President helms battle against Coronavirus | Daily News

President helms battle against Coronavirus

The novel Coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China at the tail end of 2019 and it did not take very long for the contagion to spread around the world. Today’s world is highly interconnected via travel, which is in fact the primary mode of transmission for most diseases. Sri Lanka’s first Coronavirus patient (the disease caused by the virus was later named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation), a Chinese national,  was discovered in February 2020, while the first infected Sri Lankan, a tour guide, was found in March.

Knowing the magnitude of scale that viral diseases can reach, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa immediately sprang into action, even as many other countries including advanced economies seemed to dither. Under his directive, Sri Lanka became one of the first countries to establish a specialized Presidential-level Task Force for COVID-19 Control and Prevention in March itself, when the numbers of patients were very low. His next action was to instruct aviation officials to close the Bandaranaike, Mattala and Jaffna International Airports to regular inbound passenger flights.

The President’s choice to head the Task Force was Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, a battle hardened individual who could mobilise the full capacity of all Tri-Forces for the Coronavirus prevention and control measures. This proved to be a masterstroke, as the health authorities could not handle a pandemic of this nature on their own. The President’s aim was to marshal all sectors of the Government, including the health sector, Security Forces and Police, CDF, Government Agents, Provincial Councils and Local Bodies for the anti-Coronavirus drive.

There are three main planks to the anti-Coronavirus drive – Trace and Test, quarantine and hospitals, in that order. The first is identifying the first, second and even third level contacts of infected persons. This would not have been possible without utilizing the resources and manpower of the Security Forces’ Intelligence Units. They did – and still do- a painstaking job of tracing every patient’s contacts, which is not very easy given the varied travel history of some infected persons. All associates are tested for the Coronavirus using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method. The Government has now conducted close to one million of these Tests and the daily expenditure on the tests alone is believed to be in the region of Rs.50 million.

The second plank is quarantine, whereby associates of patients are sent to Tri-Forces maintained Quarantine Centres (QCs) with all facilities. These facilities have accommodated thousands of contacts of patients. At the end of the two-week quarantine period, they are sent home with an advisory to stay at home for another two weeks. These QCs are now available all over the island.

The third plank is hospitalization of infected individuals. The Government, under the directions of the President, upgraded 17 hospitals around the country with all facilities including ICU beds with ventilators to treat Coronavirus patients. More than 11,000 COVID patients have completely recovered under this programme, which has come in for praise from the WHO and other countries.

The President did not forget the expatriates who yearned to return to Sri Lanka. They were ferried in by special SriLankan Airlines flights and accommodated in Forces run or private QCs with all facilities. Any patients identified through PCR tests at the airport itself were directed to hospitals. The repatriation flights have now resumed.

The President was compelled to impose an islandwide curfew for nearly three months to contain the first wave of the pandemic in Sri Lanka, a move which brought in desired results as only 13 people succumbed to the disease during this period as many other countries saw very high death rates. In order to mitigate the hardships caused by this measure, the President instructed officials to grant a Rs.5,000 allowances to thousands of families and relief was granted for lease and loan repayments, the tourism sector and many other sectors. In fact, the measures were so successful that hardly any cases were reported for two months straight and the country was completely opened up.

Unfortunately, the country is now facing a Second Wave of the pandemic caused by a deadlier strain of the virus whose exact origin is unknown. There are two main clusters – Peliyagoda and Minuwangoda, which together have given rise to around 15,000 patients. This time, the President has explicitly stated that an islandwide lockdown or curfew will not be resorted to, having seen the difficulties faced by the public during the first round of the total lockdown. Instead, there will be a policy of selective lockdowns or isolations in areas with high infection rates (Western Province, for example) with the rest of the country and the economy moving forward as usual, but with strict heath safeguards in place.  This is a prudent policy that balances the interests of both the economy and the public. However, relief to all affected sectors will continue as usual.

But for this prudent measure to succeed, the active and 24/7 cooperation of the public is vital. The President has emphasized this factor several times. If the public does not pay heed to the health advisories and precautions, all the Government’s good work will come to naught. The best tribute that the public can pay to the President on his first anniversary in office is to comply with these regulations in order to protect the nation’s health and the future generations.