Deadly Delta: Sri Lanka Medical Association urges president to continue lockdown


COLOMBO – The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to continue the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown scheduled to be relaxed at 4:00 a.m. on Monday (21).

“Lifting the lockdown even for few days is likely to take us back to the major epidemic situation which prevailed in April and the gains that have been made during the lockdown of the last three weeks will then be sacrificed,” SLMA President, Dr. Padma Gunaratne urged in a letter to a letter to President Rajapaksa on Saturday (19).

The Association had previously called for an extension of the lockdown till June 28, owing to the daily cases still exceeding 2000, four weeks into the islandwide curfew-style movement restrictions.

Saturday’s letter called for a gradual, phased-out relaxation of the lockdown on a district basis after careful analysis of district-level real-time data. It said the SLMA and the SLMA Inter-Collegiate Committee were developing an ‘exit strategy’ that would be handed over to the government this week.

The letter recommended establishing district-level Committees of Community Physicians to analyze “good quality real-time data” and decide on the level of mobility restriction within the district on the basis of several relevant criteria, adding that district-level decisions will need guidance from an overall agreement of the Ministry of Health.

It also noted that though the lockdown has been imperfect, with sections of the population continuing to move about, it has however prevented a much larger number of deaths and averted significant suffering. It had also prevented the health system, which the SLMA said was running at full capacity at the time, from collapsing.

Expressing disappointment that the lockdown would be lifted June 21 and temporarily re-imposed from June 23 to 25, the SLMA said the basis for the relaxation was not clear. “The country is still experiencing more than 2,000 new cases and around 50 deaths every day. To complicate this situation further, there is also evidence of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus being prevalent in the community,” it noted.

Genome sequencing of five samples collected in Dematagoda, Colombo, earlier this week revealed the presence of the Delta (Indian) strain in the community, a variant said to be 50% more transmissible than the current dominant strain B.1.1.7 (UK) and capable of evading single-dose vaccine protection.

Army Commander and head of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 task force, Gen, Shavendra Silva announced the travel restrictions that continued for 29 days will be lifted on Monday, barely 24 hours after health authorities announced the detection of the Delta strain.

“We foresee that a release of the current lockdown even for a few days will lead to an uncontrolled free movement of people and would thereby lead to an alarming increase in transmission, with the rapid spread of the new variant. The epidemic will thereby escalate to an unprecedented level, causing increasing numbers of cases and unacceptable mortality, on a scale that could completely overwhelm the health system,” the SLMA warned.


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