Sri Lanka’s medical professionals yesterday urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to immediately impose a minimum 14-day islandwide lockdown to contain the rapid spread of the COVID-19.
In a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), Association of Medical Specialists (AMS), and Sri Lanka Medical Intercollegiate Committee (SMIC) noted why the current travel restrictions are not effective to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the island and therefore called on authorities to impose a two week lockdown.
“We cannot hope that the inter-provincial travel restrictions will help control the disease at this time. The disease cannot be controlled by imposing a curfew for three days. When we get back together, we re-infect the people,” the medical groups observed.
They stressed that the country's health sector will collapse if the authorities fail to control this situation.
"It won't be long before the hospitals are flooded with patients, completely inundated and the medical staff are stretched way beyond their capacity, resulting in a serious breakdown of our health sector all over the country," they warned.
The medical groups demanded the government to go for a two week (14 days) lockdown or even a curfew, continuously and at a stretch, of the entire country, considering the following scientific observations:
# Minimum 14 days would cover two cycles of incubation periods of the infection that is likely to be adequate to break the chain of uncontrolled spread of the disease.
# The infection is rampant in all provinces, making inter-provincial travel restrictions to be of no useful benefit at this stage of the outbreak.
# As isolation of Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions occur with a 5 – 7 day delay following the detection of cases, isolation of GN Divisions does not serve the purpose of restricting the transmission of infection. By the time the GN divisions are isolated, the infection with an inherent very high transmissibility has spread way beyond the GN divisions.
# Country-wide lockdown for just a few days at a stretch will not have any significant effect on the case load or transmission of the disease as it does not cover even one incubation period (14 days) to reduce infectivity and transmission of the infection.
# Repeated, intermittent and short lockdowns, with people coming together for work in enclosed areas following this, will not have any benefit on the economy as it will only create a scenario that will only increase the numbers of COVID-19 cases within these premises
# Letting people go out according to National Identity Card numbers is unlikely to serve any purpose at this stage of infection characterised by very high transmissibility.
They pointed out that a 14-day complete lockdown or a curfew at a stretch at this crucial juncture will have a much healthier impact on the economy, in the formal as well as the informal sectors, and the health sector, rather than isolating sections of the country randomly or by inter-provincial travel restrictions.
They further noted that hospitals should also make use of the interval to streamline and upgrade the services to be made available to patients, including special care and intensive care facilities and optimal supplies of oxygen.
Noting that Sri Lanka’s health system has already reached the tipping point according to expert opinion, they said that the restriction of transport between provinces may not entail envisaged positive effects.
"With due cognizance of the virus lifetime, short period lockdowns will not bring the situation under control. Therefore, based on the expert and professional opinion and recommendations, and current evidence available, we, the OPA, as the apex body of professional associations in Sri Lanka, urge the government to act swiftly and impose a complete countrywide lockdown for a minimum of 14 days," they said.