East Timor: Parliament approves urgent measures to respond to Covid-19 crisis

East Timor’s parliament on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution containing urgent measures to respond to the impact of Covid-19, regarding citizens’ rights, the regulation of the functioning of essential services and the supply of goods.

The objective of the resolution is to “approve legislation and other necessary and urgent measures, some of them temporary, in order to ensure that the country is prepared to respond to this pandemic,” the text states.

“In the difficult moment that the world is going through, [parliament] will exercise, to the full extent, the competences that the Constitution of the Republic attributes to it, to ensure the safeguarding of the rights and interests of the Timorese people,” it reads.

It is urgent, it goes on, to “establish the places destined for quarantine and isolation (with the support of the WHO and friendly countries),” the creation of laboratory conditions for testing Covid-19 in the country and ensuring “the existence of medical equipment for protection of health professionals.” 

The resolution calls for special attention to ensure transport links with the enclave of Oecussi, and the “closure of public services, keeping on only those employees [who are] essential to maintaining minimum services,” with the implementation of computerised means of working from home for civil servants.

The resolution also outlines measures to ensure the operation of establishments selling food, fuel and medical products, price controls, the simplification of customs procedures and the maintenance of air links “to ensure the entry of health professionals and allow, if necessary, the sending of laboratory tests to be carried out abroad.”

It also calls for the implementation of “necessary and exceptional legislative measures that must be adopted to ensure the prevention and combat of the new coronavirus” in the educational sector, public services and the regulation of spaces frequented by the public, with rules for the operation of commercial spaces.

Justice, administrative processes, employment and social protection and support for companies, such as small businesses and street vendors, are also part of the proposed package.

Among other issues, there is also the process of granting and extending visas “for foreign nationals who cannot leave East Timor as a result of travel restrictions” and ensuring “the transport and entry of goods into the country, namely the transport of food, fuel and medical products and equipment,” the text reads.

In view of the public health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the confirmation of the first case in East Timor, the resolution cites the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and measures to be implemented in the various situations.

it recalls the measures already implemented by the government, such as restrictions on entry into the country, and notes that the “concrete terms” of the possible declaration of a state of emergency requested by the executive are not yet known.

The resolution aims to go beyond what is already in place to “ensure citizens’ rights, the regular functioning of essential services of public interest, the regular functioning of the economy and the supply of goods.”

In it, parliament calls for more measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and raise awareness, including a more intensive public campaign on hygiene and social distancing on all available platforms in the country and in collaboration with municipal and local authorities and the Roman Catholic Church.

The government should step up the training of health sector staff, and make available at the borders and in all government offices conditions to wash and disinfect hands, it adds.

The new coronavirus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic has so far infected more than 1.2 million people worldwide, of whom more than 68,000 have died. Of the cases of infection, more than 283,000 are considered cured.

Since the outbreak began in China in December it has spread around the world, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a pandemic situation.