COVID 19 outbreak and its impacts on Sri Lanka

Mar 18 2020. views 601

As a majority of Sri Lankans continue to stay indoors and observe the COVID 19 transmission within the country, discussions are underway to seek the possibility of closing down the Bandaranaike International Airport. With a mass influx of returnees from high risk countries and other foreign lands, officials at BIA, the Sri Lanka Army, Police and Health Ministry are working round the clock to ensure that the virus doesn’t transmit rapidly within the rest of the population. While the government has declared special holidays for the state sector, essential services such as transport, food and healthcare are continuing operations. The COVID 19 outbreak has also had a massive impact on the country’s economy as China is one of the major countries we have inked agreements and deals with. Apart from that Sri Lanka also has ongoing trade and cultural relations with Italy, Iran, South Korea, Germany, France and other European countries as well.

In this backdrop the Daily Mirror Life takes a look at why social distancing is important, how the outbreak has impacted certain industries and what the general had to say about the government’s decisions.

Social distancing

As one of the measures to curb the spread of COVID 19 health officials recommend social distancing, thereby urging the public to avoid public gatherings and using public transport. When a section of the population stays indoors, the probability of the majority of the population contracting the illness is low. This could be especially effective to a country with a smaller surface area such as Sri Lanka. As there are many returnees from high risk countries, health authorities have now advised everyone to go into either institutional quarantine or home quarantine.

The quarantine process

Apart from sending the returnees to quarantine centres, Medical Officers of Health (MOHs), public health inspectors (PHIs) and other health officials are keeping a close watch on cases. They will be at a quarantine centre between two to 14 days as per the recommended incubation period. In the event a person develops symptoms he will be sent to one of the 17 designated hospitals for further treatment. Thereafter, those who were in close proximity to the case tested positive will be further quarantined for 14 more days. So far, Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe has requested the public to refrain from using private health services and has warned that he would take stern action on those who do the same. Health officials claim that quarantining is the only way in which returnees from high risk countries could minimise the risk of spreading the virus to the rest of the community. Those coming from low risk countries or countries that have a lower transmission of the disease are requested to go on home quarantine where an MOH or PHI will closely monitor them at home.

Impact on travel and tourism sectors

At the onset of the Easter Sunday attack, several industries including travel and tourism experienced a massive blow. But just when these industries were slowly recovering the COVID 19 outbreak came in. “Hotel occupancies have decreased and this would have impact staff service charges,” said Sanath Ukwatte, President of Hotel Owners Association. “But the Health Ministry has taken necessary precautions and we have informed member hotels to follow the same. There are temperature monitors at city hotels and we have requested the same from outstation hotels as well. This way we are trying to manage the risks as much as possible.”

When the first Sri Lankan tested positive for COVID 19 was a chauffeur guide, it certainly raised fear among the rest of the tour guides in the country. According to Priyalal Malaviarachchi, Treasurer of the Sri Lanka Institute of National Tour Guide Lecturers the industry has been paralysed since the virus situation aggravated in the country. Although certain groups from countries such as Australia have remained in the country despite their agencies advising them to leave, we see that they love to travel around Sri Lanka even in a crisis situation like this. However we are hopeful that the situation will get back to normal in the coming days.”

The outbreak will also impose greater threats to other industries such as apparels, real estate, food, retail , leisure and of course the education sector. Students awaiting to go  abroad to universities have been left in confusion while parents of children already abroad are struggling to get their children home amidst air ports shutting down and flight cancellations.

Thoughts from people

With the situation aggravating, several social media users urged authorities for a lockdown as many other countries too have done the same. We asked a few users about what they felt about the government’s decisions and here’s what they had to say :

“I believe that some steps have been late, hence the sudden increase in the cases we see today. Trust that if the GOSL would enforce a total ban of international movements via air and sea together with 2 weeks lock down would be beneficial for the coming months.”

-  Kanishka 

“It is not clear why China was not included in the quarantine even when the numbers were rising. That would have been the scientific thing to do? We have to thank our stars that no Chinese people are known to have spread it here. Maybe we should have quarantined people coming from Italy earlier. BUT the decision to mass quarantine them (and others) instead of letting them self-quarantine was an excellent decision. Closing schools, theatres, stopping big matches was great. Hats off to GOSL for that! The quick work done by the forces in getting the centres up and running is amazing. The Health Promotion Bureau is doing a good job too raising awareness. But I feel at this moment, when it is vital to tell people "what to do if they have symptoms", is not being conveyed adequately enough.  The stance seems to be that all who think they have symptoms should visit the nearest government hospital. Should all who have cold/flu symptoms do that? Isn't that going to overwhelm the hospitals and health officials unnecessarily? Shouldn't self-isolation and calling a doctor be an option as well to reduce the burden on hospitals, to reduce chances of transmission (social distancing), at least for people who have family doctors and known doctors? Maybe the plan is to make people come to govt. hospitals as long as that can be done. If the best practice is for everyone to go to a government hospital, then this should be continuously announced on all media. I see that people are confused. This confusion may lead to some going to private hospitals, or not going to or contacting a doctor at all. Letting flocks of people climb Sri Pada now is foolish. In South Korea, Patient 31 who spread the virus in a mass religious gathering turned things upside down within a couple of days. Our religious clergy should be made to see drastic measures are needed at drastic times.  If we over-react, we can still laugh about it later. If we under-react, we may have to cry.” - Rishi 

“I see a slow but steady response. Everyone is doing their part, the medical staff, military and even the travel industry. It’s the general public that needs to follow these and take things a bit more seriously and in a responsible manner. It’s not about going out and not about not attending to your things it's about not getting infected and more so not transmitting it to others including your own family members. Therefore please act responsibly for your own sake and others, right now social distancing is a necessity and an urgent need, we as a Nation is facing this crisis with lessons learnt from other nations.”

- Diyath 

“The government should have gone ahead with the quarantine process at Hendala hospital despite the protests from people and few politicians. I know it’s a populated areas but if you actually think most of the other hospitals are around populated areas as well. I personally believe that the quarantine process which was delayed for about two days due to the protests and until new facilities were built, was one of the main reasons that many Sri Lankans who came from Italy got a chance to escape. From the airport itself they should have had a better screening process. I'm actually not sure how well it went but according to some medical professionals’ comments and how some have escaped shows there were a  few loopholes. It doesn't matter what nationality some people belong to but they shouldn't be able to reject the quarantine process at any cost if they came from another country. Strict actions should be taken ASAP against those people while getting them quarantined so none of the others who are in hiding right now will make this worse.”

– Kushan



Kamanthi Wickramasinghe

A psychology graduate who eventually became a journalist to be a voice for unheard voices. A proud Sri Lankan - Thalassophile - Travel fan - Nature lover - Chocoholic - Extraordinarily loud - Frequent laughaholic. Follow me on Instagram - @kamzylifeTM or FB – Kamanthi Wickramasinghe


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