With all hospitals entrusted with the care of Covid-19 patients reaching capacity, Sri Lanka is facing a critical moment of action. Sri Lanka’s business capital Colombo and the Gampaha Districts are experiencing a surge in hospitalisations, despite a vaccine rollout that began early March this year. Sri Lanka on Tuesday surpassed 1,000 daily cases for the first time since the outbreak of the disease in the country in 2020. While Sri Lanka experienced relative success in controlling the disease during the initial wave, the recent outbreaks have tested the strength of the country’s healthcare system, as well as its government. State hospitals are brimmed with patients while medical authorities caution of a stronger virus strain, causing increased admissions of youth and children in Covid-19 care centres. Many are now finding fault with the government for permitting free movement of public during the April festivities.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) yesterday charged that the government had deliberately reduced the conducting of random PCR tests in Sri Lanka in an attempt to illustrate that the Coronavirus pandemic had been managed effectively. “The government had reduced the number of PCR tests conducted over the recent past,” JVP MP Vijitha Herath said.
“The government resumed the conducting of 15,000 PCRs per day only recently. That too, it is not being done properly. Since this number has been increased, we are now getting reports of more positive cases from all across the country, even from the remote villages,” he said.
“However, the most regrettable outcome of this inaction is the death reported from Mawanella. There was no space in the Intensive Care Unit to afford treatment for this patient which led to this death.” he said.
The MP was referring to the recent incident where a patient succumbed to Covid-19 due to the unavailability of intensive unit care at the Mawanella Base Hospital. The victim was identified as a sibling of a doctor employed in the same hospital. “There are only about 700 ICU beds in the hospital system of the entire country,” Mr. Herath said. “The consecutive governments of 73 long years have failed to improve the basic necessities of our hospital network,” he charged.
The MP also highlighted that the irresponsibility displayed by the leadership was primarily blamed for the dire situation Sri Lanka was today faced with. “The President was seen recently addressing a group of villagers, where he said that PCR tests were not necessary. He had said that instead of the PCR tests, the focus should be on the vaccine, which is the solution.” MP Herath suggested that this was a signal for government agents as well as the general public to throw caution to the wind. “The government simply disregarded its responsibilities!” he said.
“By conducting a less number of PCR tests than the required number advised by the medical authorities, the government attempted to convince the public that the spread of Covid-19 was on the decline. The public therefore was convinced that this was true,” MP Herath said.
“The subject minister for Covid-19 affairs, State Minister Sudarshani Fernandopulle herself said that recommendations were made to restrict travel. She said that those recommendations were based on medical facts. Dr. Fernandopulle, however, admitted that their recommendations were defeated,” Herath stressed.
“Therefore, we must question, who takes decisions overriding the decisions of the subject minister? Is this not the minister tasked with Covid-19 disease control?,” the JVP MP questioned, adding that this was a cause for concern. “Who is responsible for this negligence?” he queried.
The MP also noted that the move to allow inbound travel to Sri Lanka was a poor decision on part of the government. “The public were against this. Still the government took arbitrary decision. And again Minister Sudarshani Fernandopulle in Parliament briefed that Ukrainian travellers were responsible for the second wave. But the government took no heed,” he recalled.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna also did not fail to note the controversy surrounding the second dose of the Covishield vaccine. “The government also failed to provide the correct dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the correct time. About 900,000 doses were given during the first phase and the second dose was supposed to be given by April 1. The government has been completely negligent and their poor decision has ultimately caused great distress to people who are already in distress,” he said.
“Equip hospitals”, medical fraternity urges
Although professional medical bodies in Sri Lanka didn’t voice the shortcomings of the government, they had continuously cautioned the public as well as the government over the recent surge in Covid-19 cases.
While no official restriction has been imposed to restrict travel within the island, State Minister of Primary Healthcare Sudarshani Fernandopulle urged the public to limit movement. She also advised the public to be vigilant as the virus could spread through asymptomatic patients.
The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) yesterday in a media briefing reiterated the importance of imposing strict safety measures against Covid-19. GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando said if the number of patients exceeded the capacity of the hospital network, medical and health services staff would not be able to sustain the system. “It is important that measures are taken to increase the capacity of treatment centres, the number of beds in intensive care units and also ensure that adequate oxygen supplies are readily available,” he said.
Although we get about four or five patients every week, we have not recognised this as a cause for alarm, as this has been the case prevailing for some time now
At least four to five weekly admissions at LRH
Meanwhile the Director of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children (LRH) Dr. G. Wijesuriya said at least four or five patients were being identified as infected with the Coronavirus every week. Asked if there was an increase in the number of cases being reported, Dr. Wijesuriya said, there was no such increase observed at the LRH. “Although we get about four or five patients every week, we have not recognised this as a cause for alarm, as this has been the case prevailing for some time now. When a child is being identified as a Covid-19 patient, we alert the necessary authorities and direct them for quarantine,” he said. Galle Provincial Director of Health Services Dr. Chandima Siritunga speaking to the Daily Mirror said that more than 40 Covid positive schoolchildren were identified over the last two weeks in Galle. “This is a considerable number of positive cases among school children that we have been alerted about. However we do not believe that it is from a cluster. These students are from different areas and different schools in Galle. Therefore, we are not considering it as an outbreak,” he said.