Sri Lanka asks illegal returnees to come forward as 72 coronavirus cases confirmed

NO MOVEMENT: The usually busy Fort, Colonial quarter of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo during Coronavirus curfew.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has made an open appeal to any returnee who had entered the country through unofficial channels to come forward, promising that no legal action will be taken against them, as the country goes through its first full day of a lockdown-style curfew.

“We are not interested in whether they went out of the country or came back illegally,” Army Chief Shavendra Silva said in an interview with Sri Lanka’s NewsFirst television.

“Please come forward and register. No action will be taken. This is not a time for us to worry about immigration laws,” he said.

Officials say in any case Sri Lanka’s immigration act does not apply to citizens. Anyone who returns to the country does mot commit a crime under the act.

Sri Lanka also does not have an exit visa as a democracy and the country subscribes to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human rights including Article 13.

Deserted

Streets in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo were deserted in the first day of a country-wide curfew to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Police said the curfew was holding and less than a dozen persons had been arrested in Haputale, Badulla and a few other areas.

Sri Lanka slapped the lockdown-style curfew yesterday, as total cases topped 70 (72 by this afternoon) and a patient was admitted to a hospital on a heart complaint exposing other patients and contacts.

General Silva said 11,482 persons who were returnees or had contact with suspected persons were now under home quarantine, being visited by quarantine officials.

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More than 2,700 were quarantined in 17 centres run by the military.

Sri Lanka has also issued home quarantine guidelines.

More hospitals

Seetha Arambepola, a member of a task force charged with tackling the novel coronavirus crisis said Mulleriyawa hospital, which is near the main infectious disease hospital where most of the patients are treated, has been cleared of routine patients and turned into a coronavirus treatment unit.

A section of Neville Fernando hospital, also in a suburb of Colombo has been turned into a treatment centre for pregnant women who may contract the virus.

Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has advocated strong containment measures saying hospitals did not have the capacity to treat patients who have complications and develop pneumonia.

Sri Lanka only has about 600 intensive care unit beds with ventilators, the association said.

Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Sri Lanka’s health service, said efforts were underway to repair broken ventilators fast.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has urged the public to follow the advice of doctors and the government after a curfew covering the entire weekend was imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have adequate stocks of food and drink, medicine and fuel for months,” the Prime Minister said.

“There is no need to have any doubts in this regard. Our government will not hide anything from the public. It is for the safety of all of us that information about patients and the nature of the illness is quickly disclosed to the public,” he said. (Colombo/Mar21/2020 – Update II)

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