Amid fourth wave fears, Sri Lanka to widen vaccine net

In the midst of a sharp rise in daily COVID-19 infections and fatalities during the past week, Sri Lanka has decided to widen its vaccination drive, rather than locking down the country during a severe economic crisis.

Health authorities reported 156 deaths on Wednesday, the highest single-day tally recorded in the country so far. Daily cases are at an average of 3,000, comparable to the surge in May, when Sri Lanka experienced its third wave and identified the Delta variant within the community.

Also Read: Coronavirus | Sri Lanka reports delta variant amid a daunting third wave

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday instructed health officials to pay “special attention” to persons aged over 60 years, and suffering from “chronic non-communicable diseases”, according to a statement from the Presidential Media Division. His orders follow an analysis of recent COVID-19 deaths, the statement said. The government has resisted a complete lockdown this year, citing the economic strain on the people and the national economy.

However, medical professionals have called for urgent measures, including strict mobility restrictions, to contain the current spike in cases that, they say, is already burdening the country’s health sector.

A group of senior medical experts, who attended a recent meeting convened by the WHO’s local office, have observed that thousands of deaths could be averted if “strictly enforced” movement restrictions are in place and all public events are cancelled for at least three weeks, in a note seen by The Hindu.

According to the Institute for Health Policy, a Colombo-based research institution, the PCR-test positivity rate was 16.7% on August 12. For the past two months, Sri Lanka has been administering less than 2000 PCR tests a day, its data showed.

“Despite home quarantine and treatment of patients being allowed now, we are unable to cope with the load of patients at hospitals,” public health specialist Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne told The Hindu. “The political leadership is deciding on the strategy, the military is largely handling the operational part, but health experts should have a bigger say in the decision-making process,” he said.

Last week, the Sri Lanka Medical Association warned the government of a “rapid escalation” in cases, reaching an “extremely serious point”, especially in the Western Province, where Colombo is located. “Insufficient coverage” among those below 30 years and the vaccines’ limits in preventing the Delta variant could compound the challenge, the medical professionals said in the note.

Just over 4 million people, or about a fifth of the country’s population, have received both doses of the vaccines so far. A majority of them received China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

Also Read: COVID-19 vaccination top priority in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority North and East

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 11:45:18 AM |

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