News

Covid-19: Still not out of the woods

 

  • Likelihood of restrictions if outbreak occurs
  • Health expert notes importance of guidelines in ‘new normal’
  • Onus on public to follow guidelines to mitigate virus spread
  • No new Covid mutations detected last week

By Yoshitha Perera 

As Sri Lanka reported around 700 daily Covid-19 cases last week, health officials raised concerns about the likelihood of another outbreak in the coming months.

Although the country has made significant headway in containing the spread of Covid-19, the threat of another outbreak remains. The public is continuously reminded by the health authorities to follow the health guidelines while adjusting to the new normal.

Citing a high likelihood of new strains of the virus entering the country, which could exacerbate the spread of Covid-19, Health Promotion Bureau (HPB) Director Specialist Dr. Ranjith Batuwanthudawa, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said that the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) would review the current health guidelines tomorrow (15). He went on to say that if things got out of hand and new strains emerged, the Government would have to resort to lockdowns in the coming months.

“The current guidelines would apply until 15 November. At the time, we will have to evaluate the situation, and new guidelines will be issued based on that. If things really get out of control and if there are new strains, then we would have to opt for lockdowns once again,” he said.

Responding to a query on new mutations, Dr. Batuwanthudawa said that new mutations were not detected so far. However, the University of Colombo and the University of Sri Jayewardenepura were constantly monitoring the situation. “The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicted that the Delta-Plus variant would be the dominant variant and the entire world is focusing on that,” he said.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, University of Sri Jayewardenepura Allergy, Immunology, and Cell Biology Unit Director Dr. Chandima Jeewandara also confirmed that no new Covid-19 mutations were detected in the country thus far.

Dr. Batuwanthudawa added: “The public appear to be having problems comprehending how to incorporate the ‘new normal’ into their daily routine and lifestyle.” He claimed that less people were following the health guidelines and added that the owners of commercial facilities needed to pay special attention to this issue. 

“People need to understand that the risk of infection is higher in an enclosed space. Another important thing to take note of is that, more than just checking the temperature, establishments need to make sure they provide people with facilities to wash their hands before entering the establishment. Washing your hands and wearing a mask are the two most important things,” he said. 

Dr. Batuwanthudawa went on to say that, at this point, it is crucial to continue monitoring and evaluating while going about one’s daily routine. He stated that rural areas were at risk, and that clusters were frequently reported from rural locations.

Responding to a query on making the Covid-19 vaccination card mandatory when visiting public places, Dr. Batuwanthudawa said that the Health Ministry was looking into the legal implications of that procedure. “I feel it is something that does not need to be enforced onto people, but rather something they must practice,” he opined.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union (PHIU) President Upul Rohana predicted another Covid-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka, adding that the country had recorded over 700 new cases daily within the last few days.

“It is up to the people to determine whether or not they need another lockdown. If there is another lockdown, it will lead to serious consequences for the country’s economy as well as our children’s education. We will be able to control the virus and keep the country open if people follow the health guidelines,” he said.

Rohana emphasised that, according to a recent survey conducted in the US, the efficacy rate of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines had decreased dramatically during the last six months. 

“This is not a good indicator. We have a lot of people who were vaccinated with Pifzer and Moderna. These are the vaccines that most people refer to as the best vaccines. So, it is evident that the greatest way to prevent the spread is to adhere to the health guidelines,” he said.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the Government had provided clear instructions to the public on following the health guidelines.

“As far as the Government is concerned, we have done our best, and there is nothing more that the Government can do. We have also given instructions as to how to follow Covid-19 protocols,” Rambukwella said.

The Minister further stated that the Government would soon legally enforce the vaccine card in public places. “The Attorney General (AG) has confirmed it and he has given me the (drafts of the) laws to be enacted and that will be done. It can be expected as early as possible,” he said. 

Meanwhile, speaking to The Sunday Morning, Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) Vice President Consultant Endocrinologist Dr. Manilka Sumanatilleke said that the SLMA’s expert panel was monitoring the reporting of data on new Covid-19 patients, and would provide its recommendations in that regard soon.

The total new Covid-19 cases reported from last Monday (8) to Friday (12) were 3,528 and total deaths were 94. Accordingly, last Monday 679 new cases and 19 deaths were reported. Tuesday (9) reported 718 new cases and 17 deaths. Last Wednesday (10), 693 new cases were reported, along with 16 deaths. Last Thursday (11), there were 715 new cases and 19 deaths reported, while Friday reported 723 new cases and 23 deaths. Sri Lanka administered 29,442,681 doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of last morning (13).