The independent group of experts convened by the World Health Organisation in a report released last week have alerted the country to the prospect of 30,000 deaths by January 2022 unless immediate action is taken to halt the spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus within the country. In their report the experts [...]


Health emergency: Why Opposition Leader should assist Govt.


The independent group of experts convened by the World Health Organisation in a report released last week have alerted the country to the prospect of 30,000 deaths by January 2022 unless immediate action is taken to halt the spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus within the country.

In their report the experts noted with great concern the current surge in COVID-19, nearly overwhelming the capacity of the health systems to provide the required adequate care for the people. They have pointed out that current trends indicate that Sri Lanka could soon face a health crisis of unprecedented proportions unless stringent and immediate action is taken.

Sri Lanka is showing a rapid increase in daily reported number of cases and deaths (111 deaths reported on August 9, representing a doubling of deaths in a short span of time). The report has also drawn attention to the fact that significant number of health workers are getting infected with a consequent pressure for curtailment and closure of services. All indications are that the health staff are exhausted and struggling according to the report.

Analysing the health situation in the country, the group of experts outline a series of recommendations to avert such a calamitous situation with the clarion call “the time to act is now.” The report claims that the key observations and recommendations outlined in the document represents the consensus achieved by the national experts at the meeting.

This is probably the first report which reflects the collective expertise of the national health experts in a document and contains a series of comprehensive observations and recommendations which any sensible Government would do well to follow in the larger interest of the people.

In the report the experts say: “Our urgent priority is to save lives. Sri Lanka will avert about 18,000 deaths by January 2022 if the level of stringency is immediately increased similar to May 2021 for four weeks.”

The report adds:

This will give the required time to accelerate vaccination and achieve the level of protection following the second dose of vaccines; as well as for the health system to recover from the overwhelming case load.

Immediate actions are crucial and critical because it takes a few weeks before measures show a positive impact on the number of infections and hospital admissions.

Any delay in implementation will lead to increase in deaths and will require even more stringent measures with longer duration to regain control.

The report also sets out the following detailed recommendations that Sri Lanka should follow:

Strictly enforce movement restrictions, including inter-district travel except for essential services. The effective implementation of these measures may require the enforcement of a curfew for a short period, in large geographic areas or nationally.

Restrict /cancel all public events for three weeks.

Provide care and protect the health workers and augment staffing in hospitals to minimise disruption of essential health services.

Develop and implement an effective communication plan to engage the people and to update them on the control measures.

Accurate reporting of both cases and deaths to get a better picture of the ground situation.

Prioritise vaccination for all those over 60 years old and those with co-morbidities, preferably with Pfizer, Moderna or Astra Zeneca, because even a single dose of these vaccines provides some degree of protection until the second dose is given.

Despite the fact that the experts have spoken there is no indication that the Government will act on their recommendations. While there is acceptance all round that the situation is grave there is no indication that the Government is inclined to take stringent action to deal with the situation.

The Sri Lanka Medical Association and the Association of Medical Specialists have for the past several weeks been calling for a lockdown but to no avail. When the whole country was expecting a lockdown this weekend, the Government’s only response was to announce that it would enforce strict inter-provincial travel restrictions.

In a situation where the Government stubbornly shows a reluctance to take decisive action in the face of a national health emergency to protect the lives of the country’s citizens, it behoves the leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa to intervene and take suitable action.

The leader of the Opposition, who is very much part of the governance structure in a Parliamentary form of Government, has several roles to play. He has not only to raise the issues affecting people, give expression to their concerns and make suggestions, nudge and persuade the Government to address the grievances of the people particularly in life and death situations like the current public health situation in the country.

Sajith Premadasa in his capacity as leader of the Opposition (not as leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya) can immediately take steps to form a Committee entitled “national committee to assist the Government in the fight against COVID-19.”

He should invite representatives of all political parties in Parliament, representatives of the Government, representatives of health professionals and other relevant stakeholders and representatives from the Armed forces and other individuals with special expertise including Professor Tissa Vitharana and Professor Malik Pieris, to participate in its deliberations.

Such a national committee will constitute a “whole of country effort” and can monitor and make suggestions to Government as well as keep the people informed through regular bulletins. Although the importance of the public cooperating with the authorities in addressing the pandemic has been stressed there is no official and regular briefing from the Government as a result of which the people are often confused with the mixed signals given by Government.

While the idea of a national committee constituted by the leader of the Opposition might seem unorthodox, desperate situations often require desperate remedies. It might help to save 18,000 lives. (


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