As Coronavirus spreads in South Asia, Sri Lanka Navy, Air Force step up patrols

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Navy and Air Force has stepped up maritime surveillance to keep out illegal entrants as Coronavirus spreads in South Asia and the island is keeping a tight lid on the disease with aggressive contact tracing and curfews.

Sri Lanka closed the airport and ports for inbound traffic on March 19, and daily increases in new patients have been in single digits so far.

Sri Lanka has confirmed confirmed 210 Coronavirus patients adding 7 new patients up to April 12, while 56 have recovered. Seven persons have died.

India has confirmed over 8,500 Covid-19 cases with 287 deaths by late Sunday, Bangladesh 639 with 4 deaths, Pakistan 5,100 cases with 88 deaths.

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“We have changed the entire security pattern of the Sri Lanka Navy in order to counter any activities during this period,” Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Isuru Suriyabandara told EconomyNext.

“The Sri Lanka Air Force also deployed one of their planes to do patrols in the Sri Lankan sea.”

Suriyabandara said deploying an aircraft for surveillance was more effective than a single ship.

There is unauthorised traffic across Sri Lanka’s waters to India and elsewhere with anecdotal reports smuggling gold, drug running and relatively harmless activities such as exchanging fish for vegetables with Maldives boats.

“We can’t clearly say why are they coming, some come to smuggle drugs into the country, some try to cross the country and they can use this situation as a cover for their activities,” Lt Cmdr Suriyanbandra said.

Sri Lanka is also in contact with Indian authorities.

“Not only that we have a good relationship with other states, Navies and Border Control Authorities and UN as well,” he said

“We have looked into every possible activity and we will act according to the situation we face.”

Sri Lanka is also preparing an island off the Northern Jaffna peninsula to house any possible illegal migrant reports said, though Sri Lanka’s Navy chief told a local television station that the preferred strategy would be to escort any unauthorized vessel out.

Sri Lanka aggressively contacts tracing, with health and military intelligence officers coming together.

Sample testing of the general population is not done, but almost all confirmed patients have connections to returnees or patients already identified.

If new cases fall towards zero after April 19, which marks one month from the airport closure, Sri Lanka will start relaxing controls, officials have said. (Colombo/Apr12/2020-sb)

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