Taking on the new variant | Daily News

Taking on the new variant

With the disclosure that the Coronavirus variant now in our midst is of a most virulent type with a high mortality rate and high transmissibility, the time is indeed ripe for the authorities to consider hard options if we are to keep the contagion at manageable levels.

Medical experts have pointed out that the current variant of the Coronavirus spreading in Sri Lanka is the highly contagious mutant found in the UK and many other countries. According to the Director of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine of the Sri Jayewardenepura University Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, they have found 100 percent evidence to the effect that the B.1.1.7 variant of the Coronavirus currently sweeping the UK is the same that is doing the rounds in this country adding that it is this identical variant that is also causing chaos in India.

Research points out that the new variant can inflict a death rate 55 percent higher than at present. On the plus side, the AstraZeneca vaccine now being rolled out in Sri Lanka offers protection from the deadly variant. However, with the second dosage of the AstraZeneca vaccine only just commenced and a shortfall of 600,000 doses for the one million who have already received the jab in the first round, it will be some time before 70 percent of the population will receive the vaccine to reach herd immunity and see off the new mutant successfully. Until then the Sword of Damocles will be hanging over our collective heads.

This is why the public should redouble its efforts in following the health guidelines which are being continually dinned into them over the electronic media, particularly by Army Commander General Shavendra Silva who heads the Task Force set up to combat COVID-19.

General Silva, considering the possibility of the country being on the edge, especially given the devastation wrought in India and taking into account the medical opinion on the heavy risk inherent in the new variant, yesterday upped the ante in warning the public of the dire consequences awaiting them should they act irresponsibly. He did not rule out a lockdown if the situation turns for the worse. He said it all depended on the behaviour of the public if the country is to avoid a blanket lockdown.

That the situation is certainly grim was indicative of General Silva requesting the public to purchase their essential requirements just in case though there was no necessity to stampede on shops and supermarkets in panic buying sprees. That stage has not arrived yet but the possibility remains if the situation further worsens, was the message conveyed to the public.

Selective lockdowns have already commenced in certain Police Divisions where the virus has assumed a runaway nature. That the numbers being detected have risen to over 1,000 each day compared to little over 100 pre-Sinhala and Hindu New Year also tells a tale. This too on the basis of random PCR testing. What about those who have gone under the radar?

General Silva conceded that the daily tally could top 2,000 in the coming days. If so what contingency plans are in place in hospitals that are fast running out of beds although thankfully Oxygen supplies remain unaffected? True, alternative arrangements are being made hurriedly to accommodate the increasing numbers of the newly infected. However it is advisable to prepare in advance for a greater emergency. That the situation is dire also can be gauged from the fact that lightening lockdowns have already commenced in selected areas where the contagion has shown signs of a fast spread.

Perhaps this is the reason why General Silva has asked the public to remain prepared. Whatever steps are taken it would do well for the authorities to always bear in mind that it is this same UK variant that has now come to haunt this country that is devastating India bringing that vast country to its knees. All efforts should be concentrated in fighting the virus with all the resources at our command at this early stage. The public should be made aware of the true picture so that they may appreciate the danger and take corrective steps. General Silva himself has cottoned on to this reality assuring the public that nothing would be swept under the carpet. True, the situation is too serious not to take the public into confidence.

The public for their part must be up to the challenge and resolve to take on the virus head on by strict adherence to the prevailing restrictions. It is encouraging to note that the law enforcement agencies are going that extra distance to ensure that everything is in place. Clampdowns on the violators of health guidelines have been intensified, fines increased and even prison terms imposed. Hopefully, this same tempo will be maintained until the threat is well behind us. Strict enforcement of the health guidelines will be half the battle won easing the immense strain and pressure on the medical staff who are carrying out a thankless job in the wake of the mounting number of victims.