The carnage continues and the nation is on the brink. What awaits is a disaster of humungous proportions, with hundreds of people dying every day.

That trend has already begun. Earlier this week, the official daily death toll from the coronavirus exceeded one hundred for the first time since the pandemic began. By Wednesday, it stood at 124.

The authentic death toll from the pandemic is likely to be much higher. Even television stations known to be partial to the government regularly broadcast reports of more than a dozen persons being cremated at cemeteries every day- and there are more than a dozen cemeteries in the country. Arithmetic will tell you what is obvious to most people.

There have been numerous calls for a total lockdown. The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS), the country’s top professional body of medical consultants was quite categorical and scathing in its comments. It has now called for a curfew to curb the spread of the Delta variant.

Others have also joined the growing chorus calling for a lockdown. United National Party leader and former Prime Minister described the Covid-19 Task Force as a failure and called for its dissolution. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa also called for consultations to deal with the pandemic but said the government is too ‘stubborn’ to listen. Both leaders have offered to support the government- but that has fallen on deaf ears.  

Meetings were held at the highest levels to discuss the issue. There was a sense of expectation that a lockdown was imminent. That did not eventuate. While health officials were saying that a lockdown was ‘still an option’, Army Commander Shavendra Silva, who is also curiously the head of the Covid-19 Task Force, reported back saying that interprovincial travel restrictions would be strictly enforced and that the number of persons allowed at a wedding has been reduced from 150 to 50!

The government seriously expects Sri Lankans, who are notorious for their lack of discipline, to follow guidelines and ‘stay at home and venture out only for ‘essential’ reasons. However, shops and other institutions are open and it is business as usual for most people. With no lockdown enforced, no one policing the movements of people, it is a recipe for disaster.

The results are evident in the daily death toll. Now, every Sri Lankan appears to know of someone- a friend or a family member- who has succumbed to the virus. The pandemic, so well managed in the country a year ago, has now truly reached epic proportions due to the callous disregard of the government and the obstinate refusal to heed medical advice.

This week even government minister SudarshiniFernandopulle could take it no longer. Shepublic aired her despair. Her words were honest and brutal and underscored the sheer idiocy of the government.


“My opinion does not matter. Decision-makers will make decisions. But the country is at risk. Do not wait for the government and the Ministry of Health. The value of your life is yours. Protect your family. Don’t wait until a lockdown is imposed or someone makes rules. Learn to protect yourself. Follow the health guidelines. Stop all unnecessary travel. Stop unwanted parties. Stop visiting relatives unnecessarily. This is to protect oneself. This is a matter of life and death,” Dr Fernandopulle said in exasperation.


The irony is that Dr Fernandopulle holds the title of State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and Covid-19 Disease Control. However, as she has said, her opinion does not matter. In this government, Dr Fernandopulle, a community physician by profession, and Professor Tissa Vitharana, a much-respected virologist, are arguably the persons best qualified to deal with and advice regarding the pandemic- but they have been marginalised and ignored.

Medical experts are predicting the disastrous consequences of mismanaging the pandemic. They foreshadow that, with the number falling sick with the virus increasing exponentially and a fair percentage of them becoming seriously ill, the next limiting factor will be the supply of oxygen.

The supply of oxygen in state-run hospitals, according to doctors, is now at near maximum. In the coming weeks, if not days, demand is likely to exceed supply. Then, there will be deaths resulting not merely from serious complications of the coronavirus infection but also because less seriously sick patients do not have access to the oxygen that could have potentially saved their lives.

A few months ago, we saw harrowing images of similar scenarios in neighbouring India. Thousands died and the world watched in shock and horror. The worst fear among medical professionals familiar with the current situation on the ground in Sri Lanka is that we are about to witness a comparable catastrophe.

They feel that a lockdown or a curfew for at least a few weeks even now will act as a ‘circuit breaker’, defuse the situation, reduce the spread of the Delta variant and help avert such a tragedy. This has been communicated in no uncertain terms to the powers that be and promptly ignored.

The one aspect where the government has been successful to some extent is in getting the vaccine rollout- previously in a shambles due to lack of supply- back on track. This is being now done mostly by the military and is conducted with a minimum of inconvenience to the public. However, with a large segment of the total population still not immunised even with a single dose of the vaccine, experts say this alone is not enough. A lockdown is absolutely imperative and with none forthcoming, the virus will win this battle.

The blame for all this sits with the economic pundits who advise President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. They have convinced him that a lockdown will spell economic disaster and cost him votes- even though there are no major elections for the next several years.

The ultimate responsibility though must lie fairly and squarely with the government headed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the seventh Executive President of the country who is vested with more powers than the six who preceded him and who has the authority to declare a lockdown with a single command and a stroke of his pen.

However, Gotabaya Rajapaksa chooses not to. Alas, none are so blind as those who do not wish to see.


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