All universities and schools have once again closed in Sri Lanka due to a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sri Lankan government requested all higher education institutions to remain closed until 31 May as a precaution against student transmission, reports University World News website.

After the first wave in early 2020, the government re-opened universities in stages with strict health guidelines, but had to close and re-open them due to repeated COVID-19 waves.

Now Sri Lanka is currently experiencing its highest number of cases during its third wave which started on 21 April after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festival. Sri Lanka has more than 25,000 active cases and more than 850 deaths to date, according to the health ministry.

A lockdown was imposed from 13-17 May, and from 12 May the government imposed inter-provincial travel restrictions until 30 May and island-wide night time travel restrictions. So far, more than 160 villages with high caseloads have been placed under lockdown. All functions, parties and events are banned.

Several major exams have been postponed including university entrance (A-level) examinations scheduled for August, now postponed until October. GCE Ordinary Level Examinations have been postponed until January 2022.

The university admissions process for the new academic year is likely to be delayed due to lockdowns, travel restrictions and limited staff in offices. University degree conferring ceremonies have been postponed until further notice at several universities.

“Our university is conducting online lectures as usual, but our clinical training is postponed until further notice. This pandemic situation has brought extra stress to all our lives and there’s not even a slight hope for a mask-free day in the near future,” Ruwanthi, a female medical faculty undergraduate, told University World News.

Universities need adequate healthcare

As the caseload is growing daily and hospitals are reaching capacity, the Sri Lankan government is considering using university buildings as COVID-19 intermediate care centres.

Wasantha Mudalige, convener of the Inter University Students’ Federation, said: “Universities have been closed for more than a year. Universities opened for a short period after the first wave, but it only lasted a few weeks. Education officials haven’t launched any proper healthcare programme to re-open universities so far. The administration of many universities has failed to ensure students healthcare.”

He added that a number of universities like Kelaniya, Ruhuna, Moratuwa, Sabaragamuwa and Rajarata had cases of infected students due to inadequate safety programmes and urged the government to quickly expand health facilities, ambulances and PCR testing in universities.

According to an Asian Development Bank report last year, Sri Lanka made a remarkable transition to online tertiary education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 90% of student respondents were able to access online education, according to students surveyed.

However, the report said lack of laptops and consistently stable, high-speed internet access were the most significant challenges for students. More than 70% of students faced connection issues during online teaching and learning. The government has not addressed the issue, students said.

This article first published on University World News website.