ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has seen a surge of new Coronavirus cases driven mostly by returnees from Italy, with one case confirmed who had not been quarantined, as authorities blocked new arrivals and tried multiple measures to make people stay at home.
Eight new case was confirmed on Sunday, taking the total to 19 with a Chinese national who had been discharged from hospital.
Travel restriction to the UK, Belgium and Norway was imposed late Sunday and quarantine would begin, authorities said.
A holiday declared for Monday will not apply to the wholesale and retail trade or exports and imports, Information Minister Bandula Gunewardane said.
The threat to the country, like several other countries, has emerged not from Chinese tourists or guest workers but citizens who are returning from third countries that had become infected.
Monday, March 16, was declared a holiday in the latest in several moves to make people stay at home.
Sri Lanka banned public events, closed cinemas, zoological gardens until further notice Saturday and declared Monday a public holiday after earlier closing schools and universities as new cases surged into double digits in a bid to get the public to stay at home.
“This is for a two week period, and we ask the public to cooperate with us,” Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi told reporters in Colombo.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has asked officials to make use of the internet to provide services.
Concerns heightened after a resident of Nathandiya, an area that had seen a concentration of migration into Italy who had not been caught in quarantine or self-quarantined and was confirmed with Coronavirus after having been on the move.
“Every person who came before quarantine should stay at home,” Director General of Health Services Anil Jasinghe said during a television broadcast Sunday.
He said lists of returnees were being made and they will be quarantined.
Sri Lanka’s military intelligenceand police are tracking people who had arrived in the country before quarantine began, Army Chief Shavendra Silva said.
A returnee from Germany was also confirmed as having Coronavirus.
“This shows that that the biggest threat is coming from Italy and Schengen area,” Jasinghe told reporters Saturday.
Along the coastal belt north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, from Chilaw running up to Marawila and beyond a large number of Sri Lankan had migrated to Italy, earning the label ‘Little Italy.’
A large concentration of Catholics also live in the area. No services will take place in Colombo and Chilaw dioceses until March 31, to help fight the Coronavirus, a Church official said.
The island’s Catholic Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith held a televised service on March 15.
“We are holding the service in this manner at the special request of the government to protect the worshippers and all Sri Lankans and support the fight against this disease,” Cardinal Ranjith said starting the Sunday mass.
Sri Lanka has so far not announced any lockdowns. Some countries like Italy have ordered vast areas into lockdown.
Spain on Saturday imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown, banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.
But countries like Vietnam have ordered surgical lockdowns, closing down individual streets and apartments, aggressively tracing contacts through community leaders while keeping tens of thousands of returning citizens in quarantine.
Sri Lanka has urged citizens not to travel abroad.
Sri Lanka had already banned arrivals from nine European countries, Italy and Korea or who had traveled there including citizens of Sri Lanka, for two weeks in a bid to squeeze the flow.
Sri Lankan missions in those countries said they were cutting down consular services to emergencies.
In Colombo, the Foreign Ministry ordered a group of officials into self-quarantine after a relative of a colleague, who had recently returned from abroad was confirmed with Coronavirus.
The public had also been urged not to panic buy.
A 56-year-old lady who had returned from Italy on March 07, became the 10th Sri Lankan confirmed, the state information office said.
A 17-year old girl who was the relative of a previously confirmed case was the 09th Sri Lankan, confirmed, making it a case of community transmission.
As of Saturday 103 suspected patients were being treated at 18 designated hospitals around the country, while 1600 were in quarantine, Jasinghe said. (Colombo/Mar15/2020-sb – Updated with Sunday new patients)