ARMY QUARANTINE CENTRES: Where Feeling helps Healing

Even though the word ‘Quarantine’ was not familiar to us in Sri Lanka before the COVID-19 pandemic, it has a long history around the globe during various time periods with the emergence of different diseases.

As an island nation, Sri Lanka prepared well for the COVID-19 pandemic from the time it was first reported in Wuhan in 2019.

Under the direction of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) was established in Rajagiriya under the leadership of Defence Staff Chief and Army Commander General Shavendra Silva on March 16, 2020.

The Sri Lanka Army, as the most disciplined, effective and efficient Human Resources body in the country shouldered this national drive of COVID-19 prevention under the leadership of General Shavendra Silva in various pathways such as intensification of case finding, contact tracing, monitoring, quarantining of contacts and isolation of people, disinfection, construction of quarantine centres, converting existing buildings into quarantine centres, transportation of close-contact persons to quarantine centres, and maintaining of quarantine centres etc.

In the early stage, these Government quarantine centres mainly catered for close-contact persons, and foreigners who arrived in Sri Lanka and repatriates who were quarantined free of charge. They were provided with all facilities including accommodation, meals, WiFi, medical care, entertainment, transportation, and special programmes for mindfulness under the direction of the Government, health authorities, and expertise Army medical teams together with all other relevant parties.

Eventually, considering the prevailing situation, as a response to the requests made by repatriates, paid-quarantine centres were also introduced to Sri Lanka with the implementation of strict health guidelines stipulated by the Health Ministry, and NOCPCO, under the direction of the President. These paid-quarantine centres were established at selected hotels after surveys being conducted and under the approval of the Health Ministry and the NOCPCO. These paid-quarantine centres were also closely monitored by the NOCPCO, Health Ministry, Army medical experts and security provisions of the Military.

This article focuses on the Government quarantine centres but not on the paid-quarantine centres.

As of today, 43 Government quarantine centres are maintained by Tri-Forces around the country with around 5,000 inmates.

The inmates of a quarantine centre begin their day with the morning tea provided by the troops around 5.30 am to the place where they are accommodated and before the breakfast, a medic in a safety overall and a face shield (PPE) checks the temperature of all inmates using a thermometer.

Subsequently, inmates get their healthy breakfast which consists of a dessert to their cabins, rooms or accommodation area. All meals are prepared by Army culinary experts under 100 percent hygiene assurance.

Soon after breakfast, the inmates can enjoy their stay with the use of WiFi and television which help them to spend time without letting the time at the quarantine centre be monotonous or boring. The quarantine centres conduct mindfulness programmes for inmates in order to maintain their mental and physical wellbeing. Further, those who have any other personal requirement can make requests from the authorities through the internal communication telephones working for 24 hours, solely for their betterment.

During the quarantining process, the inmates are engaged in different activities as they wish. Students can study; adults can perform office duties and communicate with their loved ones using free WiFi facilities. Some have created YouTube videos while at quarantine centres to share their experience with others. Children can also be seen drawing and painting the soldiers and their activities which they see at quarantine centres.

The inmates of these centres are given a balanced and healthy diet for the lunch in an exceptional way with fruits, ice cream or yoghurt as the dessert.

Any inmate can request changes to this balanced and healthy diet depending on their choice or food habits. For example, vegetarians, infants, children, pregnant mothers, diabetic patients, people with special needs and people suffering from Chronic Kidney Diseases (CKD), and cardiovascular diseases etc are given special attention.

Even after lunch, the inmates can continue their activities with the feeling that they are with their families or friends while adhering to the health guidelines explained by the qualified Army medical experts at quarantine centres. After evening tea, it’s the relaxing time for most inmates. Until the dinner is served, they spend time watching teledramas, news or entertainment programmes in the accommodation area. Subsequently, after the dinner, between 9.30 pm and 10 pm, the inmates are served herbal drinks by the troops to keep their immune system healthy. After 10 pm, the inmates can go to sleep at any time unless they have any special requirement to stay awake.

Most inmates have made videos showing the caring atmosphere they experienced at the quarantine centres to show their gratitude towards the staff at the quarantine centres. Some mentioned that the staff has created a homely environment which made them sad to leave the place. In most comments, the inmates had the same thing to say. “During the stay at the Government quarantine centre, we came to know what it really meant by discipline, what is punctuality, how to respect every race, religion, and gender, as one nation by looking at the selfless commitment of the staff serving at the centre”

Similarly, most of the feedback notes written by inmates at the time of their departure from the quarantine centres, stated that “Though we came with negative perceptions about the Government quarantine centres, at the end of the quarantine period, our eyes were wet with tears. It was that much hard to forget the commitment of the Military in providing facilities in many ways and means with respect and paying attention to elders, people with special needs, infants, pregnant mothers etc. during our stay.” Further, the inmates were provided free transportation by the troops on their journey back to their native places. Meantime, troops supplied snacks, water and meals on their way with a special focus on food varieties for infants and kids.

This quarantining process still continues in the same manner with enormous contribution and dedication by the troops under the leadership of NOCPCO Head, Defence Staff Chief and Army Commander General Shavendra Silva, Navy Commander, Air Force Commander and the Inspector General of Police under the guidance of the President and health authorities.

Days will pass and inmates will leave, but the soldiers will still stay at quarantine centres. They will notice the blank eyes that come for quarantining, people who freely enjoy their stay and finally, who leave with wet eyes. The troops provide their selfless service with the utmost commitment and dedication though they are at the risk of being infected but still they serve the nation at large.

The 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 wellbeing of the entire nation.



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