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Sri Lanka closes key gov't offices as virus outbreak surges

COLOMBO – Authorities in Sri Lanka closed key government offices and further expanded a curfew Thursday to contain a surging coronavirus outbreak.

The foreign ministry closed its consular affairs office for the week and suspended all services to prevent the public from congregating. It said it would only accept queries related to the deaths of Sri Lankans overseas, strictly by appointment.

Other departments providing services related to revenue, immigration, pensions, vehicle licenses and registrations also closed for the week, and a state-sponsored exhibition was canceled.

Authorities also temporally closed a police station in the town of Minuwangoda, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Colombo, where the first known local infection in two months was reported Sunday.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the police station was closed after the owner of its cafeteria was confirmed to have the virus.

Health workers are disinfecting the police station and 85 officers are undergoing tests, he said, adding that officers from nearby stations will be assigned there on Friday.

The outbreak that surfaced this week has grown to 1,044 cases, with more than 2,000 other people asked to quarantine at home.

It is centered around a garment factory in the Colombo suburbs where the first patient and many others worked. Police have widened the curfew to the suburbs where many of the patients live. Schools have closed, public gatherings were ordered halted and restrictions were imposed on public transport.

The cluster comes after the Indian Ocean island nation reported going two months without any community infections, and health officials say it poses a high risk of spreading the virus because employees at the factory worked close together and also went home every day and mingled with others.

The country has reported 4,459 cases, including 13 deaths. Of the total patients, 3,278 have recovered.