COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Monday will relax restrictions that were imposed a month ago to limit the spread of coronavirus, the Presidential Secretariat said Sunday.
The country has 254 confirmed cases and seven reported deaths. Its curfew will be lifted in two phases, with restrictions to be eased in 19 districts on Monday and the rest on Wednesday.
“The objective of relaxing the curfew is to reactivate the economy, while measures to contain COVID-19 will continue in parallel,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said. “It is imperative to adhere to health guidelines and act responsibly for the safety of society at large.”
Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera said the first COVID-19 positive case was a Chinese woman who had traveled to Colombo from Wuhan. She was admitted to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases on Jan 25.
Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicines Pavithra Wanniarachchi said a loosening of the lockdown was necessary to get the country back on its feet.
“I believe that we would be able to release the country from its state of curfew and recommence our economic activities and get back on our feet now that we have successfully contained the spread of coronavirus,” she said, adding the decision was needed in order to focus on people’s well-being and rebuilding the economy. “It’s around a month since the curfew was imposed and the people were safeguarded at a huge economic cost. But we cannot keep the country under a lockdown forever.”
Defense Secretary Maj. Gen. (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne said the country was able to relax restrictions because of efforts by the armed forces and the police.
“With the support of the intelligence agencies and the Health Ministry, the impact of coronavirus, compared to other countries, has reduced to a greater extent in Sri Lanka with a significantly low death toll,” he told the Defense Ministry’s website.
Dr. Anil Jasinghe, who is director general of health services, said the lockdown had been successful because of awareness campaigns launched through traditional and online media channels which had “reaped good results” in the fight against the virus.
But human rights activist Shireen Saroor warned that exiting the lockdown was a political decision and came at a time when the country was not “fully free” of the virus.
“The country is under a caretaker government, and the chief executive is taking these decisions since the government needs an urgent election to regularize its financial income and expenditures,” she told Arab News.
Last month Sri Lanka announced an indefinite postponement of parliamentary elections slated for April 25. The chairman of the Election Commission said the new date would depend on how the pandemic situation evolved.
Rajapaksa had used his constitutional power to dissolve parliament — in which the opposition held a majority — six months before the conclusion of its five-year tenure. He announced elections in early March for April 25.
The Sunday Times reported that the constitutional problem was that, with parliament dissolved, there was a requirement to hold the election within three months. “The practical problem, however, is whether hundreds of party workers can participate in electoral campaigns and risk exposure to a virus that has not yet been defeated,” it said. “That is without counting the millions who will stand in long queues to vote. The entire exercise is scary.”
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the president’s brother, said Saturday that the Election Commission could not postpone the polls indefinitely.