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Sri Lanka’s request for 1,000 body bags unrelated to COVID-19: officials

Director-General Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka requested 1,000 body bags from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to maintain inventory and not in anticipation of a corresponding number of COVID-19-related deaths, Health Services Director General Dr Anil Jasinghe said.

Dr Jasinghe made this clarification last night in response to speculation over a leaked letter written to the ICRC’s Forensic Coordinator by Health Ministry Additional Secretary Dr Sunil de Alwis requesting the body bags.

Confusion followed the leak, when government officials went back and forth on the authenticity of the document, with some claiming it was fake, only to backtrack later and say it was, in fact, genuine.

Dr Awlis himself confirmed to a local newspaper yesterday that the letter was indeed authentic, adding, however, that the body bags were for patients who may die of various conditions unrelated to COVID-19. He has also lodged a complaint with the police regarding the leak of the official document.

Dr Jasinghe, meanwhile, attempted to reassure anyone who might have been perturbed by the contents of the leaked letter.

In his statement, the Health Services DG said Sri Lanka will not experience a high death toll as a result of the ongoing pandemic, given the measures in place to contain it.

“Due to the ongoing efforts in Sri Lanka to control the spread of COVID-19, such an unfortunate situation will not arise under any circumstance. COVID related deaths in Sri Lanka has also been very low, as has been the number of patients. Steps have been taken successfully to prevent the spread of the disease from the identified clusters,” he said.

Dr Jasinghe went on to say that maintaining stocks of medicine and equipment was a technical necessity, adding that the ICRC has presented Sri Lanka with a “great opportunity to ensure that stocks don’t run out.”

He added that it’s not unusual to store dead bodies in specially made body bags under extraordinary circumstances and disaster situations such as the ongoing pandemic.

“For example, the bodies of those who died in the Easter attacks were also stored in body bags this way. It is the standard internationally accepted practice. There is no need to unnecessarily panic over this,” said Dr Jasinghe.

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Speaking to EconomyNext, ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said: “The ICRC has had a long standing collaboration with the Ministry of Health. In keeping with the ICRC’s established working modality of confidentiality working on a bilateral basis – this particular interaction also being bilateral – it is not an object for public comment.” (Colombo/Apr27/2020)

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