People remain susceptible and epidemics can easily re-ignite-WHO SL Rep
On 31 December 2019, the WHO Country Office in China was notified of pneumonia of unknown causes and this novel disease was renamed as COVID- 19 on 11 February 2020. At that time, this disease had already claimed over 1000 lives. A month later, on 11 March, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared COVID- 19 a pandemic. Currently, this disease has affected over 4 million people globally.
In the backdrop over its extremely infectious and virulent nature, countries across the globe have imposed lockdowns to aid in mitigating and curbing the disease. However, Dr Ghebreyesus in a recent media briefing stated that the WHO recognised the serious socio-economic effect of such measures and urged for a slow, steady, lifting of lockdowns.
Sri Lanka has currently released the islandwide curfew except in Colombo and Gampaha but has eased restrictions on civilian life in these two districts. Though the stringent measures to curb the disease has been relaxed, globally and locally, people are facing a ‘new normal’, a lifestyle starkly different to the one followed before the COVID- 19 outbreak. In this backdrop, Daily Mirror spoke to Dr Razia Pendse, the WHO Representative to Sri Lanka and Dr Palitha Abeykoon, former President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council and former Director of the WHO
South-East Asia region.
“Most of the world’s population remains susceptible and epidemics can easily re-ignite,”
– Dr Razia Pendse
Due to its extremely infectious nature as perceived from its global transmission, Dr Pendse echoed Dr Ghebreyesus stating that the virus could remain for a long time. “Most of the world’s population remains susceptible and epidemics can easily re-ignite.
Prevention and control measures will require whole-of-government and whole-of-society response,” she said adding that these measures included a high level of personal hygiene, physical distancing and restricting mass gatherings, which will cause a shift in norms.
"The WHO recognises the serious socio-economic effect of the imposition of a lockdown and urged for a slow, steady, lifting of same"
Commenting on the government’s response to the pandemic, she stated that due to the early preparedness and effective response Sri Lanka is currently at the stage of cluster transmission and measures should be taken to prevent it from reaching the community transmission stage. “Moving forward, we need to ensure that we keep up the public health and social measures; identify, test isolate and treat cases, do contact tracing and quarantine so that we can take care of the spurt in new cases quickly before they spread widely. Community education and engagement is vital to the success of this public health and social measures,” Dr Pendse remarked.
" People will have to modify their lifestyles and behaviour for a few years"
"If every person is conscious of how they can protect themselves and their families from contracting virus, then we can minimize the spread of COVID- 19,”
– Dr Palitha Abeykoon
Commenting on the lifting of the curfew, Dr.Pendse expressed that while preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 is a top priority in Sri Lanka, it is also important to ensure that the control efforts are balanced with efforts to safeguard livelihoods and ensure well-being. “All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimising economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights,” she stated adding that solidarity is one of the effective weapons to fight the virus and that there should be no place for stigma or discrimination.
“Slowly we have to move from virus centric approach to predominantly people-centric approach,”
– Dr Palitha Abeykoon
Explaining about the new normal, Dr Abeykoon stated that people will have to modify their lifestyles and behaviour for a few years due to the COVID- 19 as there is yet much unknown regarding the virus. He remarked that even after the production of a vaccine, it will take a few years for the whole world to receive the vaccine and bring about herd immunity against this virus in the global population. “Developing countries may not receive the vaccine immediately as it is produced unless there is a global plan to make it available.”
He also observed that international understanding and cooperation was of paramount importance for the exit strategy to work and urged that governments should gradually change their approach to control the virus. “Slowly we have to gradually move from virus centric approach to a predominantly people-centric approach. This transition will be hard but countries continuing the virus centric approach for long may find it difficult to restabilize and reactivate the economy. This could affect people’s lives.”
"Community education and engagement is vital to the success of this public health and social measures"
"Most of the world’s population remains susceptible and epidemics can easily re-ignite
– Dr Razia Pendse"
Pointing out that easing the curfew was one of the first steps taken to change the approach, Dr Abeykoon remarked that it should be done in a manner that wouldn’t leave any room to generate another wave of the outbreak. “To ensure this, individual citizens have to adhere to certain behaviour as stated by medical experts and observe proper personal and respiratory hygiene. If every person is conscious of how they can protect themselves and their families from contracting virus, then we can minimise the spread of COVID- 19,” he stated. To ensure such behaviour, people should be well- informed and empowered.
Speaking on the issue of asymptomatic carriers, he suggested that random testing has to be carried out as there was no other known methodology to detect carriers as of yet. But, that it is possible to minimise the risks of infection from carriers by wearing a mask, observing physical distancing and practising proper personal hygiene.
“It looks like we do not have community transmission yet, and for this, we have to commend the political leadership, the Ministry of Health and the defence services personnel and of course all of us who invested so much already. In order not to lose what we have achieved so far, we should take all precautions to not enter that stage which could overwhelm our health services. It appears that we’ve only one fairly large cluster as of now which is under control.
But I’m worried that with the opening of wine shops and taverns and similar instances whether we might risk yet another cluster and more,” he said adding that with easing curfew, the government should ensure that no opportunity is given for possible community transmission.
“Thus, we also have to ensure that strategies are in place to make certain that the COVID- 19 virus doesn’t enter the country when the ports of entry are re-opened for travel, causing a