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Friday March 31st, 2023

How effective has Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 lockdown been?

ECONOMYNEXT – Since May 21, Sri Lanka has been under lockdown in all but name, with curfew-style movement restrictions imposed island wide in an effort contain surging COVID-19 cases. At the time of writing, with confirmed daily cases still well over 2,000, restrictions that were supposed to be lifted June 14 have been extended till June 21 and are widely expected to continue till the end of the month.

Though cases have seen a dip since June 03, there has also been a corresponding drop in daily PCR tests. Exactly how effective has the lockdown been in terms of slowing the spread of the virus?

Authorities maintain that, given the virus’ incubation period, laboratory delays and other logistical factors, the results won’t be apparent until some time has passed. Others, however, contend that the restrictions don’t seem to apply equally to all, with thousands still moving freely and potentially contributing to more cases – a problem aggravated by what they call a collapse in testing, particularly random testing, and contact tracing. Still others have called for continued restrictions, imperfections notwithstanding.

The lockdown was imposed in the face of a spike in cases that belonged to a so called “New Year cluster” that officially began on April 15, the day after the Sinhala & Tamil New Year holidays which saw thousands of people gather in bustling shopping districts in Colombo and elsewhere.

Case numbers continued to rise  throughout the restriction period, with 3,410 infections confirmed on June 03. Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva, who heads Sri Lakna’s COVID-19 task force, said numbers will continue to rise until four weeks after the lockdown.

“We hope to see a decline in cases after June 11 or 12. At present, we’re seeing the results of our past behavior,” he told reporters on June 10.

Some 88,000 vehicles come into Colombo every day during the lockdown, according to police, though a vast majority of these claim to be essential services.

Related: Sri Lanka police discontinue lockdown traffic sticker; parties continue undetected

“We have to wonder if these restrictions have actually been imposed, because we still see a lot of vehicles on road and coming into Colombo,” President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association Dr Padma Gunaratne told reporters on June 15.

Despite the large number of vehicles, officials claim, no mass gatherings have been observed.

However, thousands have been arrested for violating the lockdown, or “quarantine law” as it is officially called – among them celebrities who threw birthday parties and loudly protested an alleged double standard. The Kurunegala mayor was also in hot water when no less a person than the local Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) organised a birthday event in his name – in close proximity to the police station. The ASP was transferred, though no action appears to have been taken against the mayor.

Authorities were also baffled, seemingly, to find that residents of Colombo had driven over 100 kilometres to Galle to receive the second dose of the elusive AstraZeneca vaccine that was reserved for locals. Luxury vehicles bearing Western province (WP) license plates were seen parked outside the Southern province vaccination centre, despite islandwide movement restrictions.

Related: Sri Lanka vaccine conundrum: How did Colombo residents get AstraZeneca in Galle?

All this against a backdrop of ordinary citizens being frog-marched into police buses for allegedly violating quarantine laws.

Related: Police arrest 7,316 Sri Lankans for alleged non-compliance of quarantine regulations

Private sector businesses engaged in essential services have been permitted to operate. Apparel companies, which bring in much-needed foreign exchange, continue to operate at great risk to staff and possible risk of quarantine leaks. Trade unions have demanded that garment factory workers are prioritised in Sri Lanka’s vaccine rollout the same way frontline workers in the health sector and the military are. Trade unions also complain of stigma against workers, with people fearing that returning workers could bring the disease with them. One incident in Kilonochchi in early June where villagers had compelled a group of garment factory workers to not board their factory bus was a case in point.

Programme Coordinator of Dabindu Collective Chamila Thushari told EconomyNext on June 14 that more and more positive cases are identified within Sri Lanka’s export processing zones. She claimed that the correct numbers were not been published and that workers are not allowed vacation.

“Supervision by management and health officials is very poor,” she said.

With regard to the vaccine, Thushari said most workers are under the age of 30.

“Even if a vaccine rollout is initiated, the country’s most valuable workforce will neglected,” she said.

Chairman of the Public Health Inspectors (PHI) Union Upul Rohan told the privately owned Derana network that the lockdown has indeed been useful.

The restrictions have aided PHIs and Medical Officers of Health (MOH) to detect more patients and trace contacts, said Rohana.

“Before the restrictions, there were times when we would go to get a patient’s information or trace contacts and nobody would be at home. But now we can direct close contacts to quarantine facilities and patients to treatment centres without much difficulty,” he said.

The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has called for continued restrictions.

What with over 2,000 cases reported a day, now is not the time to relax and act as if the danger has passed, said Dr Gunaratne.

“If we don’t make some sacrifices now to bring the situation under control, we will see a rapid increase in cases again,” she warned.

Police Spokesman Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Ajith Rohana conceded on June 15 that there has been an increase in traffic in the city.

“An analysis by intelligence officers has shown an increase in vehicles. We have focused our attention on this, and we request the public to remain indoors as much as possible,” he said.

In a letter addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on June 11, SLMA President Dr Gunaratne said the lockdown shows promise.

“We find that the number of new cases, though still high, have remained fairly stable. This is a major improvement compared to the time before the lockdown when the COVID incidence was rising exponentially. It will take two-three weeks for the ‘lockdown’ to have an impact on case numbers, and even longer, on deaths. This is because of the incubation period of the disease, the time it takes for the disease to progress, and for people to seek health care,” she said.

However, movement restrictions were not highly stringent. Some workplaces such as factories and some offices continued to function during the lockdown, and this too will slow the impact of the lockdown, said Gunaratne.

The SLMA chair also noted that vaccines in general have “markedly less action on transmissibility of the infection”.

Gunarante has recommended that the lockdown continue till at least June 28. She has also called for more stringent implementation of the restrictions as well as increased surveillance for COVID-19 in factories and workplaces. The SLMA’s other recommendations include increased random PCR tests in the community, better communication strategies, and a ban on tourists from countries with ongoing transmission.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP) Dr Ravindra Rannan-Eliya believes the lockdown has not been as successful as it could’ve been.

“I have to say I don’t really understand the “lockdown” or whatever the government calls this. Clearly there is a lot of movement for some people, but not all,” he told EconomyNext on June 14.
Rannan-Eliya is of the view that Sri Lanka’s movement restrictions have not been very effective in containing the spread as it has failed to substantially reduce transmission.

Testing, tracing and isolation which he said are the most critical interventions in managing the crisis have collapsed, he claimed.

“The drop in testing and substantial collapse in contact tracing and isolation makes the reported case numbers an unreliable metric of actual infection trends.

“Given these issues, it’s hard to know what is happening, but I would not exclude the possibility that the lockdown has failed to result in a decline in transmission rates,” he said. (Colombo/June15/2021)

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Sri Lanka tax hike: no response from president, professionals to discuss next steps

GMOA Secretary Haritha Alutghe

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s trade unions and professional associations who have been agitating against an International Monetary Fund (IMF) backed progressive tax hike will meet to discuss further union action after a letter to the president went unanswered.

Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) secretary Dr Haritha Aluthge told reporters on Friday March 31 that the unions will meet as the self-styled Professionals’ Trade Union Alliance (PTUA) collective which have so far been organising strikes and demonstrations demanding a revision of the taxes.

The PTUA has been awaiting a promised meeting with President Ranil Wickremesinghe for some days now. Aluthge previously said on Monday that if the meeting did not materialise, the unions would be compelled to go on strike.

The issue has become stagnant due to government inaction, said Aluthge at Friday’s press conference.

“The PTUA informed the president in writing yesterday for the last time to please understand the gravity of this situation and to immediately give us a meeting and present the government’s interim solution, through which the government can take measures to ease the sense of tension among professionals,” he said.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss an “interim solution” to the professionals’ grievances over the progressive income tax hike until a reported revision that’s due in six months when the country’s recently approved 17th IMF programme comes up for review.

“Sadly, there has still been no response,” the GMOA official said.

All unions and professional associations will meet Friday evening together with a number of other unions to discuss further action, he added.

The privately-owned English-language weekly newspaper The Sunday Times reported on March 26 that the IMF had indicated the possibility of revising some of the taxes imposed as part of the IMF’s staff-level agreement with Sri Lanka when the programme comes up for review in six months.

According to the newspaper, IMF officials had conveyed this to representatives of trade unions during a virtual roundtable held last Friday March 24. The virtual meeting was held on the initiative of the IMF and was attended by trade unions and professional associations representing the PTUA including the GMOA. (Colombo/Mar31/2023)

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Sri Lankan transport associations cut haulage and transportation fees after fuel price cut

ECONOMYNEXT –  Sri Lanka Association of Container Transporters and fuel bowser owners has decided to reduce the haulage charges and transportation fee, after the government cut the auto diesel prices by 80 rupees, association officials said.

“Due to the recent reduction in Auto Diesel price from March30, 2023, the committee has decided to reduce haulage charges by 7 percent,” association said.

Sri Lanka Private Petroleum Tanker owners has also decided to reduce the transportation fee of fuel by 8 -10 percent from April onwards.

“We will be meeting with the association members and will be deciding on exactly how much we will be reducing,” the General Secretary of the association Nimal Amarasekera told EconomyNext.

“We hope to reduce it by 8-10 percent and will be applied.”

Meanwhile United Lanka Fuel Transport Bowser Owners Association said, the price reduction will be done, and the specific amount will be calculated using the cost per kilometer for a transporting bowser.

“We have different types of bowsers such as 13,200 litre and 19,800 litre likewise,” Association President K.W. Charles told EconomyNext.

“So the cost per kilometer per bowser is different and after we calculate only we can give a specific percentage.

“It will come to effect from this month and the payments for the next month will be based on the new prices.”

Charles said, this is only based on the price reduction of fuel, however several costs as maintenance and spare part costs should also be considered when deciding the transportation cost, which is also being discussed with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

Sri Lanka slashed fuel prices with effect from Wednesday (29) midnight, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said, after a protest by trade unions of state-run fuel retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) resulting in queues at filling stations due to supply disruption.

The price of Petrol 92 Octane will be slashed by 15 percent or 60 rupees to 340, Petrol 95 Octane 95 will be reduced by 26.5 percent or 135 rupees to 375, Auto Diesel by 19.8 percent or 80 rupees to 325, and kerosene by 3.3 percent or 10 rupees to 295. (Colombo/ March31/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s shares edge up in mid day trade

Stock Market. Free public domain CC0 image.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged up in mid day trade on Friday, Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) data showed.

All Share Price Index was up 1.09 percent or 100.69 points to 9,329.19, while the most liquid index was up 1.23 percent or 32.86 points to 2,697.12.

The market generated a turnover of 895 million rupees.

Top gainers during mid day trade were Commercial Bank, Hatton National Bank and Expolanka. (Colombo/Mar31/2023)


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