Sri Lanka has always been used to disasters. Over a period of 15 years, Sri Lanka has lived war, terrorism, tsunamis, floods, riots and even hospitalized by dengue. For Sri Lanka, these kinds of shit happen every few years.
Sri Lanka may face disasters every year, however, Sri Lanka itself is not a disaster.
Throughout all these shits, Sri Lanka remains friendly, beautiful, and generally a safe place to visit for tourist. There is a saying, ‘nothing beats experience and nothing else makes you stronger’, well Sri Lanka has proved this to us. Rather than getting weaken they have grown from generations of hard experiences and made themselves strong.
Sri Lankans showed their resilience in the fight with COVID-19.
Well, it's easy to say “they Crushed It”.
Unlike other big countries, Sri Lanka reacted early, reacted hard, and currently has almost eliminated COVID-19 from their shores. After a 100 days gruelling days effort, they have no community spread, and –mask on—have returned to life. They have reopened their beaches.
Forget New Zealand. Jacinda Ardern is great and all, but just the fact that Sri Lanka is an island with 4 times the population of New Zealand has crushed the curve harder and flatter than any other country.
Now the question arises, what could an underdog country like Sri Lanka do to achieve such a feat?
Wedding of the 1st Case
For the majority of early phases, Sri Lanka only had one case, this was also imported from China on 27th January. She was tested, treated, and even recovered. Well, the twist in this tale was the fact that getting out, she had a wedding with the Minister of Health and DG of Health Services.
Although in hindsight this was incorrect, but sweet too. But unlike other countries they didn’t blame CHINA or the WHO, instead, they just worked their asses off for survival.
They say being paranoid is bad, but in this case, being paranoia was wise. This paranoia in Sri Lankan people led to immediately demand and supply of face masks in January itself.
After Patient 1 recovered, things were quiet for about a month. Then came the wave of a pandemic that hit them. And surprisingly it wasn’t from China. Their pandemic arrived via Italy.
Next Case Dreading
On 10th March, a Sri Lankan tour guide was confirmed as being infected, via Italian tourist. A chain of infection passage started with local transmissions. March 10th was the date, Sri Lanka’s pandemic truly began. The entire country tensed up and everybody was on the edge.
At this point of time, it could have gone either way. Cases in Italy rapidly accelerated from less than 100 to tens of thousands and Sri Lanka was also heading for the same trajectory, same curve.
Some would think Sri Lanka just got lucky, but no that’s not the case. They also saw it growing from one person to hundreds in the Navy. So, no they didn’t get lucky at all. They just took the right actions at the right time. The decisions were strong, largely military leadership from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, their developed public health sector which had made themselves battle-hardened from the fight against malaria and dengue.
This was also made possible with the widespread compliance and support of the public. Even the Doctor’s Union stopped meddling in politics and just focused of giving good medical advice, for once. Nurses, doctors, cops, and troops all showed up for work. Their dengue labs were converted to run PCR tests and sequenced a full genome of local strain. The larger public just masked up and stayed home. They didn’t waste time debating whether disasters exist or not. Everyone in Sri Lanka has experienced some disaster, they know.
Sri Lanka just reacted fast, reacted aggressively, and adapted well and that made all the difference.
Two Weeks Felt Eternity
Every country had two weeks after they got their first confirmed case, the clock started ticking, and it runs out after 100. Once you hit the 100 cases mark, you’re already dead, you just don’t know it yet.
Countries that acted fast—like Korea, Mongolia, or Trinidad & Tobago–survived.
Countries that dithered –like the US or UK –were hammered and will never suppress the virus now. Those two weeks were the window of opportunity.
Sri Lanka made most of it. Within 5 days of the first local case (March 15th), Sri Lanka banned travel from much of Europe, Iran, Korea, and the UK. During this time thing were changing every hour. People just got stuck in Sweden or in the US. Many got stuck in the Middle East. By the end of 22nd March, the airports were closed completely. This was a huge sacrifice.
Closing borders does not stop a pandemic, it just limits the size of problems. It makes test/trace/isolate possible. It was tremendously difficult to find and contain everything but the Sri Lankans did it. Because they had fewer cases, they had time to scale up their defences.
That’s why they shut everything down.
Sri Lankans understood it was either total curfew or total anarchy. Detailed guidelines like South Korea’s didn’t quite work here. But what Sri Lankans understood was a curfew, from the war years, and from the Easter Attacks last year. And so, they called a curfew.
On 20th March the entire nation went under shut down.
Curfew means you are not allowed to go outside. Not for groceries, not medicines, not for nothing. That was the nature of Sri Lankan lockdown. Over 65,000 people were arrested in violation of the lockdown. Curfew was incredibly hard. People Struggled for food and medicines until trucks started delivering. Internal immigrants were stuck in limbo and many migrant workers abroad are still stranded. Sri Lanka was able to bear this heavy burden because people understood the disaster. There weren’t many public debates and the government was able to take decisive extreme actions.
Because Sri Lanka sacrificed 67 days of curfew, they have a future. They have their lives. They are restarting the economy.
On 26th May, the curfew was completely lifted in Colombo. Sri Lankans were incomplete curfew for 67 days. And this wasn’t a total lift, it was still on from 10 PM to 4 AM.
Despite being free, people still didn’t go out for a week, but after some time people started going out of their houses for work. There’s universal making by law, and everybody does it except for some chin danglers.
People are going out for work again but they still act like there’s an active pandemic, which in truth there isn’t. it’s curious seeing other countries that still have an entire death toll every day that are much laxer.
Schools haven’t opened yet or the airport. Maybe in a month.
For all intents and purposes, the virus is gone from Sri Lanka. Not suppressed, not lived with, just not here. They have had no community cases for the last 50 days. Even the Navy outbreak and imported cases, reported cases are down to one or none a day. They know this can turn around in an instant, they remain vigilant, but that is where Sri Lanka is. And this is an accomplishment.
It sucked, they lost poor souls but they crushed COVID-19.
They shut down early, shut down completely, and ramped up testing and tracing like they were supposed to. Sri Lanka led the fight globally.
Countries like Sri Lanka are only in news if they’re dying, but now they’re alive. They should be on news for that.
THEY ARE COVID UNDERDOGS
This is the 1st part of the COVID UNDERDOGS Series, stay tuned for unsung successful stories.
Official Writer - Abhishek Jha