The Pandemic is Intensifying in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka announced a 10-day lockdown starting on Friday in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, as infections and deaths are overwhelming the island’s health system.

The Indian Ocean nation recorded its highest single-day death toll of 187 and 3,793 cases on Wednesday.

“Nationwide Lockdown in effect from 10pm today (20/08) to Monday (30/08). All essential services will function as normal,” Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said on Twitter.

A junior minister Channa Jayasumana called the Delta variant “a powerful bomb which has exploded in Colombo and is spreading elsewhere.”

At one morgue in Colombo, workers tested 15 corpses for Covid-19 and then cremated them to clear the way for more bodies. A Colombo magistrate ordered the immediate disposal of 40 corpses that remained unclaimed by the next of kin. The Colombo Municipal Council has also begun mass cremations and burials to clear a backlog after hospital mortuaries ran out of refrigeration space for bodies.

Sri Lanka has seen an alarming surge in COVID-19 deaths since mid-July, with daily infections also on the rise. Health authorities suspect the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is behind the rapid spread.

Though the vaccine rollout has progressed considerably, with the government declaring that 95 percent of the over-30 population has received at least one jab, the delta surge has led fears of a worsening crisis as hospitals are already overflowing with patients.

Epidemiologist Dr Ravindra Rannan-Eliya warned on August 9 that, if the situation was not contained, Sri Lanka’s ongoing third wave of COVID-19 may end up taking over 20,000 lives by the end of 2021.

The immediate imposition of curfew will prevent at least 1,200 additional deaths within the next 20 days, Professor of Community Medicine, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Professor Suneth Agampodi has stressed. He said on his Twitter that a five-day delay in decision making will be an “involuntary manslaughter” of at least 700 people.

Professor Agampodi expressed these views based on the SL Covid prediction model.

Claiming that the Covid-19 deaths have increased by 48.8 percent, State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and COVID-19 Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said the country was at risk at the moment. She urged the public not to leave their homes except for urgent matters.

Amid this growing turmoil on the pandemic front, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is expected to reshuffle the cabinet with changes likely to key ministries, including Foreign Affairs and Health.

The others set to undergo portfolio changes include Education, Tourism, Power, and Media, the Daily FT learns. Education Minister G.L. Peiris is slated to be the new Foreign Minister while Dinesh Gunawardena, who currently holds the post, is tipped to be made the Minister of Higher Education. Ramesh Pathirana, who is the Minister of Plantation Industries, is tipped to be the new Health Minister with his portfolio going to Keheliya Rambukwella. The Media Ministry, which Rambukwella holds, is tipped to go to Dullas Alahapperuma, who is the Minister of Power. The Power Ministry is to go to current Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga is tipped to be the new Education Minister.

What remains to be seen is if this switching up of portfolios is going to translate into active and immediate change with regards the increasingly dire situation in the country, because for every person living in Sri Lanka at the moment, statistics have turned into family and friends, and the spread of Delta is an echo of the catastrophe the world saw a few months ago in India.

Vaccinations will curb mutations in the virus; but the question remains as to whether the virus is faster than our drive to vaccinate.

The writer is a lawyer, teacher and political commentator based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She can be reached on Twitter @writergirl_11