Sri Lanka Coronavirus fight joined by curfew, credit relief and border controls

A nurse wearing a facemask walks outside the entrance of Sri Lanka’s Infectious Diseases Hospital near Colombo on March 17, 2020. LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka declared curfew Wednesday in an area with a concentration of returnees from Italy, a day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered asked banks to give credit relief to businesses hit by Coronavirus and suspended foreign arrivals from March 19.

Puttalam Hotspot

Curfew was declared in several police areas in the Puttalam and Negombo districts from 1630 hours on March 18.

Sri Lanka’s Army Chief Shavendra Silva had told reporters a day earlier were about 800 returnees from Italy in the Puttalam district who had not registered with the police.

“If they do not comply and register we may have to do something about the whole area,” he warned.

Minister Wanniarachchi said the government was not rushing to lockdown an area since it will hit the poorest most.

Authorities were also chasing down between 1,500 to 2,000 persons who were on the loose who had arrived in the country before quarantine began.

They have been asked to register with police.

But some were not in self-quarantine and were also dodging military intelligence and health officials instead of staying at home.

“Our people have no discipline,” Minister Wanniarachchi said. “When the Chinese working here were asked to be on self-quarantine they stayed inside their houses without going anywhere.”

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Over 2,500 persons were in quarantine at 16 centres.

Sri Lanka was also making the Welikanda hospital a treatment centre for Coronavirus patients taking the total designated hospital around the country to 18.

Credit Relief

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered banks to give six months of credit relief to businesses that were hit by Coronavirus.

“Loan repayments to banks and financial institutions are a big burden for businesses,” President Rajapaksa said in a television address to the nation.

“I am ordering that debt should not be collected or six months and for working capital to be provided at 4 percent.”

Though the effect on the banking sector from the move is unclear Sri Lanka’s businesses are struggling with people asked to stay at home, with transport, food distribution and retail and state agencies in health is unclear, businesses except food retail benefitting from panic buying.

The president also slapped price control on dhal, a popular imported food at 65 rupees a kilogram and a tinned fish at 100 rupees. Tinned fish is a popular food among the poor but prices are artificially kept up with import duties to benefit a handful of rent seeking domestic businessmen.

President Rajapaksa called for broad co-operation to tackle the crisis.

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Border Controls

Sri Lanka is closing the airport for foreign arrivals for a time but is allowing those in the country to leave.

The island’s Civil Aviation Authority said the closure will initially apply from 0400 hours on March 19,2020 till 2359 hours on March 25.

“The closure will be reviewed by the Sri Lanka Authorities,” the CAA said.

Aircraft could depart with passengers originating in Colombo, stop overs, transit passengers or tourists.

Emergency diversions, humanitarian flights, freighter operations, technical landings and inbound ferry flights without passengers, would be permitted.

International travelers going through Colombo were barred from staying for more than 6 hours at the airport.

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Many businesses remain closed with the government declaring a holiday for all businesses in non-essential services and many state agencies are also closed.

The immigration office is closed but foreigners who require visa renewals can either leave the country by paying fees at the airport without a penalty or wait till April 08, the agency said.

As the count went up Director General of Health Anil Jasinghe said nightclubs and casinos in Colombo may be closed.

Sri Lanka’s Coronavirus climbed to 51 with about 200 under watch in hospital.

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said a soldier who had had an altercation with returnees from Italy had become ill who was working with quarantine centres had become ill.

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(Colombo/Mar18/2020 – Update III)

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