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Sri Lanka has post-poll mini-spike in Covid cases as repatriation flights resume

FILE PHOTO – Sri Lankan students lining up in New Delhi airport to return to Colombo during Covid lockdown

ECONOMYNEXT –  Sri Lanka is seeing a post-election mini-spike in Covid cases as the government resumes flights repatriating citizens particularly from middle-eastern countries with 39 new patients being reported in the last three days.

According to reports from the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of Covid 19 (NOCPC) and the Epidemiological Unit of the Department of Health Services (EUDH) the total number of patients since the outbreak has risen from 2902 on August 19 to 2941 as of last night.

Despite some 40,000 Sri Lankan migrant workers wanting to return, the government stopped flights from the region because many returnees were found to be infected with Covid and it did not want numbers to rise for political reasons.

Some 19,000 Sri Lankans in Kuwait have registered themselves as wanting to return on the Sri Lanka Embassy website.

However, returnees have said few can afford the expensive air-tickets plus quarantine charges.

Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage accused the government of Kuwait of sending Covid infected Sri Lankans home knowingly.

“They are sending us bombs,” he told the Adaderana TV channel, in an interview before the government controversially halted repatriation flights before the elections.

The current Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Relations, Admiral (Rtd) Jayanath Colombage told media at the time that the government prioritized “students living abroad to repatriate as we felt they were the most vulnerable.”

Activists working with migrant workers such as Hemamali Abeyrathne from the Free Women Organisation say many migrant workers have succumbed to Covid in the Middle-east.

Others she says have lost their jobs and have no access to healthcare.

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According to the NOCPC 18 of the new patients are returnees from the United Arab Emirates, 2 from Chennai and one each from Kuwait, Turkey and Indonesia.

Except for the Turkey returnee who is in self-quarantine all the others are in quarantine centres run by the Armed Forces.

Returning Sri Lankans have to produce a mandatory PCR test for Covid 19 done in the country they have been living in and pay a hefty sum for the flights and quarantine before boarding.

No new cases of the disease have been reported from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre which was the second biggest cluster of Covid patients, eventually producing 629 infected people.

Most were detainees in the centre which is peopled by drug addicts sent their by Magistrates when they are picked up by police for possession of drugs.

The biggest cluster was inside the Sri Lanka Navy’s huge Welisara base which produced 961 patients both in the camp and in various towns and villages where Navy personnel had gone home on leave. (Colombo, August 22, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana