SL facing just beginning of Delta crisis – expert

By Rathindra Kuruwita

COVID-19 had reached the community spread stage in the Western Province, some parts of the Northern Province and in the Galle and Matara districts, Prof. Manuj C. Weerasinghe, Head, Department of Community Medicine said on Thursday. He is also involved in the ‘904’ SMS-based system to manage home quarantined Covid-19 patients.

Prof. Weerasinghe said that naming clusters, i.e. Avurudu Pokura, Malu Market Pokura, etc., no longer made any sense as the country was only at the beginning of the crisis created by the Delta variant

“We are only seeing the beginning. We must not dupe ourselves into thinking that we are near the end of the crisis created by Delta,” he said,

Prof. Weerasinghe said that there was no point in talking about the official figures, or planning based on the numbers at their disposal. Making assumptions based on these numbers will only lead to trouble, he said.

“We have to look beyond the numbers and understand the dynamics of the real world. We can safely assume that if there is one COVID positive person in the house, most of the other members too are infected. Given that it’s not easy to get tested, other family members won’t be in the official statistics. This is not only a health crisis but also the beginninf of a social crisis,” he said.

Moreover, in most Sri Lankan households, young people of 18 liveed among senior citizens and thus, the medical attention they need differed, he said, adding that no one had thought of what happened after the travel restrictions were lifted. “Given that we have not imposed a curfew to ensure that people remain in their homes, the effectiveness of the current lockdown is questionabl,” he said.

“Is there a way to enforce effective travel restrictions short of a curfew? It’s good if there is such a method. It’s even better if people stay home when they are asked to do so. However, we know this is not how things happen in the real world. There is a segment of people who will try to do the opposite of what they are advised to do. We have to take severe action because there are such people,” he said.

The extension of the lockdown for another week had given the government and health officials time to decide what they want to achieve during the lockdown, he said. Having objectives and benchmarks were important because it showed what the government wanted to achieve with the lockdown and gave everyone an opportunity to think beyond the lockdown, the Professor said.

“The lockdown has given us breathing space. We must think whether we should revitalize inactive systems or to create new systems to ensure that most people don’t need to travel after the lockdown is lifted. Now people are home and we expect things are going well. There is no planning and when restrictions are lifted, there will be a bit of normalcy for a few days. Then the cases will go up again and we will have to lockdown. This is not a sustainable system,” he said.

The government and most of its detractors were focused on the pros and cons of locking down the country. However, what mattered more was what the country had done to prepare itself to post lockdown context, he said.

“What have we done in the last seven days? Do we have systems in place for people to work and live without coming into contact with each other? At this rate, the social crisis created by COVID-19 will grow rapidly and once we hit a critical point, we will have no options left,” he warned.

MePrimary Health Services Director Dr. Priyantha Atapattu said that the real cases were at least five times more than the reported cases and whether Sri Lanka could return to some sort of normalcy would depend on whether the society could be mobilized to fight the pandemic.

“People are the vector and we have to find a way to keep them home,” he said.

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