Heed the advice of health professionals to eliminate the virus – Army Commander | Sunday Observer

Heed the advice of health professionals to eliminate the virus – Army Commander

12 April, 2020

As Sri Lanka grapples with combatting the novel coronavirus, the Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva has been tasked with heading the National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO). According to him, the success of the measures taken will be solely in the hands of the country’s people. In the interview, Silva discussed the quarantine process being carried out by the military, steps taken to provide relief to the people during curfew while requesting them to adhere to the advice given by the country’s health professionals.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: What is the progress of the quarantine program to combat Covid 19 that is being led by you?

On March 7 the President and the Prime Minister decided to establish quarantine centres in the country. The decision set out to achieve three things, i.e. to identify and separate those who may have been exposed to the disease, stop its spread and treat the patients who have already tested positive.  The Sri Lanka Army was tasked with building these centres and since March 10 we have established 51 quarantine centres. Around 4,638 were quarantined in these for 14 days on the advice of health professionals. Those who completed the program, nearly 3,500 were released and allowed to go home. Currently, another 1,189 are still in quarantine at these centres run by the Army, Air Force, and the Navy.

 We also took steps to quarantine around 20 people from the Atulugama village after it was revealed the first patient from the area had associated with a number of people, and a quarantine centre constructed in the area.  Another 88 are being quarantined in Zahira College, Puttalam. These people had associated with yet another patient who had recently returned from abroad. The Army has provided them with all necessary facilities. Steps have also been taken to isolate Atalugama and Akurana in the Kalutara and Kandy districts, respectively.  Entering and exiting these areas continue to be prohibited.

Q: What steps have been taken to normalize civilian life even under curfew conditions?

Curfew has been imposed in Sri Lanka during various times in its history. But this situation is vastly different from those. Hence I have used the term ‘Quarantine Curfew.’ This is a curfew relating to a health issue and imposed for those who fail to do their duty to support the efforts to combat Covid 19. People must understand this. If everyone volunteered to stay home and self-quarantine there would be no need for a curfew. Since they fail to heed the warnings, some method to protect them and others in the country must be taken. However many services and facilities have been provided to the people in lockdown areas.

The President appointed a Task Force for this purpose led by former MP Basil Rajapaksa. Several members of the military are also part of the task force. We looked at ways to ensure that the people get the essentials. Two methods are put in place for those who earn a daily wage and for salaried persons, which commenced a few days back. Therefore there could be some shortcomings at the beginning, which will be addressed gradually.. One issue identified is the problems faced by nearly 658,000 pensioners. The Tri forces were deployed to assist them while Banks were informed to utilize a few staff members to serve them. Similar methods have been implemented for people who visit hospitals  to obtain medicine. Now the Postal services are delivering their medicines to their homes. State-run Osusalas are open for those who wish to purchase medicines. Deliveries of essentials to homes are also being allowed. Hence a massive project is being carried out for the people of the country. The public has also been informed of several hotlines to convey any issues they face.

Q: There has been a proposal to allow people to obtain permits from the Grama sevaka and purchase essentials from shops that will be allowed to open while ensuring they maintain social distance, with the view that it would reduce congestion in towns when the curfew is lifted. Your comment?

Some have pointed out that this method was implemented in China and that one permit was issued per family. But this can be misused. The husband and wife in a family can use the same permit one at a time. We saw instances where the wife had gone out using the husband’s curfew pass. The method sounds favourable and was even discussed with the Task Force but we believe we have taken the best decision possible. According to medical professionals the coronavirus is not in your home and you can only contract it if you go out. If you save yourself it will save others. Everyone has the responsibility to save themselves from this. If you survive, everyone will survive.

Q: Is it true that Military Intelligence Units are tracking down those associated with persons who tested positive for coronavirus?

Yes, we are in the search for them. For example, one patient who passed away had been in a private hospital and then admitted to the Negombo Hospital. We identified the first 120 patients because they came forward themselves. We cannot say all those who hide their symptoms and history are unaware because doctors are constantly creating awareness programs and educating the people about the disease. Therefore the public is well aware and must come forward. We have increased the number of hospitals admitting Covid 19 suspected cases.

Therefore yes we are in search of these people. Our MI is talented. The first patient was associated with 64 people and we identified them and the patient has already recovered and left the hospital. The other 64 are keeping well. We were able to do this because we had a good system in place. We know the devastation one such person can cause. Meanwhile, some are questioning why the Army has been deployed to combat the pandemic. We have done what was required of us and the military has the capable manpower and the discipline to carry out the duties. We have been able to help the health sector manage the situation successfully.

Q: Do you have any request to make of the Sri Lankan public?

I may not be a medical practitioner but having associated with health professionals through the task force I can say unless you walk out of your house the corona will not come to your home. We are doing our best to protect the people of the country. In the face of adversity, the country has always risen and emerged victorious. Whether we will win or lose is in the hands of the people. During the war, the victory or defeat was in the hands of those who directly faced it but this is a different battle. If people heed the advice of the health professionals we can eliminate this disease from the country. All I ask the people is to protect themselves and their families.