Army Quarantine Centres – A Home Away From Home
By Nisal Rukshan
The word ‘Quarantine’ became familiar in Sri Lanka after the COVID19 pandemic. It has however, a long history around the globe during various time periods with the emergence of various different diseases reported.
As an Island Nation, Sri Lanka prepared well for the COVID-19 pandemic from the time it was reported in Wuhan during 2019. Under the direction of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) was set up in Rajagiriya under the leadership of Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva as the Head of the NOCPCO on 16 March 2020.
The Sri Lanka Army, as a disciplined, effective and efficient Human Resources body shouldered this national drive of COVID-19 prevention under the leadership of General Shavendra Silva in various ways including intensifying case finding, contact tracing, monitoring, quarantine of contacts and isolation of cases disinfection, constructions of quarantine centres, converting other buildings to Quarantine Centres, transportation of close - contact persons to Quarantine Centres, maintaining quarantine centres etc.
In the early stage, these Government Quarantine Centres mainly catered to close - contact persons of the country, foreigners who arrived in Sri Lanka and repatriates who were quarantined free of charge. They were provided accommodation, meals, WIFI, medical facilities, television, transport, special programmes for mindfulness and other facilities with the direction from the Government, health authorities and expert Army Medical teams together with other relevant parties.
Eventually, with the prevailing situation, as a response to the requests made by the repatriates ‘Paid Quarantine Centres’ were also introduced to Sri Lanka with the implication of strict health guidelines stipulated by the Ministry of Health, NOCPCO, under the direction of the President.
These paid Quarantine Centres were set up in selected hotels after well-conducted surveys with the approval of the Ministry of Health and NOCPCO. These paid quarantine centres were also closely monitored by the NOCPCO, Ministry of Health, Army medical experts and security provisions of Military. This article focuses on the Government Quarantine Centres in the country and not regarding paid Quarantine Centres. As of today forty-three Government Quarantine Centres are maintained by Tri-Forces around the country with around 5,000 inmates.
An inmates’ day in the Quarantine Centres begins with the morning tea provided by the troops around 5.30 a.m to the place where they are accommodated and before breakfast, a Medic in a safety overall and a face shield (PPEs) checks the temperature of all inmates. Then, they are given a healthy breakfast with a dessert to their rooms or accommodation area. All meals are prepared by Army culinary experts under 100% hygiene assurance.
Soon after breakfast, inmates could use their WIFI or watching television enabling them to make use of their time without becoming monotonous. Programmes are organised keeping in mind the inmates mental and physical well-being.
Other needs could be met via internal telephones manned throughout the whole day. Meanwhile, inmates engage in different activities of their own. Students do their studies, adults are involved in virtual office work, communicating with friends and relatives using the free WIFI facility, creating YouTube videos and sharing their experiences in Quarantine Centres with others.
Children are busy drawing and painting soldiers involved in their activities. Inmates are offered a healthy diet for the lunch inclusive of dessert. Any inmate who needs to make any changes to the diet according to their choice or food habits (vegetarian or non-vegetarian) or according to their needs such as infants.
All inmates who have special needs are treated with motherly care. After lunch too, inmates continue with their activities just like at home adhering to health guidelines as told by qualified Army medical experts at the Quarantine Centres. After evening tea, it is a relaxing time for inmates and up until dinner time, they spend their time watching TV in the accommodation area.
After dinner around 9.30 p.m. -10.00 p.m., inmates were served with herbal drinks to keep their immune system more efficient. After 10.00 p.m. they could go to sleep unless they have any special requirement. Most inmates have circulated on Social Media the caring they experienced at the Quarantine Centres and circulated it on social media as gratitude to the staff. Most inmates state that during their stay at the Government Quarantine Centres, “we came to know the real meaning of discipline and punctuality and how to respect every race, religion, gender as one nation by seeing the selfless commitment of the staff serving at the centres”.
Similarly, in the many feedbacks by inmates when they leave the Quarantine Centres they state “Though we came with negative perceptions about Government Quarantine Centres, at the end of the quarantine period, when we had to leave it left tears in our eyes. It was hard to forget the commitment of the Military in providing the facilities, paying attention to elders, those with special needs, infants and pregnant women. “The troops provided free transport on their return journey to their native places. On their return journey, troops also supplied snacks, water and meal packets focusing on infants and kids.
The quarantine process is continuing with enormous contribution and dedication by the troops under the leadership of General Shavendra Silva, Head of the NOCPCO, Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army, Commander of the Navy, Commander of the Air Force and the Inspector General of Police under the guidelines of the President and Government Health authorities. As time goes by, inmates will return to their homes while the soldiers will remain to face another day. As they depart many soldiers who have befriended the inmates will have a tear in their eyes.
They will recall the suspicion with which the inmates viewed them before being taken care of and how the suspicions turned to laughter in the end. The troops provide selfless service with utmost commitment and dedication risking their lives and that at any moment they might contract the virus. Troops serving at the centres fervently hope and pray the inflow of persons arriving at these centres would gradually reduce and come to an end for the well-being of the entire nation.