Health Services Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe
- Total patient count increases to two, both treated at IDH
- All Govt. schools closed from today until 20 April
- Panic buying of essentials empties market shelves
- Measures to prevent spread of false news to be implemented
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
As the number of Sri Lankans diagnosed with COVID-19 rose to two yesterday, the Government stepped up its prevention and mitigation measures, including early closure of public schools from today, introducing information hotlines, and calling on the public to remain calm as well as refrain from engaging in panic buying of essential goods.
The second Sri Lankan testing positive for COVID-19 was reported yesterday. The 44-year-old indvidual shared accommodation with the first patient, who is a 52-year-old tour guide.
While both individuals are currently receiving treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), the Health Services Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe yesterday said the first patient’s son, a student of a leading school in Colombo, has not tested positive, despite reports being circulated online. “Various stories, some true, some false, about the first local COVID-19 patient are being circulated. The latest is that his son has also contracted COVID-19. However, there is no truth to this,” Dr. Jasinghe said.
However, the first patient’s family is being home-quarantined, with daily monitoring taking place. In addition to this, a driver connected to the first patient has also been home-quarantined.
He added that the Health and Indigenous Medicine Service Ministry has decided to publish daily announcements on the local situation, as well as inaccurate information being circulated. False information about COVID-19 being circulated has caused panic among the general public regarding the number of patients in the country, as well as locations the first patient has travelled to.
Fears of the disease sparked panic buying across the country, with essentials being stocked up in case of the further spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. However, panic buying has been seen as a major issue in a number of countries, including the US and Australia, with shelves emptying and products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer becoming hard to find.
In addition to this, false news about the first patient’s son testing positive for COVID-19 caused panic among the parents of the school, with questions being raised about the closing of schools earlier on Thursday. Two epidemiologists were sent to the school in question yesterday, and the child subsequently tested negative, Dr. Jasinghe said, “The current situation is that this child has a very low chance of contracting the disease. He has gone to school on Tuesday, and the chance of another student having contracted it from him is also low.”
However, given the current situation, the Education Ministry decided that all Government schools will be closed starting today, with the April holidays being brought forward, from the original date of 6 April. Schools are to reopen for the second term on 20 April.
“This decision was taken with the Covd19 patients being detected in Sri Lanka and the uneasiness in classrooms,” Education Minister Dullas Alahapperuma told reporters yesterday, adding that following false reports on Sri Lanka’s first COVID-19 patient’s son, the attendance of the school dropped by 60%. Parents of the small group that attended school yesterday had also attempted to take their children home early and a tense situation had occurred outside the school.
In addition to this, Alahapperuma said uneasiness was also growing in schools in areas where the first patient, a tour guide, had visited and the decision to close schools until the end of April was due to this situation.
The Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs Sunanda Kariyapperuma also informed the Department of Government Information yesterday that all Dhamma Schools will be closed until 26 April.
While the tightening of measures within the country is taking place, quarantine measures of those arriving from South Korea, Italy, and Iran are also taking place smoothly, Dr. Jasinghe said, adding that, when quarantine process was first implemented, the passengers were kept separately in the airport before being transported to the domestic wing. However, now, the passengers are identified and separated in the aircraft itself and transferred to the domestic wing directly.
“Another question that has sprung up is why we quarantine people from South Korea, Italy, and Iran, but not from China,” Dr. Jasinghe said, addressing concerns over the quarantining measures. However, according to him, the risk assessment process followed by the Government now showed China as a low-risk country.
“We know that China was where the virus started spreading. They had a large number of patients,” he said, adding that China had successfully managed to control the spread of the virus in the country. “So according to our risk assessment, the chances of the virus spreading from a Chinese national is very low now. This is why we are quarantining those returning from South Korea, Italy, and Iran and not China,” Dr. Jasinghe further commented.
In an attempt to control the spread of false information in the country, the Sri Lanka Police yesterday issued a statement asking the public to not believe false news circulated online. They added that legal action will be taken against those spreading false information on social media.
The Department of Government Information will also take steps to address false information being spread online and Cabinet Spokesperson Bandula Gunawardana said, “We will review the situation and, as the President has instructed us, inform the public through the relevant authorities and media. In the future, if there is any false information being circulated, the Department of Government Information is prepared to address these and share accurate information.”
For more information on COVID-19, the public can contact the Health Promotion Bureau on 0710107107 and the Health and Indigenous Medicine Services Ministry Disaster Management Centre on 0113071073.