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Sri Lanka Coronavirus count rises driving new efforts to contain spread

CORONA CONTROLS: A worker sprays disinfectant to sanitize a public bus as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus at a bus station in Colombo on March 16, 2020. Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka restricted flights from more countries, tightened quarantine as total confirmed cases of Coronavirus went up and the World Health Organization declared the island to be a country with community transmission, officials said.

Sri Lanka reported a total of 22 confirmed patients Monday, including a Chinese tourist who had been discharged.

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Among those confirmed over the weekend was the teenage daughter of a previously confirmed patient who became infected due to contact with foreigners.

“The World Health Organization has declared Sri Lanka to be a country with community transmission,” Director of Sri Lanka’s health service Anil Jasinghe told reporters Sunday.

Sri Lanka Sunday restricted travel from UK, Belgium and Norway asking carriers not to board anyone destined for the island who from or had been in the three countries.

Sri Lanka had already restricted boarding airlines from France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden and Austria.

Quarantine rules for the countries were also brought forward Sunday night.

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“Due to the very rapid spread of the covid-19 virus a very high level decision has been made” to quarantine passengers earlier than previously informed, Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Authority said.

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Similar restrictions are in place for Korea and Iran. Sri Lanka’s foreign missions in the countries said they were cutting down services.

A group of diplomats are also in self-quarantine after a relative of an officer was found to have the virus.

Sri Lanka’s immigration chief Sarath Rupasiri said visa approvals had been tightened and more countries would be added if necessary.

“Please ask your friends and relatives abroad to delay their arrival.”

Sri Lanka had already closed schools, universities, cinemas and zoological gardens. Jasinghe said expected mothers and child vaccinations should delay clinic visits unless they are 08 months pregnant or have a complication that needs a response.

“It is the practice of a mother to come with a family member and child, which leads to crowded conditions,” he said.

Jasinghe urged members of the public suspecting a Coronavirus infection not to go to a private hospital and risk more infections. He said the test used in Sri Lanka requires a certain ‘virus load’  to come up with positive results and it may have to be done multiple times.

Sri Lanka’s elections chief asked political parties not to hold large rallies for the upcoming election in April for which nominations are underway.

“Please do not bring supporters to the offices, and request them not to stay around the premises as well,” Deshapriya said in a statement.

South Asia Response

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in an online conference with South Asian leaders had called for a common regional response.

“Our biggest challenge is to stop or minimize the virus entering into Sri Lanka and control the spreading of the virus within Sri Lanka,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.

“For this purpose, we have banned tourists and other people from about 12 countries, especially some EU countries, entering into Sri Lanka, following the guidelines and statistics relating to the spread of the virus, issued by the WHO.

The biggest source of infections was Sri Lankans returning from infected countries.

“We have a large number of Sri Lankans working in Italy and South Korea,” President Rajapaksa was quoted as saying.

“We cannot stop these Sri Lankans coming back to their home country.”

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Economic Hit

Sri Lanka’s economy has been hit by the crisis, with tourism taking the brunt. Stocks plunged last week as fears of the bigger fallout from the crises loomed ahead.

Sri Lanka has also made a large liquidity injection with central bank credit raising fears over the currency as the country runs a pegged exchange rate, though private credit is expected to fall.

Sri Lanka declared Monday a holiday and a gazette notice said there could be further holidays if necessary which would further dampen economic activity.

Public Administration Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon in a Gazette notification on Sunday said the special public and bank holiday was aimed at supporting the quarantine efforts underway.

“This holiday will be extending (sic) if necessary,” he said.

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Sri Lanka wholesale and retail, external trade will operate Monday

Information Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the holiday did not apply to external trade or domestic retail and wholesale trade.

“There is the export industry and a lot of goods have also been imported for the New Year season,” Minister Gunawardana said.

“The Pettah wholesale trade and retail shops will also operate.

“Goods will continue to be supplied.”

Sri Lanka’s supermarkets have seen panic buying.

Gunawardana said Sri Lanka had ample stocks of foods and prices would come down further on Wednesday.

Quarantine

Sri Lanka brought forward quarantine rules from UK, Norway and Belgium, telling airlines that passengers disembarking in Colombo would quarantined earlier than previous informed.

“Due to the very rapid spread of the covid-19 virus a very high level decision has been made” to quarantine passengers earlier than previously informed, Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Authority said.

“Accordingly steps will be taken to quarantine passengers arriving from the United Kingdom, Belgium and Norway with effect from 0000hrs on 16th March 2020 till 2359hrs on 16th March 2020.”

Sri Lanka is also chasing down returnees from countries like Italy who arrived in the country before quarantine began.

Sri Lanka’s military intelligence is helping police track them down Army chief Shavendra Silva said.

Silva said over 1700 persons are in quarantine centres run by the military mostly from Italy.

Some returnees had at first refused to go to quarantine centres before they even saw them, but Silva said the army was providing them with facilities as required by health authorities while military medics were monitoring them multiple times a day, with some being monitored more.

Many of the 18 persons in hospital came from the quarantine centres.

Global Response

Across the world economic activity is also falling as countries go into lockdown and international and domestic travel is restricted.

The Fed has cut rates and other central banks with floating exchange rates have opened liquidity taps.

Economic activities in many countries have fallen.

The UK has stayed back from strict controls on public life. Sri Lanka banned entry to anyone from UK Sunday.

The response had drawn criticism from some quarters.

The National Health Service is asking Britons with Coronavirus to stay at home and self-isolate for 7 days.

READ: UK NHS Stay at home advice for Coronavirus patients

The NHS is asking people to with suspected Coronavirus to drink plenty of water, sleep alone ‘if possible’ and stay away from older people with health complications.

They and told not to go outside and to request delivery people to leave items outside the door.

Those with symptom are asked not to call hospital unless symptoms persist beyond 7 days.

Hospital care is reserved for people with complications. In many countries including China and Italy, hospital services were overwhelmed.

The NHS said UK had been planning for similar flu outbreak for a decade.

“As it is a new virus, the lack of immunity in the population (and the absence as yet of an effective vaccine) means that COVID-19 has the potential to spread extensively,” the NHS said philosophically a policy document document.

“The current data seem to show that we are all susceptible to catching this disease, and thus it is also more likely than not that the UK will be significantly affected.”

Coronavirus action plan: a guide to what you can expect across the UK)

READ: Coronavirus action plan: a guide to what you can expect across the UK

However UK’s strategy has earned criticism from the World Health Organization and other nations.

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(Colombo/Mar16/2020)

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