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Surge in Covid-19 infections and entry of vaccines

6 February 2021 01:23 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sri Lanka has seen a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths since October last year. The number of deaths which stood at just 13 in October 2020 has now passed the 330 mark. The number of people contracting the disease which stood at 3,382 on 1 October, 2020 rose to 24,532 by 1 December, 2020 and to 66,409 by 3 February, 2021.


In the past two months alone, ‘Worldometer’ - a Covid monitoring site - on 30 January 2021 revealed, that between 1 December 2020 and 31 January 2021, 39,625 of our people had contracted the virus -- meaning in each of the months around 19,812 persons contracted the disease. An average of more than 630 persons a day.


During the first two days of this month figures published by government sources showed this number had increased to more than 800 on a single day.


Those charged with keeping the pandemic under control inform us on a daily basis that the pandemic has not reached community-spread levels. The sad reality however is that the authorities have not been able to keep the virus under control.


Fortunately our giant neighbour India, -- after the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) authorised the use of the Indian manufactured vaccine for local use -- generously donated 500,000 doses of the vaccine to our country. This despite the fact India itself stands in need of millions of doses to inoculate its over one billion population.


The magnitude of India’s generosity is immeasurable when one realises that over 10.8 million Indians have contracted the virus while more than 154,000 had died of the disease and millions still to be vaccinated. Despite this, neither the Indian people nor its parliamentarians have protested the donation India made to little Sri Lanka. China where the virus was first discovered was able to control its spread by strictly enforcing lockdowns and other stringent measures. It has also promised to donate 300,000 doses of its own vaccine to us.


Sri Lanka has also applied to the WHO for the Covid-19 vaccine under the COVAX programme. On 4 February 2021, State Ministry Secretary Specialist Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva said nine million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine, manufactured by Serum Institute of India have been ordered. He added that it was planned to bring the stock of vaccines to Sri Lanka within a month.


With the downturn in our country’s relations with India with regard to our government’s reneging from its commitments on the development of the East Container Terminal (ECT), we cannot be certain if our requirements of Covid-19 vaccines will be high on India’s priority list.  


Another question, which also arises, is why the COVAX agreement between Sri Lanka and the WHO was not signed earlier? For instance the vaccination of the Palestinian people (despite being under Israeli occupation) under the COVAX programme began on Tuesday, while health authorities here are expecting to receive it later this month! 


Russia has expressed its willingness to allow Sri Lanka to produce its own Covid-19 vaccine -- Sputnik V -- locally if the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) authorises it for local use.


Setting up a production unit will take time and the manufactured product will have to undergo testing before it can reach the market, and this will take time. If all works out according to health authorities’ expectations, we could expect a little over 10 million doses of the vaccine by end March. Unfortunately, with a population of over 21 million, the figures put forward by health authorities fall far short of numbers required to vaccinate a that amount of people.


In Germany -- a country with a much higher capacity to produce the Covid-19 vaccine; newspaper reports suggest that the vaccine would be initially limited to adults under 65, because of poor efficacy in older people.
What then will be the fate of Sri Lanka’s aging population?


According to the Census and Statistics Department almost 10.84 per cent of our population -- approximately 2,276,400 people -- was over 65 years in 2019. This number has grown since then.


As with the true status of the virus in the country, there is no clarity regarding the amount of vaccines which will reach this country in the next few months. The only certainty is that we have received a donation of 500,000 doses of the vaccine from India. When exactly will the other promised doses arrive? When will we be able to purchase the nine million doses the authorities have spoken of?


What is clear is that this country is facing a massive shortage of drugs necessary to protect its population.

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