At least three women were killed and nine others injured in a stampede during the distribution of coronavirus-related aid in the Sri Lankan capital, police said.
Police said the incident took place on Thursday in the Maligawatta area of Colombo, where a businessperson had organized an event to distribute cash donations of 1,500 Sri Lankan rupees ($8) to the poor, reports Efe news.
The island country is under a nationwide lockdown that has pushed the economy to the brink amid no tourism, with millions losing their livelihood.
Police superintendent Jaliya Senaratne said six people who had organized the charity event were arrested following the incident.
"Everything happened within five or 10 minutes. Over 1,000 people had gathered to get the donation. Three were killed and nine others injured," Senaratne told reporters.
The police rushed the injured to a hospital.
Senaratne said the businessperson and five of his associates had organized the event near a mosque on the eve of the last Friday before the end of Ramzan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.
"The people had gathered at a road near the mosque where they were given cash donations. We were told people were given 1500 rupees each," a police officer told Efe news.
The accused face charges of violating social distancing regulations by organizing a public event without informing police, at a time when the government has prohibited large gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Senaratne said the arrested also face charges "related to the origin of the stampede".
The charity event was organized to help those who have been hit hardest by the weeks-long curfew.
The restrictions were eased last week as the country has so far reported just over 1,000 positive cases and nine deaths. The relaxations have allowed many people to return to work.
In a bid to aid poverty-hit people, the government had initiated a scheme to distribute a monthly grant of 5,000 Sri Lankan rupees to each family from March onwards.
However, the government discontinued the program after a National Election Commission request, as it could be considered a violation of the code of conduct before the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The poll body had fixed elections for April 25, but due to the pandemic they will now be held on June 20.
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