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Is Sri Lanka Facing a Second Wave?

2020 Jul 17

The infamous virus, COVID-19, had taken a back seat for the past few weeks in the minds of all Sri Lankans as life began to return to normal in the island. With the lifting of the two month-long curfew, workplaces, restaurants and other public areas began to fill with life once again. The number of new cases reported daily began to decline, as infected clusters were properly identified and isolated to prevent the virus’ spread. 

However, on 7th of July 2020, Sri Lanka detected its first case outside of quarantined areas, in the Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre. Further testing at the facility suddenly reported a record new number of 300 infected inmates and close contacts in a single day. Could this have been the starting point of a dreaded “second wave” in Sri Lanka?

 

 

What exactly is a “second wave”?

 

The metaphoric “wave” in this context refers to a sudden spike in the number of confirmed cases of any pandemic, usually originating from outside quarantined areas. History has shown that this increase in the disease’s statistics has the potential of imparting a greater magnitude of infection than the first if not brought under control as soon as possible. 

Following the initial spread of Europe’s infamous Spanish Flu in 1918, epidemiologists all over the world suspected without a doubt, that COVID-19 would be no different. A sudden increase in the number of cases is an episodic phase in any country’s recovery process from an infectious virus, and usually stems after a dormancy period in the number of daily new cases reported. 

That being said, local epidemiologists firmly believe that the situation Sri Lanka is currently undergoing is NOT what would be technically defined as the so-called “second wave”. This is mainly due to the fact that the country continued to report cases daily, even in small numbers. Therefore, the outbreak stemming from Kandakadu has been viewed as a breach in the country’s testing and isolating system, with necessary remedies already employed to fix the flaw.

 

The Lockdown – are we in for a sequel?

 

Sri Lanka had undergone a complete lockdown for approximately 8 weeks during the initial stages of COVID-19 in the country. This period has been named the worst economic state the island has ever been in. Looking at corporate Sri Lanka, many companies had the daunting task of realigning their business goals and exploring new strategies in order to recover from the recent financial turmoil they experienced. Despite this, in the past few weeks,  the country’s economic sector had seen signs of positivity with the relaxation of curfews, enabling businesses to resume their “new normal” operations.

Unfortunately, the rise in the recent number of cases originating from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre has once again instilled a sense of fear in the minds of the public; clearly seen by the reports of panic buying that took place in supermarkets soon after.

Will Sri Lanka be obligated into yet another lockdown?

A second lockdown in the island would force businesses of all scales to resort to plans B, C and D in order to survive. This may include, but not limited to, a further reduction in the company’s staff numbers and an extended period of their work from home routines. As a result of this, there could be serious consequences on the country’s GDP with the limitation of business activities. Tourism – the country’s biggest income industry has already taken yet another blow with a further delay in the reopening of Sri Lanka’s runways.

In the aftermath of the new cluster’s discovery, there has been considerable criticism by the public, stating that the Government of Sri Lanka has given little attention to the protection of its citizens from the pandemic. Reliable sources in the health administration have confirmed that this is not true. To the low-income class living on the island, the previous lockdown period was a nightmare – many daily wage earners do not want to go through this again. Failing to make ends meet, the country would see more death by suicide and malnutrition, than by COVID-19, if another lockdown is imposed at this stage. Furthermore, medical experts have reassured the public that even though a large number of cases have been detected in the island recently, they have not been diagnosed as severe, and hence has not been a burden to the country’s healthcare system as of yet. As such, they have firmly established that there is no need to fear. Sri Lanka’s healthcare system is remarkably capable of handling the current situation, making the need for a second lockdown redundant at this point in time. 

 

 

The current situation in Sri Lanka

COVID-19, as a disease, still remains as dangerous as it was at the beginning of 2020. Upon detection of the new cluster of COVID-19 cases from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, local authorities and medical officials had begun immediate contact tracing and targeted testing, spanning across districts and provinces away from the place of origin. Most of the confirmed cases related to the cluster were diagnosed as asymptotic. The patients themselves were unaware of their infection, implying their detection took place in the early stages of the infection. This achievement by the health officials gave way for the notorious “300 new confirmed cases in the island” headline that shook the misinformed public. In addition to this, the number of PCR tests conducted daily has now been increased to over 2500, and has been yielding fewer positive tests in the days following the Kandakadu outbreak – proving the effectiveness of the country’s contact tracing ability. 

Looking at other countries who have a similar spike in their numbers, hospitals have been packed with COVID-19 patients only after they had begun showing symptoms and are now receiving ICU treatment, with deaths recorded on a daily basis. On the contrary, Sri Lankan health officials have prevented the country from entering such a state by facilitating the immediate capture of the spread of the new Kandakadu cluster. To our island, it is not about the number of cases; rather it is about the severity of the outbreak as a whole, which has not been seen as a threat as of yet by the local health officials.

 

Sri Lanka’s Survival Strategy – The Hammer and Dance Theory

Previously, the Government of Sri Lanka used an exit strategy whereby areas were classified into zones based on the number of active cases present – contaminated, sterile and buffer zones. This strategy proved effective, as movement across borders of these physical zones were restricted, ensuring the spread of the virus was minimised. However, the lockdown was not seen as a long term solution to the problem, as there was always a possibility for the formation of a new cluster.

Therefore, the local health experts have now suggested to the authorities what is known as the Hammer and Dance Theory. It is a colloquial term used to describe how Sri Lanka plans to adapt to the detection of new COVID-19 cases. In brief, it means ‘hammering down a bad situation, and continuing to dance while it is under control’. At present, there is no sound vaccine to the virus and experts foresee Sri Lanka dealing with COVID-19 well into the next two years. In line with this, the governing authorities have allowed its citizens to ‘dance’ with respect to the new normal and has assured the public that necessary measures will be taken as and when needed to ‘hammer’ the situation under control. At this point, the importance of the use of facemasks, frequent sanitation of hands, temperature checks and social distancing protocols cannot be stressed more. Finally, the country’s medical experts have requested the cooperation and good faith of the public, in trusting that the experts will fulfill their duties to the country and its people. 

Unlike global powerhouses such as the USA and Australia with large medical GDP income allocations, Sri Lanka utilises only on 3.5% of its annual lower-middle-income GDP for its healthcare system. Moreover, from this, 1.8% has been courtesy of private expenditure. Despite possessing comparatively low funds, Sri Lanka has been able to handle the overall outbreak of COVID-19 in an astounding manner, gaining high commendation as one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world. With the general public’s safety and best interests always prioritised, we, Sri Lankans, praise and thank our front-line workers and officials for keeping Sri Lanka’s hopes high throughout all stages in the country’s ongoing battle against COVID-19.