(Text of a Press Release Issued by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa Under the Heading “Controlling the Coronavirus pandemic and gradual restoration of normal life”)
Covid-19 came to the attention of the world as a new disease around the beginning of this year. From the very outset, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated very candidly that this was a completely new disease and that they too were still in the process of learning more about it.
Even as late as 29 February 2020, the WHO was advising against the imposition of international travel bans. It was only on 6 April that the WHO recommended the use of face masks if it was not possible to maintain social distancing. Every country in the world had to learn more about this disease through experience.
Sri Lanka began preparations for this pandemic quite early. The President set up a task force to combat the Cronavirus as early as 26 January 2020. Even though there were no Coronavirus patients in Sri Lanka at that time, the first quarantine center was declared in Hendala on 4 March. The first Coronavirus patient was discovered on the night of 10 March. From 11 March all passengers coming into Sri Lanka from Coronavirus affected countries, were sent for quarantine.
As the armed forces and police carried out an effective contact tracing programme to identify those who had come into contact with patients, this disease has now been brought under control to a satisfactory degree.
At this moment, Sri Lanka is well ahead of most countries in the world in terms of controlling the spread of Coronavirus. Our doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, our intelligence services who maintained a very effective contact tracing operation, our armed forces, police, public health inspectors and others who played a frontline role in working directly with the public, should be proud of what they have achieved.
It’s noteworthy that while 25 Sri Lankans resident in Britain have died of the Coronavirus, only nine Sri Lankans resident in Sri Lanka have died of this disease so far. It must also be stated that had Gotabhaya Rajapaksa not been elected President on 16 November last year, none of these achievements would have been possible.
With the Coronavirus outbreak now under control to a certain degree, the government has gradually begun relaxing the curfew. Even though steps were taken to impose curfew and to shut down the country, in reality, no country can be shut down completely.
While the majority of the people were confined to their homes, millions of others continued to work throughout the country. The health services, armed forces, police, paddy farmers, vegetable farmers, fishermen, distributors of food, medicine and other essentials, and even some factories continued to function. What is meant by restoring normalcy to the country, is the process of extending this state of affairs in a controlled way, to the section of the population that had been confined to their homes during the shut down.
At the outset, government and private sector institutions will begin functioning with a limited number of employees. The number of passengers on trains and buses will be limited. Schools and tuition classes will remain closed. Social distancing rules are to be maintained when commencing work in this phased manner.
At the early stages, when curfew was relaxed in certain districts, people did not observe social distancing norms. However after a while, people became more mindful of the need for social distancing in public places. The public should continue to be mindful of the need for social distancing even after the curfew is relaxed. We should all be aware that even though the spread of Coronavirus has been brought under control, it has not been eradicated completely.
Random sample testing among members of the public will continue to be carried out. The quarantine centres will be kept open. Even after the restoration of normalcy has begun, it may be necessary to isolate and lock down certain areas and even to impose police curfews. Coronavirus patients may continue to be found, but I believe our health authorities have by now mastered the manner in which such situations should be handled.
We will have to maintain a balance between steps taken to prevent the spread of the disease on the one hand and the restoration of normalcy on the other. Even countries like Italy, Britain, France and the USA which experienced tens of thousands of Coronavirus related deaths have now commenced programmes for the gradual restoration of normal life.
The people fully cooperated with the efforts made to bring the spread of Croronavirus under control. We request the people to extend their fullest cooperation once again to the armed forces and police for the phased restoration of normal life in the country.