The constitutional, political, and legal structure of Sri Lanka is based on representative democracy and the separation of powers. Sri Lanka’s second Republican Constitution was promulgated in 1978.
The present Constitution provides for three tiers of government. Apart from the central government, the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution established Provincial Councils, which exercise executive and legislative power over a limited number of subjects, including health. Local authorities including municipal councils, urban councils and pradeshiya sabhas constitute the third tier of government.
Sri Lanka’s initial response to Covid-19 was to encourage people to work from home. The government declared a public holiday on 16 March 2020, and then extended the holiday period until 27 March 2020.
The government also relied on a series of regulations under the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance of 1897 to introduce various measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Director General of Health Service was declared the proper authority with respect to the whole of Sri Lanka. At a sub-national level, the mayor or chairpersons of municipal councils, urban councils, and pradeshiya sabhas were named the proper authorities to adopt appropriate measures.
The government’s response to the outbreak included restrictions on movement, isolation and quarantine, testing and tracing, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and facemasks, and the closures of premises.
In early October 2020, a second Covid-19 wave hit Sri Lanka, and parts of the country were once again placed under ‘curfew’. The government issued new regulations under the Quarantine Ordinance on 15 October 2020. By early January 2021, most restrictions on movement were lifted despite the continued spread of the virus.
According to Amaratunga et al, there were several weaknesses in the measures adopted by the government to deal with the virus. There was a serious shortage in PPE, and a shortage of trained health care providers to cope with the demand for testing and caregiving. Moreover, the unavailability of updated population registers at the local level reduced the efficacy of the response.