Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa told parliament last week that the government’s decision to bring vaccines which are not approved by the WHO to give to the people of Sri Lanka is a crime against humanity. This is my personal view, he said.

Mr. Premadasa was referring to the Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccines. The latter was approved by the WHO subsequently on Friday. Sri Lanka’s National Medical Regulatory Authority (NMRA) also did not approve the Sinopharm vaccine because its Phase 111 trials were data deficient but is likely to do so now following approval for it by the WHO. The NMRA has approved the Sputnik V vaccine.  Around 600, 000 Sinopharm vaccines were brought into the country sometime ago with a waiver of registration for the exclusive use of the Chinese community living here.

The government is cutting a sorry figure as criticism mounts from various quarters over its handling of the country’s Covid situation. The bouquets the government received last year for keeping the lid on the caseload and containingthe spread of the virus has turned to brickbats as the Covid crisis reaches boiling point. Some analysts have claimed that comparatively, Sri Lanka’s situation is worse than that of India. One indication of this is the gradual rise in the number of Grama Niladari divisions which are being isolated and the government’s scramble last week to set up a 2000 bed Covid treatment facility in Seeduwa.

During the session in Parliament Mr. Premadasapointedly asked Health Minister PavithraWanniarachchi whether the virus has got to the stage of a community spread. ‘All these days we were told it is a cluster spread. The data might not be palatable but it has to be provided for the situation to be known and for steps to be taken to address it’, he said.

Hinting at a government cover up, Mr. Premadasa said by reducing PCR testing and data about Covid cases, the government is trying to create an artificial feelgood factor.  This is not something we can fight with multi barrel rocket launchers and military tanks. We need oxygen cylinders, ICU beds and PCR machines for mass scale testing. Dengue is spreading and there are no beds in hospitals for patients with non-communicable diseases.’ While the Epidemiology Unit routinely releases data and information about the number of Covid deaths and the areas which are being isolated, very little if any information is available about the government’s level of preparedness to deal with the increase in the number of Covid positive patients.

Mr. Premadasa told a parliament, stunned into silence, that it was the government’s incompetence that had led to this crisis. The government, he said, had played Covid politics and the race card with Covid burials. ‘The tragedy today is because of the government’s gung-ho attitude and it will have to regurgitate its own words.  But let’s join hands at least now and deal with this crisis.  

He asked a Parliament chamber which appeared to have descended into a sombre mood what the government had been doing since January 2020, which was when it was first alerted about Covid. What was done with the Covid fund,’ he demanded to know. ‘Were ICU beds and ventilators increased, was the health sector uplifted? No. Instead, the government did Corona politics, not even that, they did politricks. The government has ordered four helicopters and 60 personnel armoured carriers. Is this the priority now’, he stormed.  

MPs on the government benches remained quietin a complete volte- face from their raucous bevahiour in the last two weeks when the Opposition made revelations about the Easter Sunday attacks and spoke about the absurdity of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on political victimisation.

Mr. Premadasa stormed on, accusing the health minister of throwing pots into water and asking her body guard to video it. ‘When the pots failed, some government MPs were trying topromote a boru paniya which was not approvedby the medical regulatory body. Some of the people who did this are in Parliament even now.  And now we are being told that it too has failed.

He pointed out how other countries meanwhile had rushed to order the vaccine because they wanted to do the best for their citizens and the shortage of vaccines in the world. Canada for example ordered 9 extra vaccines per personand has an excess of vaccines. Canada and Europe have excess stocks but the government is not talking to them nor is it discussing with them about getting their excess stock. How can we handle the situation like this, he asked. If the government can’t do it, we will. An Opposition has not done this before. We met with the Russian ambassador this week and we will be meeting the Japanese ambassador. The week before a group of SJB and other opposition MPs took a preemptive step to meet with diplomats and requested a mobile hospital with 300 beds and ICU facilities in anticipation of the stress on existing health structures and facilities in view of the surge in the number of cases.

Sri Lanka has a population of 22 million of which around 15 million people approximately have to be vaccinated. With one vaccine priced at $5 dollars it would have cost the same amount of money the country was deprived of from the sugar scam to buy the vaccine for the country’s people.  We are prepared to start a parliament MPs fund to bring down the vaccine’.

So far, Sri Lanka has received 1, 264, 000. 00 of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine from India and the WHO ‘s Covax facility. The vaccination program was mismanaged and those who got the first round of the vaccine were unable to get the second round because the country ran out of vaccines due to bad planning.

Premadasa went on to highlight how in recent times, Sri Lanka is the only country which had not provided a fiscal stimulus for Covid. ‘The people were given two rounds of 5000 rupees. The  government made itself happy by doing it.  It said people will be granted relief on interest payments including on leasing and there will be no debt but now, people are having to pay interest on the interest they did not pay’.  

The government, which opted to have the military in the frontlines of its Covid response, has often been criticized for not heeding the advice of health experts and Mr. Premadasa threw down the gauntlet at  his governmentcolleagues. ‘Listen to the health specialists, the nurses, the Public Health Inspectors and the public servants like the Grama Niladaris. The health sector is bursting with the pressure but yet, they are facing it all’.

The concerns voiced by Premadasa about the government not listening to health experts resonates with the confusion last week surrounding the actions of Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge who declared that  Piliyandalais not an isolated area anymore. His announcement came only some eight hours after the area had been declared an isolated area. Lokuge’s actions, which appear to have gone against the advice of health officials at ground level, prompted questions whether he is medically qualified to take such decisions and the authority he has to make such a declaration. Despite the public outcry, an unabashed Lokugemade a further public statement saying he would do it again if he had to. A subsequent statement by the army commander to smooth the ruffled feathers of the public will make Lokuge eat humble pie because it denies the involvement of a Minister in the palaver. It claims that the decision to lift the isolation status from the area was also endorsed by the committee appointed by the Director General of Health Services. He goes on to explain that last Sunday, the 25 police divisions in Piliyandala were declared isolated areas to prevent people coming to the Sunday pola. Later, except for 10 police divisions, the rest were brought out of isolation.

Piliyandala and the areas adjacent and not too far from it have been in the eye of this newest Covid storm. The new variant is reported to have been first detected in samples from Boralasgamuwa. Kesbewa has been reporting a high number of cases.  On the 5th of May, 149 Covid positive cases were reported, making it the highest in the country that day.(SW)




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