Life is tough in locked-down Covid infected inner-city Colombo

Entrance gate to the Mihijaya Sevana housing Complex in Modara, Mattakkuliya

ECONOMYNEXT- Pradeep Perera is only 26 years old but as the Grama Niladhari of the Madampitiya area in Modera, in inner-city Colombo he has to care for some 3000 families in his division.

They depend on him to channel government aid to people locked down under Sri Lanka’s strict Covid regulations, a task he says has him working more than 20-hour days.

Out of the 3,000 families, around a thousand live in Muwadora Uyana one of the communities hit by Covid 19 infections and the focus of attention in the past month.

Pradeep is one of the 14,022 Grama Niladaris in the across the island who are working tirelessly to provide care for the families living in their jurisdictions.

Pradeep told EconomyNext that his daily routine of mostly distributing supplies starts as early as 6 in the morning as he has to provide dry rations for 3000 families.

“I have been only sleeping like two or three hours a day for two months since the area was isolated due to Covid” Pradeep said.

Pradeep Perera, Grama Niladhari of Madampitya with his wife.

In the beginning, when the area under him was isolated on 22 October with the emergence of the Peliyagoda Fish Market cluster of Covid positive patients, Pradeep had to help the area Public Health Inspector (PHI) to trace those who were working in the facility who had gone into hiding, he said.

Notice indicating a house in self quarantine inside the housing complex

Then he had to distribute food parcels to the families in isolation and in quarantine as the cash allowance of LKR5000 allowance was only given once.

With the change of policy from the government to distribute LKR5000 worth of dry rations per week, Pradeep had to focus on distributing supplies every day as according to him it takes 8 days to distribute all the parcels for the 3000 families in his on a weekly basis.

Pradeep said that he has to arrange transport facilities personally to get the parcels from the Colombo District Secretariat without assistance as most workers are scared to do the work because of possible exposure to the virus.

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Pradeep distributing parcels of dry rations to a house in self quarantine in the housing complex

He added the initial LKR10,000 parcel of dry rations given to the families in quarantine weighed about 67 Kg each.

Moreover, he said that nearly 300 COVID-19 patients were found in his division since the start of the second wave in October, while 80 were directly linked to the Peliyagoda fish market cluster.

Among the fatalities in his division is the controversial death of a 20-day old infant who died at the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital on December 8 and the 23rd death COVID-19 death Sri Lanka, a 61-year-old woman who passed away at her residence making it the second COVID death in the new wave which occurred at home.

Pradeep said that there were instances where he had to work for 8-10 hours straight wearing gloves and face shields and masks which makes it more difficult.

“There were instances where I got up at 2 in the morning to deliver medicines such as ‘Asamodagam’ bottles to families in the housing complex,” he added.

“Luckily I was tested negative for Coronavirus in four PCR tests, because otherwise if something happens to me it would affect the families as no one will be there to provide them the necessary supplies,” said Pradeep.

He said that the Colombo District Secretariat distributes about 50,000 parcels every week to people who are isolated and quarantined in the district.

While meeting the needs of his division, Pradeep also helps his wife who is the Grama Niladhari for the Ginthupitiya area with the distribution of supplies.

Subramaniyam Kandaiah, also known as Kumar is a 45-year-old saloon owner, who is living in the Muwadora Uyana housing complex with his wife and three children.

Kumar, whose hometown is Kalutara moved to Madampitiya after his marriage and rented out a shop to start his own saloon several years ago.

With the second wave Kumar was subjected to self-quarantine for two weeks as he had given a haircut to a COVID-19 patient.

Until recently he had been unable to open his saloon even though the isolation restrictions were removed as police are yet to allow him to do so.

After much pleading with the police, Kumar was able to open the shop by only letting customers in by the back door but he told EconomyNext that there weren’t many customers as most them are scared to enter the saloon due to the pandemic and since most think the establishment was closed seeing the sign in front of the saloon.

He said that on some days he was able to earn LKR 300-500 but on other days he did not have any customers.

Subramaniyam Kandaiah, also known as Kumar.

Kumar’s three children, two girls (16 and 12 years old) and one boy (6 years old) have been doing their studies online since the isolation but all them have only one Smartphone which is Kumar’s mobile phone to connect to their classes.

This a major challenge for his eldest child who is due to sit the Ordinary Level exams in March.

Moreover, Kumar said that even though LKR 5000 worth of food item parcels were given each week to them they had problems with cooking the food as there was no money to buy gas cylinders.

Kumar’s family had to borrow gas cylinders from his neighbours or cook their meals in the neighbour’s kitchen.

After the self-quarantine period, PCR tests were done on Kumar and his wife as well as other families which turned out negative before were relaxed.

Although the isolation restrictions are removed in the area, curfew is in force to limit movements.

Apart from the mental suffering Kumar suffers from kidney stones which was diagnosed just before the isolation of his area.

His other Kidney was first removed back in 2003 due to the same issue.

“With that pain only I was stuck at home for two months,” he said.

Kumar was getting his medications but after his clinics were cancelled the hospital had asked him not to come there until they informed him, he told EconomyNext.

Now Kumar is using pain killers to purchased from the pharmacy to alleviate his pain in the kidneys.

His operation to remove the stones in the kidney is scheduled for February next year.

Kasun Sanjeewa is a 41-year-old self-employed businessman who also lives with his wife 3 children and his 60-year old father in the Muwadora Uyana housing complex.

Kasun has been living in the Housing complex for 5 years buying wholesale soap from Maligawatta and selling them to people in his area in large numbers on an instalment basis.

Kasun had moved to Madampitya when he was 8 years old from Galle which is his hometown.

While appreciating the effort by the President and the government to give them food parcels every week which was a great relief to them, he said that he is now struggling financially to restart his business.

Kasun said that he has no way of getting the payments due to him, as people have no money in their hands.

Kasun Sanjeewa

His three children, two girls (14 and 8 years) and one boy ( 9 years old) he said, squabble over there father’s phone to do their schoolwork online as it is the only device they have that is connected to the internet.

Kasun said that 40 people alone from his block in the housing complex tested positive for COVID-19 where most of them were from the fish market cluster.

Another Covid 19 patient who succumbed in November at the IDH, 23-year-old Mohamed Shafraz is also from the same complex.

His 25-year old cousin Mohamed Rimzan told EconomyNext, on the night of November 3 Shafraz’s office where he worked (Ceylon Oxygen Ltd) had called them saying that Shafraz is not well and he is in pain.

They had his family come and get him admitted to a hospital that night.

Mohamed Rimzan

Next morning when they had gone to see Shafraz, the doctor said that he was having very high sugar, Rimzan said that was the first instance they knew that he had diabetes.

Then the hospital had asked to keep someone with Shafraz in the hospital as he was in a critical condition where he could not eat, speak or walk.

So his father waited with him in the hospital and by noon the hospital had said that Shafraz had tested positive for COVID-19.

And at about midnight the hospital called the family and said that Shafraz’s condition has worsened so they are going to admit him to the IDH.

Rimzan said when they called the IDH in the morning the hospital had asked them not to visit Shafraz and that he is in very critical condition and to pray for his recovery as there is nothing else they can do for him.

“And at around 5 in the evening they called saying that he passed away,” Rimzan said.

“After that they told us they are going to cremate him and asked one of us to come and sign some documents, our uncle went, then they had asked for Rs 6000 for the coffin and to cremate him but they didn’t allow to see him,” he added.

Rimzan and others had told about the death of Shafraz to his mother after 19 days had passed because they feared she would not be able to handle it as she had diabetes.

Although Shafraz was Rimzan’s cousin, their families had lived together in one house. Sharfaz’s and Rimzan’s mothers were sisters.

When PCR tests were done on the families, Rimzan, his younger brother, Shafraz’s mother, father and brother all tested positive for COVID-19.

They had been taken to Batticaloa from where they returned home fully recovered in two weeks’ time.

“It was after we returned home that we told his mother that Shafraz had died,” Rimzan said. (Colombo/Dec24/2020)

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