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Monday June 27th, 2022

Sri Lanka to probe COVID-19 data cook up allegation

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s newly appointed health minister will look into alleged manipulation of data related to COVID-19 deaths and cases, a cabinet spokesman said on Wednesday (18) after regional data showed significant discrepancies with national data released by the health ministry.

The provincial Health Services Director for the Eastern Province last week revealed that the health ministry’s epidemiology unit had reported only 194 cases on August 10 whereas the real number was 837.

The privately owned Derana media network showed the number of COVID-19 cases has also been manipulated in Kegalle, Badulla, and Monaragala districts.

“If the data error is a human error, we will correct it without dragging this issue further.” Co-cabinet spokesman Minister Dullas Alahapperuma told a weekly cabinet briefing on Wednesday.

“But the allegation is that the data are manipulated deliberately. We discussed this at the cabinet meeting and [health minister Keheliya Rambukwella] has been tasked with an investigation on the matter.”

Opposition legislators raised the issue in the parliament on Tuesday and asked about the people behind the number manipulation.

Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 control efforts, including a speedy vaccine rollout, are carried out by a task force headed by the country’s army chief. The opposition have raised concerns over a health crisis being handled by the military while allegedly sidelining credible health officials.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself in mid-June said the daily death data has been overestimated as it had included deaths occurred three months earlier.

Soon after the president’s observation, the daily death data compilation method changed.

“If somebody is purposefully manipulating the data at a time when people are pleading for their lives, it is a serious mistake.” Alahapperuma said.

“Several media organisations showed how the data are manipulated in different districts. We are not in a position to assess the accuracy of the data between the regional health offices and health ministry’s epidemiology unit,” he said.

“I am telling you with responsibility that there is no necessity for the government manipulate the data. If somebody has manipulated the numbers, we will reveal the truth.”

Sri Lanka saw fresh record highs in its daily death toll throughout the past week and ative cases in the country have also surged past a starggering 45,000, official data showed.

By August 15, Sri Lanka was the country with fourth highest deaths per million persons after Georgia, Tunisia and Malaysia among countries with a population of over a million, an analysis of global data showed.

Dr Ranjith Batuwanthudawa, Director of the Health Promotion Bureau has said the shortcomings that occurred in compiling COVID-19 data are being addressed and rectified.

“We are currently coordinating with district and provincial directors to see where things have gone wrong in terms of COVID data and immediate steps will be taken to rectify the issue,” Batuwanthudawa told reporters on Monday.

Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 data has been used for political reason – government to brag about its achievement and the opposition to blame the government.

Deputy Director-General of Health Services Dr Hemantha Herath however said nobody is perfect when it comes to an unfolding crisis situation though Sri Lanka’s health officials are trying their best to get the most accurate information.

“Before giving the data to international organisations or to the general public, we need this information to control the situation in the country,” Herath told reporters on Wednesday.

“Because it will be hard to maintain the health sector without correct information,” he added. (Colombo/Aug18/2021)

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