The numbers being hit by COVID-19 are spiralling up rapidly and across Sri Lanka, health staff expressed grave concern that “soon” they may not be able to meet the burden. “We are on the brink of going beyond capacity,” staff from several hospitals not only in Colombo but also in the outstations said. A major [...]


Red flags over COVID-19 spread

On the brink of going beyond capacity, warn health staff, while many of those vaccinated get infected

The numbers being hit by COVID-19 are spiralling up rapidly and across Sri Lanka, health staff expressed grave concern that “soon” they may not be able to meet the burden.

“We are on the brink of going beyond capacity,” staff from several hospitals not only in Colombo but also in the outstations said.

Despite an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths some don't even take the precaution of wearing a mask. Pic by Indika Handuwala

A major worry was that they were now having “floor patients” and if they needed oxygen which seems to be the trend among hospital admissions, how the staff would manage.

The hospitals are under pressure, they stressed, seeking some response from the authorities to “defuse” this ticking time-bomb which many claimed was the fast-spreading fourth wave. This is not the time to relax whatever restrictions are in place.

There has been an exponential rise in COVID-19 patient numbers at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL), the Colombo South and Colombo North Teaching Hospitals and also the Kandy Teaching Hospital and the Negombo and Kalutara District General Hospitals, the Sunday Times learns, while those like the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID – IDH), Angoda, and the Homagama Base Hospital as major treatment centres were full-up.

Although genetic sequencing is needed to confirm whether it is the Delta variant, the spread certainly seems to be caused by it, many said, expressing grave concern over the number of fully-vaccinated healthcare staff falling victim to the virus.

When asked about this dangerous trend, Friday’s media briefing by the Health Promotion Bureau was told that healthcare staff needs to practise measures to ensure that they do not get infected.

The Sunday Times sought the number of vaccinated people (either with one dose or both doses) who had got COVID-19, but was told that though the Health Ministry had the numbers, the officials did not have it at hand on Friday.

Some data to think about:

n In the eight days July 21 to 28, the death toll was 407

n In the same period, 5 people under 30 years of age died of COVID-19

n Currently, there are 224 treatment centres for COVID-19 with 32,831 beds of which 26,491 are occupied

n 77 Intensive Care Unit beds across the country were occupied as at July 29

n 14,147 RT-PCR tests were done on July 29

Many healthcare staff urged: “Do something. Bring about some restrictions,” as theSunday Times heard of a few deaths of young people as well as some others being in critical condition who are “not doing well”.

These dire warnings came as reports from the west indicated that the Delta variant may be as contagious as chickenpox.

Citing a Centres for Disease Control (CDC) report in America, the media stated that the Delta variant may be more transmissible than the viruses that cause the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu and smallpox.

Worse news followed – that Delta may be spread by vaccinated people as easily as the unvaccinated.

While the world and Sri Lanka await confirmation of such information, many pleaded that the authorities in this country should not wait until the Delta horse has run amok, but take action immediately. The sharp rise in infections is a red flag the country needs to heed urgently.

“Act now or it may be too late,” they added.

At a glance

Information in snippet-form from the media briefing at the Health Promotion Bureau (HPB) on Friday.

The officials who participated were HPB Director Dr. Ranjith Batuwanthudawe; Head of the Disaster Preparedness and Response Division, Dr. Hemantha Herath; and Family Health Bureau Director Dr. Chitramalee de Silva.

There are adequate oxygen supplies currently even though there is a spike in infection numbers. The need is to curb the spread of the disease urgently.

If a person has not got his/her first dose of vaccination in an area which has had extensive vaccination coverage, he/she should contact the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) of the area and get a date and time to get the jab

If a person is vaccinated and planning to go abroad, contact the MOH, get an appointment and take the supporting documents [passport, NIC, vaccination card, relevant documents indicating the need for the journey (university letter, job offer, etc.)] to get a computer generated certificate.

With Breastfeeding Week being commemorated from August 1-7, a reminder that even if new mothers get infected with COVID-19 or take the vaccine, they can continue to breastfeed their babies.

From the beginning of the pandemic up to now, 2,400 expectant mothers have contracted COVID-19, while 14 of these mothers have died mostly in the third wave.

Thirteen children under the age of five years have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vaccination & those vaccinated as of July 29:

  • AstraZeneca – around 700,000 doses were due to arrive around 5 p.m. yesterday (July 31). Health officials assured that priority will be given to all those who are awaiting their second jab, when this stock arrives.

So far 385,885 have got fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca and 539,357 are awaiting their second dose.

  • Sinopharm – 1,663,421 have got fully vaccinated and 5,525,271 are awaiting their second dose.
  • Pfizer – 194,101 given the first dose
  • Moderna – 711,793 given the first dose
  • Sputnik V – 14,503 have been fully vaccinated and 144,578 are awaiting their second dose.

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