Government’s explicit response to the Covid-19 pandemic | Sunday Observer
An appreciation from a proud Sri Lankan:

Government’s explicit response to the Covid-19 pandemic

In the midst of a global pandemic and in an unusual summer, I finished my high school education and was stuck at home unable to do any of the things that I looked forward to doing in ‘the last summer’ of my childhood.

It was going to be that one last hoorah! before you start acting more responsibly.Belonging to the graduating class of 2020 is an experience that no one outside of it can ever imagine. For me, it was a pushback in my dreams and aspirations of starting my university degree in the United States indefinitely. For university graduates, it was a push-back in starting their independent lives which I cannot even imagine what it felt like. But either one isn’t a life I would wish upon anyone.

Pandemic and bitter reality

As a keen enthusiast in current affairs, I kept myself updated with everything major that happened around the world. (Besides it’s not that I had anything better to do either). Seeing the news of how this invisible force was crippling down nations and shattering their health systems while taking a toll on the global economy isn’t something that I’m sure I or anyone liked waking up to. But that was reality.

Seeing how this great force took down every nation big or small and infecting no matter what race they were or what income group they belonged to was something out of the ordinary.

Being an intended business major, it was a scary world that I saw in markets with businesses being closed and major staff layoffs where in other days people would be flourishing with ambition, passion and innovation.

At the same time, I was thinking how ‘humans’ became so scared of this unseen force and reacted very negatively, especially at the beginning, and went into lockdown impacting all levels of livelihood rather than thinking strategically.

Personally, I felt that people should’ve had a more vigilant approach where everyone would’ve taken a better personal stance and be mindful to not only their own safety but for the rest of the society too. Since this didn’t happen, we’ve seen how personal hygiene and social responsibility has now become a political viewpoint which has made the conditions worse in many places.

Media focus

With all these negative news flashes I consider myself blessed to belong to a nation that successfully mitigated the first wave of a major coronavirus outbreak. We’ve seen all the praise and media focus given to Australia, New Zealand and South Korea on how they’ve successfully managed to flatten the curve but those are not the only countries that are on that list.

Sri Lanka, where I am from, is one such small developing nation with four times the population and half the GDP of New Zealand which has gotten little to no fame in the current outbreak. And as a returnee who underwent quarantine in the Sri Lankan response to controlling Covid-19 here is my insight to it.

If I was to give a quick introduction on Sri Lanka’s response, as soon as Wuhan went into lockdown, the government started to monitor all incoming passengers and set up various safety precautions in tourist hotspots.

The national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines, was used to repatriate Sri Lankans stranded in Wuhan, China, the Covid-19 epicenter at the time.

The government quickly set up designated hospitals and involved the army to assist health officials in taking action with the help of the other forces, the government established state-run quarantine centres to host incoming repatriated citizens. As the first patient was discovered in March, contact tracing mechanisms were implemented and as a result, Sri Lanka managed to limit the risk of an outbreak by limiting the cases to the clusters they came from.

Meanwhile, with the world shutting down and travel coming to a halt, the government started operating repatriation flights in a controlled manner.

When Sri Lanka too went under an imposed lockdown, many more initiatives took place but that would take a lot more words to explain.

Arriving in Sri Lanka from a country that has failed to control the outbreak  and accepted a ‘new reality’, it was a major relief to finally know that I’d soon be free from the constant worry about my personal health.

More than my personal health, I worried about infecting another if I brought it from abroad because I believed that I should not be a burden to my country. Bear in mind it’s not that there hasn’t been flaws or is risk-free, but as a developing South Asian country, the effort the government has put in to prevent this spread and to the comfort of its citizens is truly admirable.

As a teenager, though I have travelled alone before, my repatriation from New Delhi to Colombo was and hope would be a once in a lifetime experience. To reach Colombo, first, I had to fly domestic from New Delhi to Mumbai and stay in transit for nine hours.

Unlike ordinary transits, this time, I had to stay outside of the airport for seven hours and by the time I came to the boarding gate the rest of the airport was deserted with all the lights turned off.

I arrived in the country in one of the many repatriation flights that were set up to bring in Sri Lankans who were stranded overseas.

As I walked down the ramp there they were, Army medical officers dressed in full body kits covered from head to toe making a path for us to walk to the alternative arrival gate. While it was different from the normal welcome where you’d be greeted by everyone with the famous Sri Lankan Smile, I still deeply felt the feeling of being back home.

Movie scene

More officers in hazmat suits and smoke masks disinfected us and told us to wash our hands and put on new gloves and masks. They immediately took us to the immigration posts to verify our travel documents while monitoring body temperatures through sensors. Before we were sent to the hotel, a PCR test was carried out to identify positive cases. For me it felt like a scene from a movie with the feeling of such strict discipline and regulation. Being known for our hospitality the element of welcome and promise was still present even under these circumstances. I was able to afford to stay at a quarantine hotel for two weeks. For people who couldn’t, the government provided free quarantine facilities to anyone and everyone with the same level of comfort. Though one may think my views and opinions are biased, this whole process was something that was admired by everyone who arrived on my flight and everyone else that had undergone the process before me.  When I arrived at the quarantine hotel, I saw how they did not take any chances.

Everything was closely monitored and double-checked by another officer to maintain the health guidelines. We were restricted to the four walls of our room and only came out of the room for the PCR and malaria tests that happened on the 10th and 12th days of my stay.

Sri Lanka has been malaria free since 2016. Given the country’s dark past with Malaria in the mid 20th century, the Government does not want to take a chance in this life-threatening virus to be reintroduced to society.

Impressive care

No outsiders were allowed in and we barely had contact with the staff which was also never direct. By this description, you may think it is sort of as if one was being imprisoned. But no, coming back to the aspect of hospitality, everything was planned to the comfort of the guest with variety in the food, an additional option to request special meals and even a daily call to see if we needed anything more to be comfortable.

With all this, though I spent 14 days alone, I never felt alone or worried as there were so many people to help and assist outside the four walls of my hotel room. I cannot thank everyone enough from officials at the Embassy of Sri Lanka, New Delhi, to SriLankan Airlines officials in Mumbai and the doctors and military officials at the airport who helped me immensely throughout this whole journey.

My journey back to human interaction doesn’t begin at the end of this as I have to be in mandatory home quarantine for another 14 days. Although this 28-day period of quarantine has made sure to mitigate risks, in the future, the practicality of such a long period should also be considered in the process of re-opening the country to the outside world. This whole coronavirus response effort taken up by the Government isn’t without flaws or hiccups on the way. As of July, there still were two major outbreaks that could’ve been prevented in my opinion. But in comparison to the global response and the state of countries with a lot more resources, wealth and power, I believe that a much higher risk was mitigated and thereby should be praised. I feel proud to be called  ‘A Sri Lankan’!!

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