Medical experts predict the Delta variant will be the dominant one if a fourth wave of the virus hits Sri Lanka.  Genome sequencing on 50 samples from a single area in the Colombo Municipal Council area found that more than half were positive for the Delta variant.  It has reportedly been found in 14 other areas including in Galle, Matara, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Beruwela and Dambulla.

According to these experts Sri Lanka is still riding the third wave which began around the end of April and beginning of May.  They rationalize that there has not been a trough in this third wave yet for a fourth wave to start. The National Hospital in Colombo was treating around 160-190 Covid infected patients a day at the time but with the lockdown the number of these patients reduced to about 100 a day because it was also able to transfer patients to peripheral hospitals and intermediate care centres because of space availability and vitally, because patients did not require respiratory support. But the number of patients have started to climb again and the National Hospital is overwhelmed.  It treats about 60-90 new infections every day. Because nearly half of them require oxygen to survive or ICU care or there is a risk of them needing it, they cant be transferred to the peripheral hospitals which do not have these facilities. To cope with the demand, the National Hospital is releasing beds which have been allocated for general medical cases such as heart and dengue patients who arebeing transferred to the surgical wards. While the spread is contained to Colombo because of the inter provincial travel restrictions that are in place, transmission rates are high because of its density.

The ongoing vaccinations are a glimmer of hope and will bring much needed succour to a battered and weary population with very little to look forward to. It will also lessen the severity of cases and prevent death.  The vaccination will however have to be complemented with strict public health measures if the spread of the virus is to be reduced.

In addition to wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing medical experts recommend a scaling down of the number of people attending functions such as weddings. Currently, the authorized number of guests at weddings is 150.  A further reduction to 100 is encouraged in addition to introducing a time duration of about three hours.

The introduction of a vaccine passport, fast becoming the rage in the world, to access public places can become routine to curb the spread. These measures need to bite and strict enforcement will be needed if they are to become purposeful and effective.

As a further measure to reduce the spread of the virus there are plans to vaccinate children between the ages of 12-18 years with the Pfizer vaccine.  It is the only vaccine which has been tested on children so far and those who have comorbidities will be given priority.

The steady supply of vaccines in the past weeks, especially the Sinopharm which was finalized for emergency use listing by the WHO on 7 May has ensured that the vaccination program can continue relatively uninterrupted. Medical experts are confident if the current vaccination rate is continued the entire population which has to be vaccinated can be covered in the next three months. The current daily vaccination rate is about 300, 000 people or approximately 2. 5 percent of the total population of about 15 million which has to be vaccinated. According to data from the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of health 6, 542,533 people have been given the first dose and 1, 736,314 have been given both doses.

The country continues to be in the grip of protests organised by opposition political parties and trade unions. The protests, which are becoming more frequent as the list of grievances become longer, fly in the face of the law enforcement authorities who earlier threatened and arrested protestors under the quarantine laws. Among the protests last week were another two in the series the Samagi Jana Balawegaya has said it will hold all over the country. The protests, in Homagama and Aluthkade, called on the government to reduce the price of fuel, give fertilizer to farmers to protect free education. Joining the chorus of growing voices were school teachers and principals who marched from the Fort Railway station to the presidential secretariat and demanded a meeting with the President to discuss their salary issues which have been pending for long. While their representatives were at a meeting with an additional secretary in the president’s office, a large and angry group of protestors who had remained outside surrounded and mobbed the Chairman of Avant GardeNissanka Senadipathi, whose car had driven upto the main entrance of the secretariat. Senadipathi, accused of operating a floating armoury on board the MV Avant Garde off the country’s southern coast but was acquitted earlier this year by a trial-at-bar, had to drive off without getting out of his car.

Meanwhile, trade unions plan to hand over a letter to the president next week asking the government to revoke its decision to sell 40 of the 50 percent share in the KerawalapitiyaYugadhanavi power plant which are owned by the Treasury, to the American company New Fortress Energy (NFE).  The balance shares are held by the Employees Provident Fund, Lanka Electricity Company Pvt Ltd (LECO) and LTL. About 18 trade unions, most of them affiliates of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), are expected to sign the letter. The government ran into trouble after it came to light that it got Cabinet to give its approval for the sale of the shares with hardly any notice given to its ministers.  The surrepticious manner in which Cabinet approval had been obtained had reportedly taken even the subject minister, Dullas Alahepperuma who is the Minister for Power, by surprise. The matter became more intriguing because Cabinet approval had been granted in the midst of two internationalcompetitive tenders which the CEB had called for to set up a network of pipes to supply gas to the existing diesel power plants and a floating gas storage facility.  The plant was expected to generate 300 MW of LNG in the short to medium term and a 1000 MW by 2025, making it the biggest power generation plant in the country. By 2035, the ownership of the plant was to have been with the CEB.  Contrary to reports that the agreement to sell the shares has already been signed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and NFE, trade union leaders are still uncertain if the agreement has in fact been finalized.  They have vowed to continue and intensify their protests until the government decision to sell the shares iswithdrawn.


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