Sri Lanka is still on the brink of a second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, following the detection of more than 500 coronavirus infected persons at the Kandakadu and Senapura rehabilitation centres for drug addicts early this month and among their relatives. Although it seems that the authorities with the help of the Army intelligence officials have detected almost all contact persons of those infected at the rehabilitation centre – inmates and the counsellors, one cannot rule out the possibility of undetected infected persons from the second and third generation of infection still being in the society.
This is really a threat of another wave of spread of the disease. Given the tremendous sacrifices people made by way of losing income, losing jobs, being deprived of education opportunities for their children and taking great pains to follow instructions of the Health Ministry, during the first wave, it would be very difficult for the people to endure another wave. It would also be a disaster, in respect of the country’s economy.
It was through an intense collective effort by the government, the health authorities and workers, armed forces, police and especially the people, that the first wave of COVID-19 epidemic in the country had been brought under control, to a large extent. Sri Lanka was one of the few success stories with regard to controlling the spread of the pandemic, until July 7 when an inmate brought from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre was tested positive for COVID-19 at the Welikada prison. Dashing hopes of the government and the people to be proud of being free from the deadly disease, while the so-called world powers are struggling to cope with the situation, a string of detection of infect persons started to be reported from July 9 from the rehabilitation centres at Kandakadu and Senapura and various other places in the country.
It is obvious that it is again through another round of intense collective efforts and sacrifices by all stakeholders including the masses that the country would be able to overcome the situation. Already the government has announced several measures including closing of schools and postponing of examinations for students. Each and every stakeholder holds a great importance in this exercise and the role of any partner cannot be belittled or treated as insignificant. It is against this backdrop that we have to look into the current boycott of duties related to COVID-19 control by the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs).
If the PHIs have launched their trade union action demanding a salary increment or any perk, it would and should be treated as inappropriate and condemned, at this juncture when people are undergoing great economic hardships. As the National Election Commission (NEC) asserted the need of the health guidelines for the August 5 Parliamentary election being gazetted, the PHIs demand certain legal recognition and protection for their profession.
According to Sri Lanka Public Health Inspectors’ Union (SLPHIU) President Upul Rohana, the members of his union have not been legally authorised to perform the duties they have been performing to control the spread of COVID-19 since March this year and the Health Minister can solve this problem simply with a gazette notification. Responding to an alleged statement made by Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchci that such authorization would lead to harassment of the public, the SLPHIU Secretary B.M.M. Balasuriya had said that they are seeking powers only to carry out the same activities they have been doing so far and nothing else. He had pointed out that any infected person or a contact person can challenge a PHI now, personally or before a court of law, if the former is asked to undergo self-quarantine by the latter, as the latter is not properly authorized under the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance (QPDO) to do so.
One cannot deny the service done by the PHIs in bringing COVID-19 under control in the country and they are an important component in the machinery that was used against the pandemic at the grass-root level. At a time when the country is facing the threat of a second wave of the deadly disease, it is pertinent to resolve the issue without wasting time.