Chartered from Wuhan, quarantined at Diyatalawa | Sunday Observer
A Sri Lankan story on coronavirus

Chartered from Wuhan, quarantined at Diyatalawa

Disposing of waste at the facility
Disposing of waste at the facility

“If you want me to describe this place, it’s awesome. I will tell my friends and family that the hospitality and care we received here is beyond star grade. I have never been to a military facility before,” Suganthan said of his experience at the Diyatalawa Quarantine facility setup by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) for the group of Sri Lankans evacuated from coronavirus hit Wuhan.

Suganthan, 37, an IT manager, was visiting his wife Gayamini before spending over a week trapped in her apartment at the university premises.

“We are relieved and want to thank everyone involved in making our passage home possible,” he said, commending the government’s efforts to help them when they were trapped in the Wuhan Province, which was shut to the world to prevent the virus spreading to other provinces in China.

“The moment we realised the efforts of our embassy officials in China, the government, SriLankan Airlines and the military to bring us home, we knew we were in good hands,” he said.

His wife Gayamini was following her Masters in Computer Science and Engineering, at the Wuhan University of Technology.

Hailing from Jaffna, Suganthan resides in Dehiwela and has completed his stay at the quarantine facility, where he was endorsed free of the virus.

He had no clue of what he was to endure. His visit to Wuhan had a twist which was beyond his expectations as suddenly towns and streets were becoming void of people. Wuhan officials restricted movement in an effort to quell the spread of the virus.

“Luckily, we had enough groceries to sustain us for 10 days.”

When they arrived at the facility, Suganthan was surprised to see there was space even for recreational activities such as badminton.

“There, we had to follow required safety precautions spelled out in the quarantine process. I must confess, my wife, I and all others are absolutely overwhelmed by the unprecedented warmth the military extended. I have never felt more proud of being Sri Lankan as I’m today,” Suganthan said.

Kasun Wickramage, 28, was among the few students who took to social media to draw attention of officials at home to what was transpiring at Wuhan.

Hailing from Gamakanda, a village 18km off Embilipitiya, after graduating from the University of Uwa Wellassa, he was following a Masters in Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing at the LIESMARS Wuhan University.

Wickramage, was ready to leave the facility and its calm and cool environment that sheltered him and the rest of returnees from Wuhan for the past 14 days.

Caretaking and facilities

He praised the military for the endevour against unprecedented odds and at times skepticism from various interest groups.”We knew about its exemplary conduct and professionalism, and that guarantee was sufficient. I won’t deny that a few of us were hurt when we learnt through local news channels and social media that some sections of society objected to the government’s decision to charter us back home. Looking back into all that transpired during the past two weeks, I’m proud to be a Sri Lankan.We experienced exceptional care-taking and the facilities provided were beyond our imagination,” he said.

“I must express my overwhelming gratitude to all those who were behind this effort and the leadership provided at every level,”Wickramage, who was looking forward to joining his family, said.

“While pursuing our academic endeavours in China, we hardly knew each other. Following the events that unfolded during the past few weeks and the time spent at the quarantine facility, we have formed a bond and enduring friendships. There’s a silver lining in every dark cloud,” he said.

“ I’m lucky to be back home, as the death toll has risen to over 1,300 with over 60,000 reported confirmed cases,” Capt. Madhavi Perera of the SLA, who was following her PhD in Biochemistry at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, said. Prior to proceeding to China, she was a lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering, Kotalawela Defence University.

“There are no words to explain and express how the country’s leadership, the military, the Foreign Ministry and the Embassy officials rallied around to ensure that we would have a safe journey back home. “While feeling lucky and privileged, I do fear for my foreign colleagues in Wuhan. They are left to fend for themselves as some governments have either denied or had shown no hurry to evacuate them from Wuhan. I spoke to them over the phone to make them know we care for them,” she said.

Capt. Perera said some were skeptical about the 14-day quarantine process as some of her foreign friends, who were evacuated, had bad experiences due to poor facilities in the centres that they were retained for quarantine.

“But, the Diyatalawa facility was well prepared and equipped to welcome and host us for the two-week long process,” she said.

The Diyathalawa military facility was not new to Capt. Perera, who had her basic military training at the Diyatalawa Military Academy in 2013.

Speaking on behalf of all her colleagues who underwent quarantine at the facility, Capt. Perera said everyone was grateful and lucky to be at Diyathalawa rather than elsewhere.

“It was like heaven,” she said.

Capt. Perera thanked Defence Secretary Maj.Gen. (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne, Army Commander Lt.Gen. Shavendra Silva, Embassy officials in Beijing, and the Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Kotelawala Defence University for being in touch and encouraging them until they stepped into Sri Lanka.

Reducing risk of contamination

“On their arrival to the Diyatalawa facility, the evacuees were given face masks and instructions to keep away from each other at all times. Every measure was taken to ensure and reduce the risk of contagion. There are four families including four children among them,” Commanding Officer at the Diyathalawa Military Base Hospital Maj. (Dr.) Lahiru Rathnaweera said.

According to Dr. Ratnaweera, the evacuees were provided digital thermometers to keep a count on their body temperatures and given instructions in the proper and accurate usage of the instruments. Thrice a day, their temperatures were checked, facilitated via the chat group we had established as the basis was strict compliance towards reducing any possibility of contagion,” he said.

The Chief Coordinator of the entire quarantine process, SLA’s Deputy Director of Preventive Medicine, Col. (Dr.) Saveen Semage said, “There was a clear policy decision by the higher authorities to evacuate our students from the Corona-hit Wuhan and to carryout quarantine process at Diyatalawa, which is an already functioning military base hospital located remotely.”

Proud of our Armed forces

“I’ve no words to express my gratitude for our armed forces. They have treated us with exceptional hospitality”, Irshad Ibran Shahib said.

Thirty-three-old Shahib from Horawpothana, was undergoing his doctoral studies in Material Physics and Chemistry at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

He along with his four-year-old daughter Haya Maryam and wife Hishama, who have undergone quarantine, thanked the Army for looking after them safely and giving them a homely feeling.

“Let me say that me and my family are really impressed by the professionalism, pragmatism and the nobility of our armed forces. I now feel like joining the Army, he said.

Defence Secretary Maj.Gen. Kamal Gunaratne said, the entire credit of rescuing 33 Sri Lankans from Wuhan should go to President GotabayaRajapaksa, who was the brain-child of this rescue mission and took a bold decision to bring them back home. The SLA Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva took the challenge to convert the hospital to a fully equipped place within 72-hours to welcome them.

At the same time we took the risk of accommodating them in Diyatalawa, where thousands of soldiers and their families are living.

We kept two separate buildings for those children and given the feeling that they were not in a guarded environment during their stay in the quarantine process.

Acting Chief of Defence Staff, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva said, when other airlines declined to fly the Foreign Relations Ministry Secretary RavinathAriyasinhe, SriLankan Airlines, Civil Aviation Authority, the Defence Ministry, Health Ministry and other state institutions responded swiftly to attend to the the national emergency.

The options to accommodate them was at Diyatalawa, Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela, which have a cool climate similar to the Wuhan province but we selected Diyatalawa as it has a well set up healthcare administration in the Diyatalawa Army Hospital, which made us to look after the group well.