Government Flags Restrictions on Movement, Gatherings to Battle Covid-19

Government Flags Restrictions on Movement, Gatherings to Battle Covid-19

Dili, seen from behind the Cristo Rei statue (Image/Flickr/Naval Surface Warriors)

DILI, 24 March 2020 (TATOLI) – Timor’s Council of Ministers has sent a state of emergency declaration request to President Francisco Guterres Lú-Olo, which would grant sweeping powers to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Under the declaration, which still requires presidential and parliamentary approval, the government would have the power to control movement and forcibly quarantine people suspected of having the virus.

“Possible measures include restrictions on movement, non-essential public and private activities, gatherings of people, religious events or celebrations, and compulsory confinement at home, or in a health facility,” the council president outlined in a media release after the meeting.

The statement did not provide further details on how movement would be restricted. However, President Lú-Olo will this morning convene a meeting of the State Council and the Superior Council for Defence and Security, as required by law, to discuss the measures.

According to a report by Lusa, quoting government sources, the government wants the declaration made as soon as this Thursday.

Timor-Leste confirmed its first confirmed case of Covid-19 on Saturday. The government has already banned foreigners arriving from virus-affected countries, and airlines have cancelled all but a select few flights arriving in Dili. Schools and universities are also closed, and the Catholic Church has suspended mass in Dili and surrounding suburbs for one week. But the government said further measures were necessary.

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

“The government believes preventing the spread of Covid-19…will require the adoption of some measures that will configure limitations and suspension of the exercise of some fundamental rights, freedoms and guarantees,” the statement read.

Looking to China, Australia for medicines

The state authority responsible for drug supply, SAMES, admitted in February the stalled 2020 General State Budget was restricting how much medicine it could afford to import.

During yesterday’s extraordinary council meeting, Minister for Legislative Reform and Parliamentary Affairs, Fidelis Manuel Leite Magalhães, said the ministry of health had submitted a bill of “$3 to $4 million” to resupply medicines.

But Minister Fidelis said more support was needed.


“MNEK [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] … has made contact with friendly countries such as China, Australia and Cuba to be available to support Timor-Leste.”

“MNEK submitted proposals to rapidly acquire medicines to increase [our supply] and to increase our necessary [medical] equipment that our health staff may use,” he said.

Up to $11 million could be accessed if required, he added.

Timor-Leste’s Council of Ministers met at a new venue yesterday, the Dili Convention Centre, adopting new social distancing measures (Image/Egas Cristovao)

Targeting the economic shutdown

Covid-19 has accelerated a worldwide economic downturn, triggered by the closure of borders and suspension of trade across many sectors. Minister Fidelis presented a “package of measures” to reduce the negative economic impacts of the pandemic.

But the more immediate focus of support was Dili’s devastating March 13 floods, which killed two people and affected more than 6,000 people.

Related News: Cleanup After Monsoonal Rains and Clogged Drains Create Disaster In Dili

The Acting Finance Minister Sara Lobo Brites said the Infrastructure Fund’s Board of Directors approved four projects to deal with the damage: constructing river containment walls; cleaning projects; additional water and sanitation infrastructure; and electricity infrastructure.

Further measures discussed:

  • constructing an isolation site for Covid-19 at Timor’s land border with Indonesia at Batugade;
  • PM orders “significant reduction” in government personnel, in order to observe social distancing;
  • Justice Minister Manuel Cárceres da Costa suspends visitor access to Timor’s prisons;
  • and funding to rent, sanitise and prepare new isolation sites.

A hotline (119) will also begin operating this morning for information on Covid-19, the Minister for Transport and Communications José Agostino da Silva told the meeting.

The pandemic has killed 16,030 people around the world since January from more than 349,000 infections in almost every country in the world.

As of Monday, some 96,000 people have recovered from the illness, according to the World Health Organisation.

Journalist: Robert Baird; additional reporting by Antónia Gusmão

Editors: Robert Baird; Julia Chatarina


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