If the post -20th amendment judiciary vigour in pardoning the politically connected suspects is extended to granting bail to less -well -to do remand inmates, lives can be saved
- Prisons are in heart of a looming Covid-19 pandemic and authorities seem to have no practical solution. The judiciary is of little help
- Sri Lanka cannot expect the current status quo to continue. In most accounts, the limited number of PCR testing is under-recording the actual toll in society
- The inmates reportedly panicked after PCR tests conducted
- In Mahara prison, inmates in remand custody demonstrated demanding bail and safer facilities
On Sunday, police responded to a riot in Mahara prison killing at least 8 inmates and
wounding 50 others.
The inmates reportedly panicked after PCR tests conducted there revealed a sizeable cohort of infections inside the prison. Altogether 183 Covid-19 cases were reported from the prisons during the weekend, of which how many were from the Mahara prison is not clear.
The country’s overcrowded prisons are now teeming with Covid-19 infections. According to the latest count, there are 1000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported from facilities of prisons department so far.
In Mahara prison, inmates in remand custody demonstrated demanding bail and safer facilities. The protest turned violent after the inmates held several prison guards hostage, set the prison facilities on fire, and during the mayhem, some inmates tried to escape, according to the police spokesman. Police and prison guards fired, killing and wounding scores.
Prisons are in heart of a looming Covid-19 pandemic and authorities seem to have no practical solution. The judiciary is of little help.
If the post -20th amendment judiciary vigour in pardoning the politically connected suspects is extended to granting bail to less -well -to do remand inmates, lives can be saved. Remand inmates account for the bulk of the population in overcrowded prisons.
Prisons are only one case of Sri Lanka’s flawed Covid-19 response, which is neither a show of political acumen nor militarized efficiency that the government and its spin-doctors paint it as.
Rather, Sri Lankan authorities are mimicking a fallacy that clouded the Indian response to the Covid-19 pandemic, when the self-righteous Indian authorities kept denying that India is in the community level transmission even after the country reached 1 million patients. That was in July, and since then, the number of confirmed cases has grown by 9 fold to 9.4 million and India has the world’s second-highest number of Covid-19 cases, which could be a lot higher if India can test at a comparable scale with developed nations or even China.
Sri Lanka’s early success in Covid-19 response was tainted by the premature jubilation and complacency induced by fewer PCR tests. On October first, which was barely two months ago, the number of active cases stood at 135 and the total number of cases at 3381. The average number of PCR tests were less than 2500 a da and randomized tests on vulnerable social groups that could well be the asymptomatic carriers of the virus were virtually zero.
The second wave emerged in one such group, factory workers. With the emergence of two clusters in an apparel plant in Minuwangoda and the Peliyagoda Fish Market, the toll of confirmed cases have soared. There are 3059 confirmed cases associated with Minuwangoda cluster and 16,883 cases related to the fish market as of 6 am yesterday, though attribution of these cases to the two clusters would well be oversimplifying or downplaying the nature of the spread of the virus. If the result of even a few random sample tests in the City of Colombo is any guide, it is in the middle of community transmission.
Sri Lanka’s response to the second wave of the Covid-19 has, if any, very limited impact. During the last ten days ending yesterday, the daily count of new cases exceeded 300 every day, and on most days, hovering around the mid 400. That is more than six weeks after the discovery of two clusters during the first week of October.
Since we relish at the idea of international comparison of our Covid-19 response, consider the following. In August, the Australians State of Victoria, of which Melbourn is part of, was recording a peak of 700 daily new cases. Then, the government there decided to adopt some of the most strict lockdown measures and it paid off. Since the lockdown was lifted, Melbourne had not reported a single case for the last four weeks. The danger of Sri Lankan complacency is that 400 some cases that are discovered daily could well be the tip of the iceberg. The lion share of the tests is conducted on the social circles and associates of the newly infected. 400 confirmed cases discovered from a daily average of 12,000- 13,000 PCR tests is a cause for alarm. Further worryingly is that tests conducted on random samples have produced a disturbingly high number of positive cases. On one instance, at least 30 people out of 100 people who are randomly tested in high-risk areas within the Colombo city were found COVID positive. Rosy Senanayake, Colombo Mayores says ‘when we conduct 991 PCR tests a day and detect 249 positive cases, it is a serious issue.
Sri Lanka can not expect the current status quo to continue. In most accounts, the limited number of PCR testing is under-recording the actual toll in society. With the current state of the virus spread, it is unlikely to be contained within the Colombo district much longer (unless it is already there and is spreading silently in other provinces.) Also, a daily caseload of 400 would not suddenly end. It is more likely to multiply without proactive intervention.
Sri Lanka has come to a point it has to reevaluate its Covid-19 response or soon it would be in a point of no return. It should begin with, admitting and communicating the true picture of the Covid- 19 spread in the country.
Second, it should restrategize the current approach. Why random sampling tests are still few and far between even after the Health Ministry has received a stock of Rapid Antigen Test kits is open to question. Rapid tests are ideal to gauge the social spread of the virus, and they work better when there is a high viral load- like the Covid variant that the epidemiologists say they have found in Sri Lanka’s second wave.
More tests would reveal a sober, but realistic picture of Covid-19 in Sri Lanka, which should be the basis of the government’s response. There, the government would also have to make hard choices, which is up to experts to decide. However, Sri Lanka can not expect to continue with the current status quo of Covid-19 is abundantly clear.
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