HEALTH MINISTER PAVITHRA REVEALS 47,000 CHILDREN HAVE TESTED COVID POSITIVE Govt. rules out lockdown despite medical experts sounding alarm: ‘These two weeks will be crucial’ The glossy rainbow of hope that had briefly lit the highest echelons of state last week, with the Government intending to lift the last travel restriction between the provinces on [...]


Warning: COVID storm set to break in Delta’s dawn


  • Govt. rules out lockdown despite medical experts sounding alarm: ‘These two weeks will be crucial’

The glossy rainbow of hope that had briefly lit the highest echelons of state last week, with the Government intending to lift the last travel restriction between the provinces on Monday and the Public Services Ministry ordering all public servants to report to work from August 2, dissipated in the darkening mist when medical experts sounded the warning of an impending storm that stood poised to unleash an unprecedented wave of COVID infections and deaths.

Of course, warnings of the gathering doom had been made earlier, but the Government had remained blinkered to the brewing storm throughout its build up, with its focus in July concentrated on how to meet its one billion dollar international debt obligation which it finally did by the simple expediency of paying it off from the meagre US$ 4 billion foreign reserves, leaving fewer dollars in the kitty for essential imports.

Relieved of this great burden, which it hailed as evidence of the healthy state of the economy due to its skillful management, it adopted the upbeat attitude and determined to move into top gear to rev and kick-start the moribund economy.

With the vaccination campaign in full swing and the Health Ministry boasting record numbers of the Sinopharm given daily and the economy granted a new lease of life till next year’s scheduled debt payments of a further 1.5 billion dollars, the Government would have breathed a sigh of relief and believed the worst was over.

Setting the buoyant mood that it was all systems go for take-off, the Public Services Ministry cancelled all ‘work from home’ concessions granted to public servants to prevent COVID spread and ordered them all to return to work pronto on Monday.

THE HARROWING SCENE AT HOSPITALS: Pile of COVID misery huddled up in state hospital corridors

Announcing the new work regimen, the Ministry’s Secretary, J. J. Ratnasiri, said the President’s Secretary P.B. Jayasundera had said that a large percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated against COVID-19 has now been vaccinated, covering all districts in Sri Lanka. Since the majority of public servants have also been vaccinated, the priority should be given to restoring normalcy to the public service. As a result, he had been directed to revoke all circulars with regard to working from home.

It was the same for the last remaining travel restriction, the interprovincial travel ban, the first travel restriction to be imposed since 1 May. The ban was to be lifted on 1 August, with Transport State Minister Dilum Amunugama announcing last week that a limited number of SLTB buses, trains, and buses attached to the National Transport Commission will be assigned for inter-provincial operation from August 1.

But with its ear not to the ground situation, throbbing with COVID’s increasing galloping beat, the Government blithely waited for the largess of other nations to obtain vaccines for the people and vaccinate them if and when it arrived.

This wait and see policy of a beggared nation, which refuses to acknowledge its downfallen pecuniary state of existence boasting instead its grandiose vision for a splendorous Lanka, has aggravated the crisis, coupled as it was with an almost intransigent attitude to impose lockdowns to control the worsening situation for fear of risking the economy, an economy laid to waste by years of mismanagement and extravagance by successive governments.


Even when it was forced to impose restrictions on people’s movements, it did so halfheartedly, labelling it not as lockdowns but by the euphemism ‘travel restrictions’ and enforced it even more halfheartedly. To cover the lapses, the authorities could only harp on how important it was for the Government-issued health guidelines to be strictly observed and repeat this like a mantra to a mostly unvaccinated people whose primordial instincts are to socialise.

In a pandemic, it becomes imperative for a government to strictly curb through legal means this natural inclination of the human species to mingle freely with their fellow beings; and ensure that social interaction is kept to the bare minimum, confined to the most essential. Not to open the floodgates for the sake of the economy’s well-being alone.

The wages of a government’s sin, must perforce be paid by the people. Now having recklessly sown the wind, alas, it is the people who must reap the whirlwind. And, as the COVID Storm hovers menacingly above the land, medical experts warned the public this week to brace themselves for the imminent break of Delta’s dawn over all of Lanka.

On Monday the Sri Lanka Medical Association issued a statement warning the next two weeks will be crucial for the country.

SLMA President Dr. Padma Gunaratne said there is a possible risk of things going from bad to worse and warned: “We are heading to a crucial two weeks where a considerable number of Delta variant cases could be detected in the community.”

“The number of cases reported daily are due to limited number of PCR tests being conducted in a day. There are five times of active cases undetected in the community and the issue can’t be taken lightly.’’ She stressed: ‘’There are a fair number of active Delta variant cases undetected, especially in the Western Province. The number of COVID cases, deaths and symptomatic patients will definitely soar in future.’’

This was confirmed by Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi who told Parliament on Thursday there had been a surge in COVID cases and deaths. During the last ten days, she said, 591 people had died and 21,344 had tested positive. Minister Pavithra also revealed an alarming trend: 19,688 children under the age of ten had tested positive while 26,143 children between 10 and 18 had tested positive during this same period and a total of 14 children below 18 years of age had died.

State Minister of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana, also admitted that a health crisis was unfolding in Lanka, and warned the figure could double or treble in the coming two weeks. He also said, the severity of the disease among recently identified patients had increased the demand for oxygen and the Government was ready to import oxygen supplies to face the worsening situation.

The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) also considered it their bounden duty to alert the decision makers of the current grim situation and called for a review of ‘COVID restriction protocols in the wake of surging numbers.

AMS President Dr. Lakkumar Fernando said this week, “due to exponential rise in the number of oxygen dependent patients, the capacity to accommodate them has virtually reached its tipping point. With the increasing demand for oxygen, it will be a matter of few days to exceed the supply and hence resultant deaths due to lack of oxygen.”

Furthermore, Dr. Chanditha Jeewandara, Director of the Immunology Department at Jayewardenepura University, confirmed the worst fears that the Delta variant was spreading ultrafast in the Colombo area. His findings have revealed that whereas only 13 percent of COVID cases were infected with the Delta variant in the first week of July, the figure had shot up to 75 percent in July’s last week.

On Thursday, two major government hospitals went into a state of emergency after an influx of COVID patients strained its resources to the limit.

Galle’s Karapitiya Teaching Hospital Acting Director Dr. Shelton Perera declared a state of emergency and warned his hospital staff of the possible dangers of contracting the virus from the patients. The Ratnapura General Hospital Director, Dr. M.D.A. Rodrigo, also declared a state of emergency following an urgent COVID-19 meeting held at the hospital the previous day.

With hospitals overcrowding, with wards crammed with human misery to the hilt, forcing the sick and dying to lie huddled on corridor floors, before spilling out to even the hospital’s lawn to brave the elements, it became abundantly clear that the situation had taken a turn for the worse as predicted, and was heading on course to go out of control.

With the COVID crisis reaching boiling point, SLMA President Dr. Padma Gunaratne wrote direct to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to draw his attention to six salient points.

Briefly, the letter points out:

n The current vaccination drive cannot be expected to have an impact on curbing the current wave as the expected protection takes time to develop. Vaccine induced immunity is not highly effective in preventing infection caused by the fast spreading Delta variant.

n The crisis has led to severe overcrowding in hospitals. All intensive care unit beds and COVID wards are occupied by COVID patients and no medical facilities are available for seriously ill COVID patients. No beds for new patients. The frontline health workers are falling victim to the virus. Patients with other diseases, some requiring urgent life-saving measures are being denied treatment since the health service is overwhelmed with the COVID response.

n The Delta variant is highly transmissible and causes a more severe morbidity and higher mortality. Within a short period of time, the Delta variant will soon spread from the Western Province to other less-affected areas of the country. Thus Sri Lanka is on the cusp of a major COVID epidemic, far worse than we have previously experienced.

n Only stringent measures to restrict human movement and avoidance of crowds, combined with the health guidelines currently enforced and practised will have an impact on the current wave of the epidemic. Any lifting of travel restriction and gatherings, will greatly worsen the current extremely catastrophic situation.

The SLMA has urged the Government to protect the people from COVID illness and death, and called upon it to take immediate measures to strengthen the health system to deal with the ongoing epidemic.

SLMA Vice President Consultant Endocrinologist Dr. Manilka Sumanatilleke also chipped in. He said: “It should be noted that the virus spreads faster than our vaccination drive. Hence, we need to subtract this gap. For that, the only option is to impose travel restrictions in short term.’’

On Friday morning, a crucial meeting to discuss the COVID situation was held at the Presidential Secretariat with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presiding. Announcing the decisions taken to meet the rising pandemic threat, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said it had been decided not to impose any lockdown. However, as of Friday midnight, guests at weddings will be limited to 150 in a hall which has the capacity to hold 500 while mourners at funerals will be limited to 25 at any given time.

Yet, if there was one silver streak in the dark COVID cloud hovering above to unleash its worst, it was lit by the Deputy Director General of the Health Service, the bespectacled Dr. Hemantha Herath. Addressing a media conference on Wednesday at the Health Promotion Bureau, he appraised the current COVID situation and said, “the health authorities have been taking relevant steps after reviewing the situation time to time. We are currently on the move of facing the COVID-19 situation while maintaining a balance with economic and social aspects.”

Furthermore, he had a word of comfort to the distraught public and sought to assuage their worst fears by stressing — according to the Daily Mirror report — that: “Tight measures will be taken in due course if the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the country goes out of control.’’

Comforting, is it not, to know for certain whether the nation’s COVID Czar, Director General of the Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardena shares his deputy director Herath’s distaste for that old medical adage, ‘prevention is better than the cure’? The favoured practice of most countries, which are successfully handling the pandemic, is to take stern measures first to prevent the virus from running out of control, and not after when it has bolted from the stable.

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