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Living with Covid-19 - EDITORIAL

5 July 2021 05:04 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The first patient diagnosed with the dreaded coronavirus as we knew it at that time, or the Covid-19 as it has been ‘rebranded’ today hit this country on January 27, 2020, after a 44-year-old Chinese female from Hubei was admitted to the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH). By 20 March, the total cases in the country had risen to 70 and on the same date, the government imposed a lock down in an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic. 
By end March, 45 quarantine centres had been built and around 3,500 persons placed in quarantine. 

The Global Response to Infectious Diseases (GRID) Index -set up by the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA) of Australia to evaluate the response and leadership shown in each country to develop the Global Response to Infectious Diseases, which evaluates how efficient and effective the leadership of the country and the preparedness of its health system were in tackling COVID-19 pandemic ranked Lanka 9th in the GRID Index. 

While swift measures enacted by the government helped contain the first wave of Covid-19 successfully, these measures hit sectors like tourism, construction, and transport especially hard, while collapsing global demand impacted the textile industry adversely.

With the pandemic seemingly controlled in May, the lockdown was lifted, but in October disaster struck. A second wave was reported in early October emanating from an apparel factory in Minuwangoda. When the second wave struck there were only 3,396 cases with just 13 deaths. 

In the face of economic disaster, the country’s economy contracting by 3.6% in 2020 (the worst growth performance on record), as was the case in many countries fighting the pandemic. The strict disciplines enforced during the early stages of the pandemic, could not be employed. By end October, Covid-19 cases crossed the 10,000-mark with 20 deaths reported. 

Today we have 262,795 active cases countrywide with 3,157 fatalities. ‘Statista’ reveals only 12.6% of our population had been inoculated as of June this year.  So how will we tackle this pandemic? The tracing, quarantine, lockdown, method has not worked for us.

Singapore has set up a task force with a different take on controlling the disease and the means to overcome it. 
Referred to as ‘Living normally with Covid-19’, the task force comprising Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung say, “the bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live with it in our midst.”  

They propose scrapping lockdowns and mass contact tracing, allow for a return to quarantine-free travel and the resumption of large gatherings. Not just that, it even wants Singapore to stop the count of daily Covid-19 cases. The task force proposes changing the pandemic into something less threatening, to something like influenza, foot and mouth disease, or chickenpox. 

 To implement the idea, Singapore aims to increase its vaccination rate and fully vaccinate two-thirds of its population by early August, in the belief that vaccines reduce the risk of infection as well as transmission. Even if you are infected, the vaccines will help prevent severe Covid-19 symptoms. 

To sustain a high level of protection and to defend against new mutant strains resistant to current vaccines, they suggest, booster shots in the future, to sustain a comprehensive, multi-year vaccination programme.
The Singapore model rejects collation of daily Covid-19 infection numbers. Instead, the country will focus on outcomes - how many falls very sick, how many in the intensive care unit, how many need to be incubated for oxygen etc. 

Testing, the task force says, will be for different reasons. Rather than for quarantining people exposed to infected persons, it would be to ensure that events, social activities and overseas trips can take place safely; as well as to reduce transmission risks. The Singaporean plan is bold, its different and could help get the world back to a pre-Covid life. A life without quarantines and strict Covid-19 rules. 

Our own Sri Lankan experience has shown the vulnerability of the western strategy which does not work especially with new variants propping up frequently. The Singapore model is different and the math seems to add up, but it requires everyone following the rules and an elimination of political interference in the programme. 
Do we have the courage or the will to attempt something different? The current model does not seem to work for us anyway.
Perhaps it’s time to look east for solutions.

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