12 May 2021, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Since late April 2021, the number of COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka has increased exponentially. The average number of new infections reported each day has reached a new high, now reporting more than 2,000 patients daily. The number of COVID-19 related deaths has also been rising, mainly due to the heightened pressure on already overwhelmed health infrastructure and medical staff. A collective of medical professionals including the Sri Lanka Medical Association, the Government Medical Officers Association, the Association of Medical Specialists, and the SLMA Intercollegiate Committee, have pointed out in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the national healthcare system has reached a breaking point. The identification of several new varieties of the COVID-19 virus has caused further concern among medical professionals as well as the general public. Sri Lanka is in an unprecedented health crisis with the likelihood of further deaths, economic hardship and much more if immediate measures are not taken to effectively respond to the pandemic.
It has been proved from experience in other countries battling the rapid spread of the virus that the adoption of stringent travel restrictions, ramping up the testing process, strengthening healthcare facilities and accelerating the vaccination process are the best steps to be taken in such a situation. However, the lack of proper information available to the general public and the resulting atmosphere of fear and misinformation has weakened the COVID-19 response of Sri Lanka. Additionally, increasing arbitrary action, especially with regard to the vaccination process, and isolation and quarantine procedures could potentially put the health and lives of citizens at risk.
Against this dire backdrop, it is critical to ensure laws and policies are in adherence to the constitutional and legal framework and not arbitrary and ad-hoc. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has consistently reiterated the need to adhere to the principles of democratic governance and the rule of law in Sri Lanka’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and this remains the case at present.
Several guides and policy briefs were issued previously by CPA on a range of legal and policy issues linked to COVID-19, including a Q and A on the Regulations issued under the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance. The present document reassesses and re-examines recent developments in this regard, in light of the regulations issued under the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance as well as other relevant legal and regulatory frameworks.
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