The New Year opened with hopes of Sri Lanka reducing the COVID-19 threat and life returning to normal, but over the past few days the increase in patient numbers has renewed concerns of the virus causing more havoc.
Having started out the COVID-19 battle in an exemplary manner for a developing country, Sri Lanka is now in danger of seeing much of its early success and sacrifice unravelling as patient numbers grow higher each day with no appropriate response from either political or health leaders to keep people following healthcare guidelines and maintain social distancing. So far the only encouraging news the Government has been able to provide is that a vaccine is coming but the volumes are far too small and meanwhile the virus is spreading faster than before.
Over the weekend Colombo recorded the highest number of COVID-19 patients, sticking to its now largely-cemented status, but this is largely impossible to avoid given Colombo is the epicentre of the country’s economy. However, what is more worrying is that Sri Lankans and their establishments, including companies, are demanding people return to work, are rolling back safeguards and supporting the reopening of borders even though COVID-19 has now reached every single district in Sri Lanka.
New variants of COVID-19 are running rampant in Brazil and other parts of the world, with thousands of people dying. Hospitals in some cities are buckling under the strain and have run out of oxygen supplies. Families are desperate enough to attempt treating loved ones at home because they know it is the only chance. Reports of this nature should be a clarion call to local policymakers, especially given that even the Health Minister herself has been diagnosed with COVID-19, generating embarrassing global headlines.
But there is deep silence on the ground about these realities. COVID-19 is known for causing a loss of smell but this may be the first time it is responsible for mass deafness. It is well known that Sri Lanka’s medical structure is not equipped to deal major pandemic requirements such as high levels of ICU care. This was the whole reason why such stringent lockdowns were imposed early last year. There has been little indication that the health system has since been upgraded significantly to deal with a potential fallout from COVID-19 and yet there is no effort by the Government to step in and bolster the flagging virus response.
Plenty of research and other reports have warned that a vaccine will not be a permanent solution. For starters, scaling it up to the required 60% inoculation will take months, if not a year or longer. China managed to beat the virus before a vaccine because it strictly implemented health and social distancing guidelines. Sri Lanka with its fragile economy and limited resources cannot risk ignoring the obvious as the consequences will be swift and serious.
Doctors have already warned that an uptick in COVID-19 cases will eventually lead to a parallel increase in the number of deaths. In the US data has shown thousands of deaths could have been prevented if guidelines were strictly enforced. It would be a genuine national tragedy if Sri Lanka were to end up facing the same fate due to short-sighted policies after working so hard for so long.