SL can avert 18,000 deaths by Jan. 2022 if lockdowns are imposed: WHO experts

The 5th Independent Expert Group Meeting, convened by WHO Sri Lanka, has said Sri Lanka will be able to avert about 18,000 deaths by Jan 2022 only if the level of stringency is immediately increased similar to May 2021, for four weeks.

The experts have said that lockdowns will give authorities time to accelerate vaccination and achieve the level of protection following the second dose of vaccines, and enable the health system to recover from the overwhelming case load.

“Immediate actions are crucial and critical because it takes a few weeks before measures show a positive impact on the number of infections and hospital admissions. Any delay in implementation will lead to an increase in deaths and will require even more stringent measures with longer duration to regain control,” they said in their report handed over to the Health Ministry on Thursday.

They also recommended the government to; 1. Strictly enforce movement restrictions, including inter-district travel except for essential services. The effective implementation of these measures may require the enforcement of a curfew for a short period, in large geographic areas or nationally.

2. Restrict /cancel all public events for 3 weeks.

3. Provide care and protect the health workers and augment staffing in hospitals to minimize disruption of essential health services.

4. Develop and implement an effective communication plan to engage the public and to update them on the control measures.

5. Accurate reporting of both cases and deaths to get a better picture of the ground situation. May also use proxy indicators such as observed Test Positivity Rate (TPR), trends measured using weekly moving averages and time series analysis, mobility data, etc.

6. Prioritize vaccinating all those over 60 years old and those with comorbidities, preferably with Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca because even a single dose of these vaccines provides some degree of protection until the second dose is given.

Below are excerpts of the recommendations of the Expert Group: “The Experts noted with great concern the current surge in COVID-19, nearly overwhelming the capacity of the health systems to provide the required adequate care for the people. The trends given below indicate that Sri Lanka could soon face a health crisis of unprecedented proportions.

“Sri Lanka is showing a rapid increase in daily reported number of cases and deaths (111 deaths reported on 09 August 2021 representing a doubling of deaths in a short space of time).

” Bed occupancy rates at all levels of care facilities (over 85%) and ICU’s (over 90%) have increased progressively and is now in full capacity. Patients dependent on oxygen have significantly increased from 528 last week to 646 patients yesterday. If this trend continues, there is an inevitability of a serious shortage of oxygen supply and interruption of care.

“Many areas of the country show a high PCR test positivity rate of over 20%.

“As of 31 July 2021, more than 60% of sequenced samples are Delta variant, which is highly transmissible with a shorter incubation period. It is now the dominant variant in Western Province and will soon spread to other areas. Delta variant spreads rapidly as has been shown in several countries. The crisis will be magnified once Delta variant has spread countrywide because most of the other provinces are not as well vaccinated as the Western province.

” For the vaccine that is used most widely, community vaccination will take 2-3 weeks after the second dose to provide adequate protection from severe disease and death. As of 09 August, less than 15% of the population is fully vaccinated. The newly vaccinated, single-dose vaccinated or unvaccinated groups are at very high risk of severe illness and it is very likely that there will be further increase of cases and deaths, particularly in densely populated areas.

“Significant number of health workers are getting infected with a consequent pressure for curtailment and closure of services. All indications are that the “Amidst this situation, there is sustained high level of mobility and social mixing among population despite the nationwide restrictions (Oxford ‘Stringency Index’ was 85% (i.e. very effective restrictions in movement) in May, 49% in July and 29% by this week (i.e. dangerously low levels of movement restrictions).

The figure given in the Appendix and linked pdf shows a very clear inverse relationship between Sri Lanka’s stringency index value (black line) and the number of cases and deaths brown areas.”

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