an “extraordinary holiday” for all public and private schools between March 23 and 28. Universities will also be closed until April 4, the Ministry of Higher Education (MESSK) said.

Education Minister, Dulce de Jesus Soares (Image/Tatoli)

But Education Minister Dulce de Jesus Soares warned parents should not treat the week as vacation time.

“[I want] to emphasis that this week of school holidays is not for playing, but to stay inside the house and observe personal hygiene standards,” she said yesterday.

The Ministry also appealed to educators to advise their students to regularly wash their hands, avoid hand kisses or any other physical contact.

The Ministry of Higher Education (MESSK) said it has also closed universities in line with recommendations from health authorities. Minister Longuinhos dos Santos said the institutions were working on a “new strategy” to continue teaching.

“I ask for the institutions of higher education to avoid activities with lots of people, and for the academic community not to bring the risk [of Covid-19] to each person,” he said.

Catholic Archbishop of Dili, Dom Virgílio do Carmo da Silva (Image/Tatoli)

Meanwhile the Catholic Church has also introduced measures to reduce crowds and the chance of spreading the virus. Dili Archbishop Dom Virgílio do Carmo da Silva said services in Dili and surrounding suburbs would be suspended until the 28th.

“We ask congregations to worship in their homes only, and have a spiritual communion. And we ask the priests to continue celebrating mass [but] without the help of the people,” he said. 

‘Rapid Response’ to combat virus: PM Taur

Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said the government would make a ‘rapid’ and ’emergency’ response after the country’s first confirmed case of the virus.

FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri (L) and Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, of PLP party (Image/TatolI)

“Parliament has reassumed its responsibility to support any government, especially at a time where there is no General State Budget [for 2020],” Prime Minister Taur said, after meeting the head of  the opposition FRETILIN Party, Mari Alkatiri on Saturday.

However he said a formal request to President Lú-Olo to declare a state of emergency was yet to be submitted.

“As soon as we have an answer, I will hear the opinion from the Council of State, the Defence Council and National Security Council to submit to the parliament for authorisation,” he said.

An emergency declaration would grant sweeping powers, including the authority to shut businesses, close the borders and enforce mandatory quarantine.

Long lines at Lita Supermarket on Saturday after news broke of the first Covid-19 case (Image/Tatoli)

Rush on Dili’s supermarkets

The announcement on the weekend of the arrival of Covid-19 prompted crowds of people to stock up on supplies, with long lines at places like Lita Supermarket in Dili.

“We bought rice, milk for our kids, food and household needs, because we are afraid the supermarket will close,” one customer Maria da Costa told TATOLI.

State Secretary for Social Communication, Merício Akara, washes his hands outside the Lita Supermarket on Sunday, March 22 (Image/Florencio Miranda Ximenes)

Lita owner Foo Hu Kiun said the shop would need the support from the government to continue to provide basic needs.

“This afternoon, many customers came in to buy products because they are panicking. They are afraid we will close the shop, but we maintain our activities and we will not close,” he said.

Lita has since installed a hand-washing station at the entrance, and is encouraging all customers to use it before entering.

AIFAESA officers at a store in the Audian neighbourhood of Dili (Image/Tatoli)

Shopkeepers arrested over mask price surge

Timor’s Inspection Authority for Economic and Food Security Activities (AIFAESA) along with the police forensic team, PNCIC, has taken action against Dili retailers alleged to be selling face masks well above the regular price.

Face masks for sale in a store in Liquiça District for 50 cents. Some retailed in Dili for up to $2.50, AIFAESA alleges. (Image/Evaristo Soares Martins)

AIFAESA Director Gabriel da Costa said masks that normally retailed at 50 cents reached around $2.50 in one story. He said, following a tip-off from a customer, PNTL officers arrested merchants at four stores in Bairro Pite and two in Audian.

“The buyer immediately contacted AIFAESA and PCIC, who immediately arrived at the locations find out whether there was a crime of price speculation,” Director Gabriel said.

The merchants remain in custody at PNTL General Command in Caicoli, Dili, he said.

Journalists: Florencio Miranda Ximenes; Antónia Gusmão; and Tomé Amado. Additional reporting by Evaristo Soares Martins and Cipriano Colo.
Robert Baird; Julia Chatarina; Agapito dos Santos; Cancio Ximenes

Translation: Nelia Borges


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