Coronavirus aka Covid-19 in Sri Lanka is the hot and trending topic today, and maybe the only topic discussed in the country today. What we are currently experiencing is unprecedented in the recent history. Sri Lanka has experienced total shut downs of the whole country due to war, and they were too many times to count. People knew exactly where they were safe. But today you cannot know if you are safe no matter where you are. The enemy is not seen or felt until the damage is done, and you cannot spot anything that is suspicious. All you know is that you may or may not get it, and you may or may not spread it to others, and you may or may not die. So if you are thinking of moving to Sri Lanka to save yourself from the corona virus pandemic, then no one can guarantee your safety here either.
Coronavirus or covid-19 was first spotted in Sri Lanka somewhere in the month of March and no one imagined that the thing could really get a foothold in Sri Lanka but oh boy, just fast forward another 2 weeks and people are reeling in fear.
Let me begin with the truth: It is active now, and hasn’t even peaked yet in Sri Lanka, and therefore these facts may change constantly as the situation develops.
Response of the government
Sri Lanka has already taken steps to address the coronavirus impact on citizens, and is planning for further improvement. Quarantine facilities have been set up at many areas so that the process could be convenient for the patients as well as the authorities. Several hospitals are equipped for treating patients confirmed of having caught the coronavirus in Sri Lanka, and facilities are being improved in a hurry expecting to treat more patients if the need arises.
As Sri Lanka sees a solid presence of coronavirus (covid-19) in the country, the government has taken steps to make civilian life easy by providing assistance and easing regulations on essential affairs. Prices of essential items have been reduced so that they could be bought by the low income families too, while repayment of leases and loans has been postponed by 6 months under government instructions.
Life in the city
Major cities have gone empty to a great extent with only the essential services are barely marching on other than the police and army who are working in full force. Occasionally people can be seen walking on streets walking about but the busy and congested streets and markets are not to be seen anymore. Although it is not a post-apocalyptic scene there is a clear difference on the streets and other public areas.
People do not talk to strangers but that cannot be said about co-workers as they still talk to each other without face masks, and shake hands depending on the intimacy which are definite no-nos in a developed society.
As this article is written on the 19th of March, by mid-day, there has been 59 confirmed cases of coronavirus (covid-19) cases in Sri Lanka. Majority of the cases are being treated in the IDH in Colombo while hospitals of other areas are also treating suspected patients although not yet confirmed.
Politics amid coronavirus in Sri Lanka
Under a new president the new parliamentary elections were to be held in March but it was postponed by the Elections Commissioner to a later date. Although the popular request was the president to postpone the elections he waited until the Elections Commissioner decides it seemingly in order to avoid the postponement being called a political move. However, the opinion of different political parties seemed to differ with the majority praising the government for its handling of the situation while the opposition was blaming the government with no clear reason. General public, however, have been busy trying to procure emergency supplies. Currently there is a huge scarcity of face masks and hand sanitizers in Sri Lanka, and some extremely low quality home-made masks are selling for high prices.
How are the general public reacting to coronavirus in Sri Lanka?
While some people have understood the real danger of the pandemic some others especially in the rural areas are unable to grasp it properly. That is one reason why they are still going on about their daily routines in the villages without knowing that the pandemic may enter the village at the most unexpected moment. Even in the suburban areas the neighbours are still visiting each other and they have let their children play together too. It seems that although everyone is scared of the coronavirus in Sri Lanka, they have no clear idea of staying in self-quarantine.
Meanwhile the shops are open in the more suburban and rural areas while the shops in cities are mostly closed. But again the major fashion retails such as the Odel are still open to the public and are welcoming shoppers during their usual opening hours.
State run buses are still working but the private buses have stopped working go a great extent. Lack of income, not the coronavirus in Sri Lanka is the main cause of halting private buses according to the owners. Motorcycles are regarded as the safest mode of transport during the pandemic be it true or not, and the public are extensively using motorcycles in their daily life in many areas of the country.
Various religious groups have been carrying out their respective rituals in small scale with the hope of getting some celestial support to sort out the situation although their own gatherings and masses have been called off for the fear of spreading the virus further.
Trains are not operating
One of the most popular methods of transport in Sri Lanka, trains used to carry a huge number of passengers between cities before the coronavirus pandemic. But on the 17th of March the Railway Department announced that they would not accept money over the counter which effectively ends the general public’s ability to travel in trains.
Face-masks and hand sanitizers are not found anywhere
Like in any other country faced with the pandemic, coronavirus in Sri Lanka has set people about looking for face masks and hand sanitizers which cannot be found anywhere in the country. Just days into the spread of the pandemic there were face-masks sold at much higher prices but even that has ended within days. Hand sanitizers of reputed brands are sold out while some locally made hand sanitizers are available at some pharmacies.
In the less educated rural areas locally made face masks are sold and the people believe that wearing them will be as effective as branded masks, although the home sewed masks are made of woven clothes which are of no use against a virus.
The government has imposed a maximum price for face masks at LKR 50 for a disposable face mask and LKR 500 for an N95 standard face mask. But the scarcity of face masks has encouraged the black market seller and buyers operate in total secrecy.
Who are affected by coronavirus in Sri Lanka?
Economically, everyone is affected to a great extent but let me discuss the patients first. Sri Lanka saw its first batch of people from China just a month ago, and they were quarantined and were free of covid-19 after 14 days under observation. People from Korea also arrived in the country and fully supported the government’s efforts to avoid the outbreak. The first patient reported was a tour guide who accompanied a group of Italian tourists, and he was hospitalized in time.
But the first batch of workers from Italy who migrated there illegally were opposed to the quarantine process and broke free from the facilities. They caused the pandemic spread in their areas, mainly Negombo and Chilaw, which led to the increase of numbers rapidly. That prompted the government to shut down those areas in order to prevent them from spreading it further, and the authorities announced that harsh legal action will be taken against anyone who opposes the quarantine procedure.
How did coronavirus affect the economy of Sri Lanka?
As in any other country hit with the virus, the country took a huge blow to its economy with the arrival of coronavirus in Sri Lanka. Small-scale vendors were affected by the empty streets while temporary workers have been unable to find work as usual. Even the online freelancers have been unable to find clients as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The government has announced some financial relief measures but they do not compare to what the developed countries have done. Prices of some essential items have been reduced too in order to help the general public to buy dry food items for any future emergencies due to coronavirus in Sri Lanka.
Today, on the 19th of March the government directed the Central Bank not to facilitate the import of vehicles and other things that are not essential in order to maintain the economy and ensure sufficient liquidity during the crisis.
As this is new territory for the whole world, there are no clear future plans for what may come, in what size or magnitude. The only thing I can do here is to write about it as it unfolds. And that I will do.