One year after the appearance of the COVID-19 virus, the world has come to terms with the fact that the virus is not likely to go away in the near future and will be around for some time longer. In such a context Governments the world over including our own have to work out how [...]


Managing COVID-19: A lay perspective


One year after the appearance of the COVID-19 virus, the world has come to terms with the fact that the virus is not likely to go away in the near future and will be around for some time longer.

In such a context Governments the world over including our own have to work out how to manage the virus while at the same time opening up the economy.

The considerations that apply to the more economically advanced countries will obviously not apply to the less affluent ones when striking the correct balance between these two objectives.

For a country like Sri Lanka the challenges are all the more daunting because of the heavy debt burden that hangs like a millstone around its neck.

While reviving and increasing production is critical, containing the virus is equally important because of the large numbers of the poor and marginalised who are invariably the first to feel the pinch when economic constraints come to the forefront.

An examination of the COVID-19 figures shows that, the Government was successful in containing the first wave but has not been as successful with regard to the second wave. With the COVID-19 figures averaging 500 to 600 new patients every day and the total exceeding 50,000 one cannot envy the challenges faced by the Government in managing the situation.

Clearly there is a need to review the situation and take all possible remedial measures to contain the spread of the virus. A report in the Daily Mirror yesterday headlined “Govt to explore novel strategies to contain the pandemic” seems to suggest the Government too is thinking in the same direction.

The Health Services Deputy Director General Hemantha Herath is quoted by the Daily Mirror as saying that following the discovery of COVID-19 patients from a large geographical area of the country, the authorities concerned are looking at fresh strategies to contain the pandemic.

He said all those involved in the containment of the disease were scheduled to have a meeting yesterday to explore novel measures to arrest the trend. It may be advisable to have a permanent review committee distinct from the COVID-19 task force to continuously monitor the situation and advise the task force.

People like Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara, Dr. Paba Palihawadane who were part of the team that successfully managed the first wave but have been inexplicably sidelined could form part of the review committee with other relevant health officials.

There are clearly areas that need to be paid attention to which may reduce the number of COVID-19 patients at least by half. It may be wise to handle the opening up of the airports with a greater deal of care and caution than has been evident in the case of the Ukrainian tourists. The first group from Ukrainian had five or six testing positive on arrival although it was claimed that PCR tests had been done and the tourists receiving a clean bill of health prior to leaving Ukraine.

In Sri Lanka those who are in a lockdown area are not permitted to leave and go to an area which was not under lockdown. But ironically, the Ukrainian tourists were doing just that; leaving a lockdown area (Ukraine being under lockdown) and coming to Sri Lankan areas not under lockdown.

Even a member of the English cricket team has been detected with COVID-19. According to the Government the second wave originated from a Ukrainian pilot. Thus the opening up airports needs to be done with the utmost care to prevent the spread of the virus.

Any shortcomings in the procedures can result in a spreading of the virus from incoming tourists and visitors thus contributing to the increase in the number of COVID-19 patients.

The Government also needs to pay attention to other areas of potential spread of the virus. For instance there are reports of cinemas being opened and cinema-goers not maintaining physical distance. Also night clubs. Both cinemas and night clubs can hardly be said to be urgent needs at this point of time.

Another matter that needs the attention of the authorities is the fact that there are a large number of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel being afflicted with the virus which did not happen in the case of the first wave. Mercifully the doctors, nurses and other medical staff from the IDH Hospital have been spared and any review of the situation must look to see whether there are any lessons to be learned from there.

Recently the Government appointed 25 military officers to be in charge of COVID-19 related operations. One would have thought that such an objective would have been better served by medical officers who would have been better equipped for the task since the pandemic is basically a public health issue.

Recently, veteran Sama Samajist and eminent virologist Dr. Tissa Vitharana called on the fight against the COVID-19 virus to be made a national effort. This is a timely call and the Government would be well advised to rope in all sections of the country including political parties outside the Government making it a united effort that would strength the fight to contain the virus.

In an interview published in the Indian Express of June 30, 2020 Mr. Anil Jasinghe, then Secretary of the Health Services Director General, pointed out some of the reasons for the success in containing the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He credited Sri Lanka’s robust state-run free and universal healthcare system, through which it carried out a sustained battle against malaria successfully. He said that Sri Lanka’s public health system comprises a pyramidal structure with a network of primary health centres and district and tertiary hospitals.

“One has to build on what exists. Our strength was our public health system. The more a country develops, especially in the west, they simply get rid of their public health system. But in our case, we have a full-blown public health system — we have medical health inspectors, public health midwives, and so on, all over the country. There are clear levels of care and authority. Also, we have a nicely knitted medical care and hospital system. Generally, you get good doctors, good medical care in the government sector, and it is not something neglected in Sri Lanka. Every 1.5 km, you have a government health centre,” Dr. Jasinghe went on to say.

It is this very system that is even now in existence when fighting the second wave of COVID-19. Therefore there is no reason not to succeed unless we make mistakes that can be avoided. (


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