There is consensus across the board that the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka is taking a turn for the worse. The Sri Lanka Medical Association and the Association of Medical Specialists have been sounding the alarm for quite some time now and have been urging the Government to take immediate action to arrest the situation. [...]


Govt. must heed call to impose travel restrictions to protect hill country from Delta


There is consensus across the board that the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka is taking a turn for the worse.

The Sri Lanka Medical Association and the Association of Medical Specialists have been sounding the alarm for quite some time now and have been urging the Government to take immediate action to arrest the situation. There have been calls from many quarters even to the extent of calling for a lockdown.

President of the College of Medical Laboratory Scientists (CMLS) Ravi Kumudesh, has also pointed out that the delta variant was worsening and that neither the Government nor the people should let their guard down just because the vaccination process had picked up.

Mr Kumudesh said they had warned in early July that a new wave would emerge within four weeks, if the Health Ministry did not increase PCR testing and gene sequencing. By July the collection of samples, even at hospitals, had dropped significantly. There was also no attempt to test potential hotspots and preempt any outbreaks, Mr Kumudesh said.

One of the prudent decisions taken by the Government was to enlist the services of the Armed Forces in the vaccination process. As a result the pace of vaccinations has accelerated after the initial delay of the Government delaying the ordering of the vaccines.

Another vital step in the process of containing the spread of the delta variant is to persuade the demonstrators in the streets to call of their mass mobilisation until the situation improves. The Government needs also to take steps to diffuse the situation by addressing the grievances of the teachers.

The Government for its part has been slow to act and seems to be reluctant to impose a lockdown probably due to the fear of any economic fallout.

In view of the seriousness of the developing situation, it is paramount that the Government looks back at its handling of the pandemic and take corrective steps where necessary to prevent the situation worsening.

One of the most serious shortcomings in the handling of the pandemic by the Government has been its refusal to get all sections of the country involved in what is clearly a national health emergency. If there is such a closing of ranks there can be sharing of ownership of the national effort and the Government can draw on the views of all sections of society both in the health sector and outside.

This tendency to want to go it alone is visible in the reluctance of including even Dr. Tissa Vitharana, a leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), a constituent party of the Government despite him having tremendous experience as a virologist with the World Health Organisation (WHO) for more than thirty years.

The Opposition has been making several offers of support and even making various suggestions with regard to the handling of the pandemic. The Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa early into the pandemic kept urging the Government to start to access vaccines while former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe kept drawing the Government’s attention to the importance of testing. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Dissanayake too has been drawing the Government’s attention to the need to take adequate steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

On Friday Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District Parliamentarian Lakshman Kiriella made an important suggestion. According to him the delta variant had not penetrated the Central Province and he therefore called upon the Government to ensure travel restrictions to that part of the country to prevent the delta variant entering the hill country.

This is a simple suggestion which can easily be implemented and save a substantial section of the population from being afflicted with the virus.

If the Government is reluctant to share the burden of managing the pandemic with the Opposition and other relevant health specialists, it could at least enlist their services by appointing an advisory body comprising such people to obtain their input and advise the Government.

Another drawback of the COVID-19 pandemic management programme is the lack of transparency. There is no information in the public domain as to who the members of the COVID Management Task Force are. There is no information as to whether all the relevant medical professionals and representatives of the leading doctors associations are part of the decision making process.

The role of the Health Ministry and the officials is also not clear. Often at media conferences, one hears Health Ministry officials saying they have recommended a particular course of action but it was up to the Government to decide. This raises the question whether the Health Ministry is not part of the Government and where decisions are being made.

The predicament faced by Health Ministry officials is reflected by the statement made at a media conference by Health Services Deputy Director General Hemantha Herath on Friday. He said he might not be allowed to speak to the media again if he spoke candidly about the trajectory of the pandemic in the coming days.

Dr. Herath made this statement when a journalist asked him to comment candidly on the situation Sri Lankans would face in the coming days.

It is unfair to put the Health Ministry officials to face the people and answer questions on decisions which they are not party to making. In this context the call by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for the Cabinet to take over the responsibility for COVID-19 related decisions assumes some significance.

Following the JVP insurrection of 1971, the Government held daily press conferences to keep people informed of what was happening. It is vital that the Government follow this example and have a daily briefing on the situation by the Health Minister or some top spokesman with regard to the situation. Other countries too have adopted the practice of having a top Government spokesman briefing the people daily on the situation.

This is all the more important when it is difficult to understand certain decisions taken by Government. Even the response to the current situation is difficult to understand. The only change in the health guidelines seem to be the restrictions of the number of people attending weddings and funerals. One would have expected a much stronger response from the Government. (

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