Coronavirus update | Sunday Observer

Coronavirus update

Crew members of vessels anchored at the Colombo Port were scanned before  disembarking.  Pic courtesy - Sri Lanka Ports Authority
Crew members of vessels anchored at the Colombo Port were scanned before disembarking. Pic courtesy - Sri Lanka Ports Authority

Harsha Maduranga (30), a Sri Lankan worker, left Sri Lanka a week ago to take up his new job at a leather factory in Jeju island, South Korea- an island which lies below the Korean peninsula. His flight which can accommodate more than 400 passengers had only about 20 passengers and most of the passengers were Sri Lankans. Before landing in Korea it had a 10-hour stopover at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China. Not surprisingly though Pudong, one of the busiest airports in Asia, was almost empty.

“It was very difficult for me to stay 10 hours to catch the next flight in a Chinses airport,” Maduranga recalled.

Soon after the Corona outbreak many international airlines cancelled their operations to mainland China and the Shanghai Pudong airport was almost deserted. As the airport was not functioning as usual, Maduranga had only been served a piece of cake during his flight from China to South Korea.

After successfully landing in Korea, Maduranga is now wondering about the carefree attitude of South Koreans in Jeju Island about the corona spread.“Koreans in Jeju Island are not worried about the coronavirus as there had been only three reported cases on the island. Most people do not even wear a face mask. However, there is a severe scarcity of face masks in our area” Maduranga told the Sunday Observer.

South Korea has the highest number of Coronavirus infections after China, with 5.766 cases by Friday (6). The techno savvy nation had reported 35 deaths due to the deadly virus.

Following the corona outbreak in South Korea, the management of the factory Maduranga works in has decided to provide a free vaccine to all its employees to enhance their immune system. All airlines operating flights from South Korea to Colombo except SriLankan Airlines, have also stopped their flights from March 16 until further notice.

World situation

COVID- 19 a.k.a coronavirus, the main cause of the deadly respiratory illness spreading across continents was first detected in Wuhan China, in December last year. As of last Thursday 3,382 had died due to this illness with China being the most affected with 3,015 deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 95,333 persons have been identified globally as corona virus positive. The deadly virus has now spread across 85 nations, adding Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gibraltar, Hungary, Slovenia, and occupied Palestinian territory into the list last week.

Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the media last week that WHO has raised its assessment of the risk of the spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level.

“Our view continues to be that containment of COVID-19 must be the top priority for all countries, but at the same time, countries should prepare for sustained community transmission. It (WHO-China Joint Mission) calls for all countries to educate their populations, to expand surveillance, to find, isolate and care for every case, to trace every contact, and to take an all-of-government and all-of-society approach – this is not a job for the health ministry alone” he said.

Following the rise of global impact due to COVID-19, member states have pledged US$289 million for WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan while the World Bank has committed $US12 billion to support at-risk countries to prevent and interrupt transmission.

Sri Lanka

So far Sri Lanka has reported only one case of COVID-19, a Chinese national who was released from the IDH after successful treatment.

According to Health Ministry sources, there are no COVID-19 positive cases in the country but 19 people are under observation. On February 14, 33 Sri Lankans living in the virus epicentre Wuhan were brought back to the island. Following a two-week period of isolation and close monitoring the group was sent home.

Meanwhile, the Director General of Health Dr Anil Jasinghe said that the threat of COVID-19 has reached a level of public health emergency of international concern and as a result, the Health Ministry has embarked on a vigorous plan to strengthen the domestic health facilities. “As an initial step, 17 hospitals across the country have been designated and well equipped to deal with the likely COVID-19 pandemic and since the situation is fluid, the COVID-19 case definition is also redefined and as of today, passengers from Iran, South Korea and Italy are considered to be potential vectors of the virus.

The Government, as a precautionary measure has decided to quarantine those who are travelling either from or through these three countries,” he said.

The DG also confirmed that despite the decision to quarantine, the dates of putting the plans into action are yet to be decided since the launch of quarantine facilities is underway.

Measures are in place to prevent the re-entrance of COVID-19 to the country via Bandaranaike International Airport, the main gate for the island nation. A 24-hour monitoring system is in place and BIA staff detects passengers with suspicious body tempretures using screening machines with the assistance of the Health and Indigenous Medicine Services Ministry and Sri Lanka Army medical teams.

The prohibition of others accompanying passengers in the BIA is in effect until further notice and passengers arriving from China are entering the separate exit terminal set up a few weeks ago.

Last week, the Government decided to temporarily suspend the entrance of all passengers to the country via the Colombo harbour.

The Managing Director of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Captain Athula Hewavitharana told the Sunday Observer on Friday that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority has taken all precautions to prevent COVID-19 being carried through ports whereas 50 passenger vessels visit Sri Lankan ports annually, with approximately 100,000 passengers.

“We are not allowing anyone from passenger vessels to disembark currently. Passenger vessels can receive services but, passengers cannot disembark. Even crew members are not allowed to visit Sri Lankan harbours unless they agree to a 14-day quarantine period” Capt. Hewavitharana said.

Last week, the Government said the Leprosy Hospital in Hendala as the first quarantine centre of the island, to locate passengers from these countries. The Sri Lanka Army will assist the health, authorities in the setting up of the facility. Protesting against this decision, residents in Hendala launched a demonstration, blocking the main road. The Ministry of Education also instructed authorities last week, to quarantine students coming from COVID-19 hit countries with immediate effect.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed the Special Task Force appointed to monitor COVID-19 about the importance of applying a scientific method in preventing the entrance of COVID-19 to Sri Lanka. The President also called upon the people who are arriving from foreign countries to act responsibly and to receive medical assistance if coronavirus symptoms emerge to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

Italy

The European hub for the coronavirus, Italy has recorded 3,089 cases with 107 deaths. Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka detected a COVID-19 positive Sri Lankan woman living in Italy. The 46-years-old domestic worker has been hospitalised in Brascia, Italia and is now recovering, sources in Italy disclosed.

Ajantha Perera, a Sri Lankan in Italy said “Now the situation in Italy is very serious with more than 3,000 people testing positive for COVID-19. But Italians are not scared by the disease. Many who died were elderly citizens, and they believe that young people would not die by COVID-19” he said.

Comparing the precautionary measures in Sri Lanka with those in Italy, Perera thinks that there are loopholes in the Italian health system as well. “There are many Italians who visit China for business purposes. I personally believe that is how the disease got into Italy. Even in the city where I live 96 families have tested positive for the virus.But only one old woman in our area, died of COVID-19” he said.

Tourism

Sri Lanka Tourism also said last week that they will call upon tourists arriving from China and other countries of the region to monitor their health closely for two weeks on entering Sri Lanka and seek medical attention promptly if they have any symptoms.

Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism Kimarli Fernando said that the Government is confident of its capabilities to ensure that tourists and citizens are safeguarded.

“Sri Lanka remains a safe destination to visit,” she said.

The country attracted 228,434 tourists in January and 207,507 tourists in February this year. India was the top market followed by the United Kingdom and Russia.

SriLankan Airlines said on Friday, that it is temporarily suspending its services between Sri Lanka and China till April 30, 2020 due to prevailing market conditions.

In addition to that, the National Carrier has cancelled all its flights to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia between March 15 to- April 30, following restrictions set in place by the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of Saudi Arabia. However, SriLankan will continue to operate to other Saudi Arabian cities, such as Riyadh and Dammam.

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