Airports had been shut down, roads were completely closed off, and mobility and travel within cities were strictly restricted with curfews, but there was yet another entry point that needed to be manned. RMG Rathnayake is a commanding officer of the SLCG and is responsible for maritime security, and has to ensure along with his team that naval routes are cordoned off as well.
The challenge, he claims, is when fishing vessels return to shore. Some fishermen are known to come in contact with foreigners out in the sea as they are involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking and other illegal activities. During the Covid-19 crisis, a new protocol was implemented.
Commander Rathnayake was to work with Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) to ensure the fishermen did not contract the virus during their trips to the sea. Their temperatures were to be checked on arrival and questioned about contact. They were all subjected to a 14-day isolation period and were considered a suspect of carrying the virus due to their unknown whereabouts, as per the new protocol. All the harbours had to be manned, and vessels coming into the shore and leaving are rigorously checked and monitored. Although this was the protocol pre-Covid, now Commander Rathnayake is also tasked with the additional duty of taking more meticulous steps to ensure the virus is not brought into the country via the naval routes.
With Covid-19 widely spreading among the naval bases, his anxieties grew, especially when a navy officer from Polonnaruwa who had been in contact with people from his camp was tested positive. He had to trace contact and isolate them, and ensure to run PCR tests on all of them. He was quite relieved to find out they were negative. Since then, he does routine random tests inside the camp.
When questioned about the threat posed to him during these times, he states that they have to still continue with their work, despite the life-threatening risk. He reflects, during the civil war, they knew there were suicide boats out in the sea. But yet, they ventured out to do their duty, knowing the threats. “Likewise, I accept these threats, and I am willing to make necessary sacrifices to serve and protect my country”, he concludes.