A new COVID-19 cluster is emerging in Sri Lanka with 252 patients being identified from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre to-date. The fresh cluster of infections came to light after a prisoner at the Welikada Remand Prison tested positive on Wednesday and sparked more testing at the Rehabilitation Centre where he had been kept. There are still no concrete details of how patient zero was infected at the Centre and the public have been cautioned to practise social distancing guidelines diligently.
A second wave of infections has been emerging around the world, most notable from the US where daily infections have continued to hit new highs of over 60,000 cases and deeply politicised the response to the pandemic. Neighbour India has also seen an uptick in infections and a resurgence of the virus has been seen from Brazil to Australia. Overall COVID-19 has infected a reported 12.16 million people globally and 550,242 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
The sheer scale of the disruption that another wave of COVID-19 could have on the social, political and economic fabric of Sri Lanka can hardly be overstated. The Government has been rightly applauded by all stakeholders for its response in containing the first wave swiftly and all citizens sacrificed during the curfew to combat the outbreak. Those efforts should not be in vain. It is essential that the Government steps up again to reinstate, as much as practically possible, social distancing measures, including encouraging companies to promote work from home options, and ensure the public is reminded of the dangers the country is facing.
The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) on Friday faulted the Government for relaxing social distancing measures too soon including allowing public gatherings, uncontrolled public transport, and widespread opening of recreational activities. It also observed that while movement is necessary, especially for economic activity, it also had the unintended consequence of people becoming very cavalier about maintaining physical distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
Therefore it is now essential to encourage the public to take COVID-19 seriously again. Over the last few weekends many people have taken trips and public places including religious spaces have become crowded to capacity. This is a worrying development and the Government will have to decide how to limit inter-district travel, unless it is for something important such as work, education or health-related matters.
It is essential at this point that the Government maintain transparency and health officials are allowed to convey the true situation to the public. Media should be given the opportunity to have access to ask questions from the top-most health officials and the Health Ministry so that free-flow of accurate information is consistent. This is especially important since Sri Lanka is in the middle of an election campaign, which could increase in intensity in the coming days. Schools are also set to reopen fully later this month as well.
Tourism is another aspect that needs to be carefully considered. The Government had earlier postponed the reopening of the airport but hotels have focused on attracting local travellers. Other industries are also gearing up to expand their activities. Given the sensitivity of the situation it is important that the Government reevaluate their stance on the COVID-19 outbreak and take necessary steps to contain its impact.