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Sri Lankans struggle to purchase vital drugs amid COVID-19 curfew

SUPPLIES – Fruit vendor making sales in Mirihana, Nugegoda,today March 28, 2020/EconomyNext.com

ECONOMYNEXT – With Sri Lanka’s confirmed COVID-19 cases rising to 132 today, curfew continues to be imposed on different parts of the country – indefinitely in some areas – bringing life to a virtual standstill in nearly every aspect.

Though both the state and the private sector have launched delivery services, supplying essential food and grocery items to the grounded public, there have been some complaints of mismanagement and inefficiency. Delivery trucks have not reached their households, complained some, while others said that they do not have the cash to pay for delivered groceries as they’re not permitted to visit even the nearest ATM.

Meanwhile, a medical crisis on top of the ongoing pandemic also appears to loom on the horizon as non-COVID patients are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire their regular medicines. This is due to a government ban on privately owned pharmacies from selling drugs, with patients now required to purchase their drugs solely from the state-run Osusala outlets via WhatsApp orders.

Irate patients were seen on TV news telecasts unable to purchase their drugs from the state pharmacies. Patients were previously instructed to send their prescriptions via WhatsApp in order to send their medicine via the postal service, though this has presented a problem in that not every Sri Lankan owns a smartphone. This has also proved a problem to those who have outdated prescriptions or have no prescriptions at all, owing to various circumstances. Though the government has said a solution to this was on the cards, many are still confused as to how to get their essential medicines for the coming days.

In the government’s defence, however, large scale violations of the COVID-19 curfew occurred when many abused a loophole in the curfew regulations that allowed the use of a prescription as a curfew pass, forcing the government to ban it altogether.

It goes without saying that a strict lockdown is essential to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, though debates continue about a sustainable lockdown that does not present new risks, socio-economic or otherwise, in the way an indefinite curfew can.

Cities across the world have gone into lockdown, with countries including the US imposing strict confinement orders in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic with the goal of containing the spread of the virus. Though in many cases, citizens are allowed to go out and purchase their absolute necessities.

The Guardian reported that Moscow imposed “strict isolation measures on Monday after many residents ignored official requests to stay indoors, confining citizens to their homes unless for a medical emergency, to travel to essential jobs, shop for food or medicines or walk their dogs.”

Closer to home, India is into the second week of its three-week-long national lockdown, spelling hunger for 80 percent of the country’s 470 million workers that are in the informal sector. Footage of police officers beating curfew-violators in the streets of India abound.

Though things are not that dire in Sri Lanka yet, the island nation may well be looking at a fresh crisis as thousands of people find it difficult, if not entirely impossible, to purchase their vital drugs. Short of lifting the curfew, which – needless to say – might prove disastrous at this juncture, the sooner a solution is found, the better it would be for the well-being of the nation. (Colombo/Mar31/2020)

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