President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the Special Task Force to combat the global pandemic COVID-19 sternly said stringent measures must be put in place, including restriction of all arrivals at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) for the next two weeks, over concerns that many passengers from COVID-19 affected countries might be unaccounted for.
“We have asked for schools to remain closed, for public gatherings to be restricted but what use is any of it if people are going to be irresponsible enough to congregate and move freely,” President Rajapaksa said. “We must restrict all arrivals at the BIA with immediate effect. We need to contain the spread of the virus.” Officials said that over 200 passengers had arrived during the last few days while another 270 were waiting to be quarantined,
The President said that although restrictions had been placed on March 9 including barring arrivals from selected countries, there had been a steady stream of passengers arriving since March 1 to the country. “There are over 1000 individuals who arrived from overseas now placed on self-quarantine. I have asked PHIs, police and the army to make house calls and put up posters in these vicinities.”
The President was irate that despite the restrictions many continued to act irresponsibly putting ordinary people at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. “The individual who came from Kuliyapitiya had visited his father in Galle, but never revealed that information. Ultimately his father contracted the virus. In another instance the husband of a Foreign Ministry official was absconding from authorities. He had switched off his phones and instead of seeking treatment, had been to three private hospitals for medical check-ups. I have asked that legal action be taken.”
In response to concerns posed by officials that a ‘lockdown’ would serve as an effective containment measure, the President responded by saying that “we have not reached a point, where we need to quarantine the whole country”. “We have sent all arrivals and suspected cases to quarantine, the rest have been asked to stay at home. If we can do this effectively, we can contain the spread of the virus.” “I requested that the Royal-Thomian encounter be stopped, but that was not heeded. I have asked that all public gatherings be restricted and I have been informed that hotels will refund any payments that had already been made.”
The President appealed to the members of the task force to not panic but reach decisions rationally. “We cannot afford to panic, if we panic, the ordinary citizen will panic. We need to remain firm and use our intellect. We can face this collectively if we collaborate and take decisions that will restrict the spread of the virus.”
The President was dismayed that some officials had conveyed to him the containment measures taken by other countries. “We need to have faith in ourselves and the measures we have taken. We were among the first countries to set up this task force as early as January 26. One of the first decisions was to bring back 35 Sri Lankan students who were stranded in Wuhan. We keep referring to the actions other countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Italy have taken. But let’s examine our progress and correct our shortcomings instead.”
He added that merely because of 28 individuals are confirmed of having contracted the virus, the country cannot be placed on lockdown. “When I was the Defence Secretary, we had bombs going off everywhere, many were dying, thousands were rendered disabled. But that did not force us to put the country on lockdown and there is no reason why we should do so now.”
During the discussion it was brought to the President’s notice that although restrictions had been placed from March 9, there had been many arrivals from March 1. The majority of these individuals have been identified as geographically hailing from Chilaw, Puttalam, Negombo and Natthandiya. Officials said that some of these individuals were not to be found at their residences in places like Natthandiya.
The President responded by agreeing to restrict movement of individuals from selected townships in an effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Source: Daily News – By Rukshana Rizwie)