ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka must ease restrictions gradually, as lifting the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in one go could result in a resurgent of cases, a health official warned.
Deputy Health Services Director Dr Hemantha Herath told reporters on Thursday (23) that expert recommendation is a staggered lifting of the lockdown.
“It should be done step by step. We can take one step and see what problems may arise, and then take the next step once those problems are addressed,” he said.
“If we open the country at once, there is a chance that things will go that undesirable stage we have been talking about. It is the duty of all of us to prevent that,” he added.
Sri Lanka went into lockdown on August 20, which has now been extended several times to October 01.
On September 8, Herath told reporters that not planning for a controlled easing of restrictions will complicate the government’s plans to reopen the country.
An independent group of experts convened by World Health Organisation (WHO) Sri Lanka said on August 26 that extending lockdown October 2 will save 10,000 lives at an economic cost of2.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Though WHO Sri Lanka tried to distance themselves from the expert group’s recommendations, none of the participants came forward to retract the projection.
Daily COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka have been showing a slow but steady decline, over four weeks into the lockdown, or “quarantine curfew” as it officially called.
On Wednesday (22), 1,342 new infections were reported, with 92 deaths confirmed for Tuesday. Of the new cases, a majority were from the Western Province, according to Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva who also heads Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 task force.
A week ago, on September 16, a total of 2,271 new cases were detected, according to official data.
Daily testing has also dropped, however, with only 6,745 PCR tests and 3,468 rapid antigen tests performed on Wednesday, as opposed to the 14,000+ PCRs done at the start of the month.
A nurse union representative earlier this week accused health authorities of keeping daily cases artificially low by reducing the number of tests. Officials, however, maintain that there is a logic to the drop in tests.
A vast majority of COVID-19 tests in Sri Lanka are of people considered to be close contacts of confirmed patients, so as patient numbers drop, the number of corresponding close contacts to be tested also reduces.
However, it is unclear how many random tests are done at present, which may give an indication of the level of community spread.
There are 61,274 active cases at present. A total of 12,376 Sri Lankans have died from the disease. (Colombo/Sep23/2021)