The Sri Lankan government has announced a nationwide curfew from Friday until March 23 as a preventive measure against the coronavirus pandemic, according to the President’s Office.

The Office said in a statement that the curfew will be imposed with immediate effect from 6 p.m. on Friday until 6 a.m. on March 23, the Colombo Page newspaper reported.

Earlier a police curfew was imposed in the Puttalam, Chilaw and Negombo police divisions and Ja-Ela and Wattala areas in order to restrict the movement of the people to prevent the spread of coronavirus that has infected 59 people in the island-nation so far.

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has called on the citizens of the country to temporarily halt travel, public gatherings or celebrations as this would enable the government to completely control the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rajapaksa said a large number of Sri Lankans had returned to the country in recent days from virus-hit nations including Italy and authorities had identified all of them as well as their closest relatives and had asked them to be self quarantined in their own homes.

Only public transport and essential services were permitted to pass through the curfew imposed areas during the curfew.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Indian subcontinent rose overnight to 482 as authorities across the region imposed travel restrictions to block the fast-spreading disease that has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 8,000 people.

Sri Lanka, which has recorded 43 coronavirus cases, said it would ban all incoming flights for two weeks from Wednesday to combat the spread of the virus.

The announcement comes after the National Election Commission on Thursday postponed the country’s parliamentary polls which were scheduled to be held on April 25 until further notice.

With businesses hampered due to the outbreak of the pandemic, President Rajapaksa also unveiled relief packages such as offering lentils and canned fish at subsidized rates, and ordered banks and finance companies to allow a recovery period of six months for the loan facilities taken by businesses.