DILI, 28 April 2020 (TATOLI) — The President of Timor-Leste, Francisco Guterres Lú-Olo, has extended the country’s state of emergency by another month to help the country continue to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new state of emergency ends midnight on May 27th.
In a statement posted on social media, President Lú-Olo said the measures – which include bans on mass gatherings, mass transit and some restrictions on businesses – must continue.
“[President Lú-Olo] declared a state of emergency… on the basis of the experience of other countries which have been worst hit in terms of deaths and cases because containment measures were not adopted until it was too late,” he wrote.
“The renewal of the state of emergency maintains the measures already taken to prevent and fight COVID-19 and thus to protect citizens, the people and the country.”
Timor-Leste has now recorded 24 cases of the virus nationally; a small fraction of the more than three million cases worldwide.
Because the cases continue to rise, the government submitted a proposal to extend the one-month State of Emergency to prevent further transmissions, and potential deaths.
The extension passed 37 votes to 23, with four abstentions.
Prime Minister, Taur Matan Ruak, said during the debate the measures should not be seen as a silver bullet.
“The State of Emergency is not a solution, but [it]… helps us prepare… to enable us to respond to our citizen’s situation,” he said.
Further to the restrictions on movement is the complete border closure, and shutdown of important ferry services to Ataúro and Oe-cusse. The PM acknowledged fears extending the state of emergency will steepen the economic contraction, referencing some of Timor’s darkest days.
“I acknowledge that in 1976 and 1978 many people died from starving caused by war,” he said.
“[If it’s] between savings lives and the economy, which one will we choose? I will choose lives first and then the economy.”
A lack of “urgency” behind CNRT dissension
Miranda Branco, deputy chief of the opposition FRETILIN Party, said an extension was necessary to address the health crisis caused by Covid-19, which has led to more than 200,000 deaths worldwide.
“Because we know people in other countries have died in great numbers of this virus, and eventually they pray because of so many deaths.”
The leader of KHUNTO, António Nobre Amaral Tilman, also voted in favour.
“I voted in favour [of the extension] to give the government time to create conditions to protect our people,” he said.
However Fernanda Lay, a CNRT Party deputy, voted against the bill.
“I voted against [the bill] because parliament approved the [150 million] with some urgency, yet the government has not implemented it with any urgency,” Ms Lay told parliament.
At the same time, the Deputy of the Democratic Party, Mariano ‘Assanami’ Sabino, said he voted in favour of the bill for “the good of the state and the people”.
But he said he wanted to see more subsidies flowing to lower-income families struggling amid the Covid-19 response.
Read our original Tetum coverage here: PN Aprova Pedidu Estensaun EE, CNRT Vota Kontra; Prezidente Repúblika Promulga Estensaun Estadu Emerjénsia
Journalist: Cipriano Colo
Editors: Robert Baird, Cancio Ximenes
Translation: Nelia Borges