José Ramos-Horta said there is "no justification" to extend the state of emergency decree (Image/special)

DILI, 25 May 2020 (TATOLI) – Former Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta has proposed partially opening the land border to liberate trade, saying the economy is “sinking” rapidly.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Ramos-Horta suggests the frontiers at Batugade, Suai and Oe-Cusse could open Monday to Thursday, from 9:00am to 2:00pm.

“The screening of communities [for COVID-19] must continue and must be repeated,” he writes. “And freight trucks must be allowed to move freely within the national territory.”

The Council of Ministers has asked President Francisco Guterres to extend the decree for another 30 days, citing the “worrying epidemiological situation” in Indonesia – and the neighbouring East Nusa Tengarra (NTT) province in particular.

President Francisco Guterres Lú-Olo is today convening a meeting of the Superior Council on Defence and Security, and the Council of State, to discuss the request.

The Council has argued the strict measures – some of which are only legally possible under a state of emergency – have “greatly contributed to the fact that there are currently no active cases of COVID-19” in Timor-Leste.

However Mr Ramos-Horta said the country does not need the strict measures to keep COVID-19 under control.

“There is no justification for maintaining the State of Emergency Law,” he writes.

José Ramos-Horta meets prime minister, Taur Matan Ruak last Februrary (Image/GPM)

“Even without the draconian measures imposed by many countries in the region, for one month, Timor-Leste has not registered a single case of COVID-19, [or] community transmission, and no fatalities. Meanwhile the economy is paralysed, sinking week by week.”

Timor-Leste has registered just 24 positive cases of the virus; all of whom had mild symptoms, and have now recovered. More than 1,500 people have been tested.

Borderline problems

The Nobel Laureate José Ramos-Horta concedes stronger policing along the border – particularly Oe-Cusse – is needed.

But he offered sharp criticism of the government’s attention on West Timor, where 82 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus, six have recovered, and one person has died.

“I have regularly followed the evolution of the pandemic in NTT Province. The provincial authorities have managed the situation very efficiently.”

“NTT Province has 5.3 million inhabitants, almost five times [Timor-Leste’s] population… The updated clinical data is encouraging,” he writes, citing charts from the provincial government which show just nine people in the districts bordering Timor-Leste are under medical observation.

The government has responded to the virus by setting up a Covid-19 Fund to finance the COVID-19 response, and provide a variety of subsidies to people and businesses affected by the shutdown.

The Minister for Legislative Affairs, Fidelis Magalhães, said yesterday that any extension will more “more relaxed” and involve “a lot of flexibility” – but stressed keeping the hard border closure was a key part of the response.

Journalist: Robert Baird

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