COVID-19 RESPONSE AND IMPACT 

Response and impact story


Sri Lanka Covid19 response

Sri Lanka reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on January 27, 2020. The patient was a Chinese national who was visiting Sri Lanka. She was treated and she made a full recovery and returned to China. On March 11, the first Sri Lankan to be confirmed within-country - a tour guide was reported. After the first cases in Sri Lanka there came more. The government announced that 16 march 2020 will be a national pubic holiday to contain the coronavirus from spreading. On 17 march there were 43 cases but Sri Lanka did not reach full-time quarantine yet by this time. Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi revealed that around 24 hospitals are available ready to tackle the coronavirus emergency (Wikipedia, 2020).

The public national holiday got extended and a lockdown styled curfew got imposed in Sri Lanka. The curfew was at first for the whole nation and later only for the high risk zones. When someone got tested positive with corona they tracked everybody that person had contact with, and whole villages needed to go in isolation at that point to contain the virus from spreading. As of 16 April 2020, Sri Lanka has been named as 16th high risk country prone to virus pandemic. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has been ranked 9th best country in the world for its successful immediate response on tackling the virus.

On 11 may came an end to the 52 day lockdown style curfew and meaning that public can start going to workplace again by maintaining social distancing but the public gatherings, festivals and celebrations are banned. Salons, beauty parlors and barber shops could also open again but shaving has been strictly banned. The barbers need to maintain precautionary health measures while cutting hair (Wikipedia, 2020). On this day there were 511 active cases and only 9 deaths. Two weeks after the curfew has lifted on 26 may the active cases are 460 and number of deaths 10. With a population of 21.4 million people Sri Lanka is handling the coronavirus really well. How did Sri Lanka do this? (Official Website for Sri Lanka's Response to Covid-19, 2020).

Behind the promising numbers are early thinking and swift action, according to Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Health Services in Sri Lanka. It's "targeted and tough" control measures, rather than a generic template "based on literature", that helped Sri Lanka arrest the pandemic's spread. The success story can be partially attributed to its relatively high coronavirus testing rate. On April 30 the country was conducting 930 tests per 1 million people, in comparison to other South Asian countries such as Bangladesh (393), India (602) and Pakistan (703). Sri Lanka didn't wait for its first case to begin preparing. Well ahead before 10 march it had set up its first PCR testing facility, with advice from Hong Kong-based Sri Lankan origin pathologist Professor Malik Peiris, known for first isolating the SARS virus. In Dr. Anil Jasinghe's views, aggressive contract tracing, early quarantine measures and a strict curfew - over 60,000 violators arrested so far - helped "put a wall" between the virus and the country's elderly, and ensured "a low death rate" of about 0.8 %. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Sri Lanka also has seen milder cases of COVID-19 due in part to an early lockdown (Srinivasan, 2020).

Dr. Jasinghe attributes much of Sri Lanka's apparently effective response to its historically strong public health system. "When countries get richer and richer, they neglect public health, like in the U.S. But we never reduced its importance." A wide network of midwives, public health inspectors and field assistants are actively involved in preventive health care. "We are used to controlling and eliminating diseases - malaria, measles, mother to child transmission of HIV and so on. We have the experience in public health, you see." Dr. Jasinghe observes (Srinivasan, 2020).


Impact-story corona in Sri Lanka - tourism

A year after the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, the country is struggling to get things back in order. The global coronavirus outbreak has also affected Sri Lanka, and the country cannot afford such a crisis.

On April 21, 2019, a series of terrorist attacks took place in both sparsely populated and densely populated areas in Sri Lanka. More than 250 people died, including 45 foreigners. As a result of these attacks, tourism to Sri Lanka declined dramatically. Countries around the world issued negative travel advice for Sri Lanka. The formerly popular country was blacklisted. As the economy of Sri Lanka relies heavily on the tourism sector, this was a hard blow to the country.

The Sri Lankan government took concrete steps to ensure the safety of both the domestic population and foreign travelers. This was not without result. The number of travelers to Sri Lanka started to steadily increase and Sri Lanka received praise worldwide for her approach to the tragic event. Sri Lanka was also slowly recovering socially. Where the country used to suffer from sectarian violence, the population now came together to help each other. It began to appear that Sri Lanka had successfully navigated the crisis. But then the coronavirus struck (Restore Sri Lanka interrupted by corona virus, 2020, April 24th)

A thorny issue for many human rights defenders is the harsh measures the Sri Lankan government has taken to stem the coronavirus outbreak. There is a curfew and the government checks very strictly whether this ban is complied with. The government even enlisted the military to make sure no one breaks the rules. The government has called the fight against the coronavirus "war" several times, a word that is particularly sensitive to the people of Sri Lanka. It was not long ago that the country was torn apart by a brutal civil war.

The hard and authoritarian way in which the government of Sri Lanka tries to manage the crisis is therefore seen by many as too extreme

The measures are also very strict for foreign travelers. Sri Lanka has imposed a total travel ban on all tourists and business travelers traveling to the country. This also applies to persons who have already applied for a Sri Lanka visa. Although the visa normally allows you to enter the country, it is no longer the case.


Impact-story corona in Sri Lanka - education

Shifting away from traditional methods of learning in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) paired with a pandemic, is changing models of education utilized by Sri Lankan schools. Students across the island are experiencing learning in digital spaces - a world of education once unfamiliar to previous generations. Despite the unfamiliarity with the "new-age" technology unencountered by humankind till now, parents and teachers have taken to the internet to facilitate learning through various means; from virtual learning environments to downloadable resource packs.

Friday May 22th evening, a panel discussion was set to address the big question "Will the way our kids learn CHANGE after COVID?". The dialogue between Harshana Perera, Principal of Asian International School, Malithi Jayatisse, Directress of Leeds International Schools, Budhika Pathiraja, Principal of Alethea International School, Nuwan Dissanayake, Founder of SL Democratic Education Community. 

It was unanimously agreed by the panel that the way forward for education systems is to start pushing new frontiers and integrating technology within existing curriculums. The silver lining of the pandemic has stressed that schools are in fact, the backbone of the education system. It has also forced educators, students and parents to embrace learning platforms that have previously existed, yet were overshadowed by the traditional teaching techniques.

The discourse called upon the speakers to present their ideas on the topics of changing curriculums, the market for teachers, how online learning will support school syllabuses while understanding limitations of online learning when applied to a Sri Lankan context.

Establishing systems of education gives children a platform. One that would ideally hone their natural abilities to create and innovate. In turn, is a breakthrough for the next generation of scientists, engineers, creators and entrepreneurs equipped with STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) based skills. (Hafsa Jamel2020, 27th May

The Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education and Human Resources Development presented their report on a national policy on STEM education in Sri Lanka to Parliament in January 2020. The report predicted a 1% contribution to GDP during the next decade from every student who enrols in STEM learning. (Ashwin Hemmatagama 2020, 4th January)

The importance of attracting capable individuals, including females who account for 54% of the 18 and above population into such fields, can grease the wheels to close the gender gaps in the labour force.

According to Committee chairman prof. Ashu Marasinghe, STEM education will lead to an attitude change among parents and the teachers, and it would take time to do a complete change in the entire country. "We need to keep in mind Rome was not built overnight. Under the STEM system, the teacher guides the student and enables the student to follow innovation and creativity. I am happy to move this important report for the betterment of the education system of Sri Lanka. The President in his maiden speech elaborated on the growth of education and technology setting stage for this report, which is prepared based on research carried out for two years. People are the key contributors to the growth. The quality of public contribution increases according to the education level of the public," he added.

Impact-story corona in Sri Lanka - food supply and agriculture

Sri Lanka's agriculture sector has been effected relatively little by the covid-19 outbreak because its only loosely integrated with global supply chains. However, many local farmers still suffer severe losses due to the control measures of a 24-hour-lockdown. All fresh food markets are closed and farmers don't know where to go with their products. Around 30% of the population of Sri Lanka is engaged in the agriculture sector. An estimated 2.1 million agricultural households are at a risk of losing their livelihoods despite various measures taken by the government to safeguard agricultural supply chains (Dutch ministry of Agriculture, 2020).

As lockdowns went into effect from mid-March to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, the government made agriculture a priority sector and listed it as an essential service. The government has taken some action to help farmers. Though the lockdown exempted farming operations and food supply chains from the beginning, implementation problems caused severe labour shortages and price collapse in wholesale markets. Given the circumstances, the Government initiated a program to procure fruits and vegetables directly from the farmers to ease the problem of limited wholesale markets. The country's civil Defense Force is buying goods direct from farmers, then distributing it across the island, to help households and shops that got hit hard by the lockdown (Daily mirror, 2020).

Minister for lands, land development and the environment, S.M. Chandrasena, saying: "The farmers got into difficulty because of the curfew imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This is a solution to that and to protect our farmers." It's good news for the country's pumpkin growers too. On the picture you see farmers loading their produce into military and civilian trucks headed for the capital Colombo for low-income households (World News from Reuters, 2020).

Amid rising food security concerns, the government started a campaign to motivate people to start their own home garden. As a part of the campaign, packets of seeds were distributed free of charge in some areas (Dutch ministry of Agriculture, 2020).

The latest Climate and Food Security Monitoring bulleting of WFP raises concerns of food security among vulnerable parts in Sri Lanka as a result of the impact and control response of the COVID19 outbreak coupled with weather related disasters predicted for May 2020. The report further elaborated that such weather related shocks combined with poor hygienic and sanitation conditions could result in an increase of acute malnutrition (Dutch ministry of Agriculture, 2020).

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is expected to affect the Sri Lankan agricultural sector to a certain extent, as a result of supply disruptions. However, due to the loose integration with the global supply chains, this sector is expected to largely remain resilient," the rating agency said. Despite of the coronavirus the agriculture sector is predicted to achieve a positive growth of 1% this year and the sector will continue to develop (Dutch ministry of Agriculture, 2020).

Impact-story corona in Sri Lanka - economy 

After 30 years of civil war in Sri Lanka that ended in 2009, the economy grew at an average of 5.6% during the period of 2010-2019. Sri Lanka is an upper-middle-income country with an estimated GDP per capita of USD 4,030 (2019) with a total population of 21.7 million people. Growth is estimated to have been 2.6% in 2019, this can partly be explained by the impact of the terrorist attacks in April 2019 (Worldbank, 2020). The main economic sectors of the country are tourism, tea export, apparel, textile, rice production and other agricultural products. In addition to these economic sectors, overseas employment contributes highly in foreign exchange: 90% of expatriate Sri Lankans reside in the Middle East (LMD, 2017).

The economy is transitioning from a predominantly rural-based economy towards a more urbanized economy oriented around manufacturing and services. The national poverty headcount ratio declined from 15.3 percent in 2006/2007 to 4.1 percent in 2016. Extreme poverty is rare and concentrated in some geographical areas: however, a relatively large share of the population subsists on slightly more than the poverty line (Worldbank, 2020).

A global recession is likely to significantly reduce the demand for Sri Lanka's exports, and lead to considerable job losses. During the Great Recession from 2008 to 2010, an estimated 90,000 Sri Lankans lost their jobs due to downsizing amongst manufacturing firms, especially in the apparel sector. Sri Lanka is also susceptible to delays in accessing raw materials for manufacturing from China. The current crisis will gravely affect the tourism sector. The closing of the Sri Lankan border for foreign passenger arrivals combined with global travel restrictions, will undoubtedly lead to further losses of tourist arrivals. This will lead to job losses both in the formal tourism sector as well as ancillary informal services (Hewage, 2020).

Small economies such as Sri Lanka, in particular, whose economic backbone is made up of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), dependent on export revenue for foreign currency generation, and is simultaneously managing a critical debt and fiscal crisis, are going to be particularly vulnerable. Daily wage earners and MSMEs, including those in the informal sector, are going to be disproportionately affected during the current crisis. MSMEs account for 52% of total GDP and 45% of national employment (Hewage, 2020). Sri Lanka is vulnerable to uncertain global financial conditions as the repayment profile requires the country to access financial markets frequently. A high deficit and rising debt levels could further deteriorate debt dynamics and negatively impact market sentiments (Worldbank, 2020).

SOURCES

Daily Mirror (not authorized) (2020, 21 April) Sri Lanka's agricultural sector largely immune to COVID-19 shock: ICRA Lanka. Consulted on 28 May 2020 from https://www.dailymirror.lk/business-news/Sri-Lankas-agricultural-sector-largely-immune-to-COVID-19-shock-ICRA-Lanka/273-186920

Dutch ministry of Agriculture, nature and food quality (2020, 27 May) Impact of COVID19 on food supply chains in Sri Lanka. Consulted on 28 May 2020 from https://www.agroberichtenbuitenland.nl/actueel/nieuws/2020/05/27/impact-of-covid19-on-food-supply-chains-in-sri-lanka

Mukhopadhyay. A. (2020, 18 May) How Sri Lanka successfully curtailed the coronavirus pandemic. Consulted on 26 May 2020 from https://www.dw.com/en/how-sri-lanka-successfully-curtailed-the-coronavirus-pandemic/a-53484299

Official Website for Sri Lanka's Response to Covid-19. (2020, 26 May) COVID-19 SITUATION REPORT. Consulted on 26 May 2020 from https://covid19.gov.lk/

Srinivasan. M. (2020, 23 May) Targeted and tough control measures helped Sri Lanka arrest virus spread, says Director General of Health Services. Consulted on 26 May 2020 from https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/targeted-and-tough-control-measures-helped-sri-lanka-arrest-virus-spread-says-director-general-of-health-services/article31660511.ece

Wikipedia. (2020, 25 May) COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka. Consulted on 26 May 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Sri_Lanka

World News from Reuters (2020, 17 April) Sri Lankan government starts new food supply chain. Consulted on 28 May 2020 from https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7tcofm