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Sri Lanka’s new normal explained

ECONOMYNEXT – With Sri Lanka easing lockdown measures in all districts even as the country’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise, a confused public is attempting to make sense of a plethora of new regulations.

Having partially lifted on Tuesday (26) the curfew that continued to be imposed in the Colombo and Gampaha districts (it’s still in effect from 10pm to 4am every day), the government issued a vast array of guidelines yesterday on how to conduct daily life while keeping the deadly disease at bay.

Though many citizens appear to be following basic hygiene – virtually everyone out and about can be seen wearing a mask, for example – some of the finer details of social distancing and other preventative measures have yet to be fully observed, for a number of reasons that aren’t limited to individual responsibility. It is against this backdrop that the government’s new series of guidelines – in the form of 48 separate documents drafted for different scenarios – attempt to enforce best practices for pandemic prevention in the country at large.

The following are some key highlights from these guidelines – each issued by Health Services Director General Dr Anil Jasinghe – that the authorities hope will make up this unprecedented “new normal”.

Cabs and tuks

Unless it is a family of passengers, cab drivers are required to ensure that the number of passengers is limited to two per ride. No passenger must travel in the front seat, though it is not clear how this would apply to a family of three or more. Threewheelers may carry a maximum of two passengers.

A transparent barrier must divide the front and back seats, and drivers have been instructed to carry hand sanitizer in the vehicle at all times.

The handling of cash has to be minimised, and passengers are encouraged to either make their payments electronically or pay the fare in the exact amount of cash.

Cab drivers are also instructed to use the vehicle’s vents to bring fresh in from outside and/or lower the windows, rather than using recirculated air.

Face masks are mandatory for both driver and passenger(s).

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Banks

Apart from the standard handwashing and temperature checking measures, banks are required to have a “COVID-19 preparedness plan” in place, with a suitable officer tasked with overseeing it. All staff must be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), and employee health must be recorded daily. Customers are also requested to adhere to standard hygiene measures and have been instructed to bring their own pen to the bank.

Shops and supermarkets

Supermarkets are required to provide shelter from heat and rain for customers waiting in line outside. Though the stipulated one-metre space is seen clearly marked leading to the entrance of many supermarkets, not many seem to provide adequate – or any, in some cases – covering from the elements.

Supermarkets are also required to sell face masks at the entrance to customers who enter without one on their person. Most frequently purchased items are to be placed near the entrance to ensure speedy shopping. Both supermarket chains and consumers are encouraged to incentivise online purchases and facilitate cashless transactions wherever possible.

Customers must be given the option to call ahead and ask about best times to shop.

The guidelines issued for ‘shops’ apply for department stores, bookshops, communication centres, etc. In medium and high risk areas, shops are instructed to adjust their business hours and control the number of customers.

Tuition classes

Private tutors have been instructed to promote online teaching or distance learning over personal attendance. When health authorities greenlight the resumption of tuition classes, institutes are required to have an emergency response plan in place and maintain a database of all students with their contact details.

Students must maintain a one-metre distance from each other and wear a face mask at all times.

When permitted to recommence, mass classes (with a large number of students) must maintain 50% occupancy or less, with a one-metre gap between students. Small classes, too, must practice physical distancing.

Teachers have been instructed not to disturb printed material or other handouts.

Counselling and mental health assistance is encouraged. Tutors may contact the government mental health helpline 1926 for help.

Apart from basic hand-washing and other hygiene measures, students are advised not to gather in groups before or after classes or during the interval. They are also advised to bring home cooked meals if necessary.

Medicine: general and family practice

Only Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC)-registered practitioners will be allowed to practice allopathic medicine. The Health Services Director General warns that action will be taken against those who practice without SLMC registration.

Patients who fall into the case definition of “COVID suspected case” must be referred to the nearest COVID management centre.

An appointment system should be arranged to minimise queuing. Video conferencing is encouraged. During the provision of appointments, patients with chronic illnesses are encouraged to have appointments at the beginning of each session.

Medical staff as well as patients must wear a face mask at all times and staff must wear a shield/goggles with full PPE during high risk procedures.

Patients must be screened for COVID-19 before entering the waiting area, ideally at the time of appointment using a mobile device.

Weddings in hotels or reception halls

Confusion reigns over the number of guests permitted to attend a wedding, owing to a number of notices issued by the government on that regard over the past few weeks. According to the latest guidelines, the number of participants must be 50% of the seating capacity of the reception hall up to a maximum of 100.

Hotel/hall management must convey to the client that it is the latter’s responsibility to inform their guests that they are excused from attending if they’re feeling unwell.

Adequate physical distancing must be maintained between what the guidineless call the different “action areas”, such as the poruwa, the registration desk, tables and chairs and buffer area.

The number of guests permitted should be calculated by the management based on the space of the reception hall, with the one-metre gap between attendees in mind. Seating and walking space should be considered. Seating arrangements, too, should be made adhering to the one-metre policy.

Handsanitizer must be placed at the entrance to the hall and bottles must be placed in different locations of the hall.

Food will be served by dedicated staff. No self-service will be allowed. All visitors are encouraged to wear masks. Hugging and shaking hands are to be discouraged.

Dancefloors are to be discouraged owing to inevitable difficulties in maintaining physical distance while dancing. Only the bride and groom may grace the dancefloor. However, a dancing troupe may be allowed with a strict restriction of four dancers maximum. These dancers must be advised to wear their own personal makeup.

Management is requested to not permit the consumption of alcohol at the event. A health and safety office must be appointed for each wedding.

Management is also required to announce the COVID-19 preventative measures at the beginning of and during the wedding reception. (Colombo/May28/2020)

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