Sri Lanka shuts schools over virus rumours

ECONOMYNEXT – Hundreds of anxious parents crowded outside Sri Lankan schools Thursday following rumours of a Coronavirus spread prompting the Education ministry to advance the traditional new year holidays by three weeks.

Education minister Dullas Alahapperuma said false claims on social media had caused panic among parents and caused tense situation outside several schools in the capital and elsewhere.

“Rumours on social media claimed a student whose father had become the first local victim of the Coronavirus was infecting other students,” Alahapperuma told reporters in Colombo.

The minister said public health officials visited a leading school in Colombo to check if any student had been infected, but found the rumours to be untrue.

However, a 44-year-old associate of the 52-year-old tour guide who became the first Sri Lankan to test positive at home on Tuesday was confirmed to have contracted the disease on Thursday, the government said in a statement.

Although no students were infected, the government decided to advance school holidays, which were originally due to start from April 6, giving students three extra weeks to stay at home, the minister said.

“There is no medical reason to close schools, but we decided to go ahead because of the tensions caused by rumours spread on social media today,” Alahapperuma said.

Schools will reopen as scheduled on April 20, a week after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. There are 4.3 million children in state-run schools. Private schools were also expected to follow government schools and close from Friday, the minister said.

Sri Lanka currently has only one infected person, a 52-year-old tour guide, who had been with a group of Italian tourists.

In the past 48 hours, Sri Lanka has also announced the suspension of visa-on arrival for nationals of 48 countries, including all EU member states.

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In January, Sri Lanka withdrew the visa-on-arrival facility for Chinese nationals. Sri Lanka’s national carrier has also stopped flying to China.

All passengers from Italy, Iran and South Korea are also subjected to a two-week mandatory quarantine since Wednesday.

The first case of Coronavirus was a 43-year-old Chinese woman tourist who has since recovered and returned home last month. (COLOMBO March 12, 2020)

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