COVID-19 and Community
As reports of new COVID-19 cases surface almost each day we wonder if the pandemic’s dreaded community spread phase has finally come. Through callousness and pure bungling, the tight, almost virus-free ship that was Sri Lanka, was finally scuttled and the coronavirus seeped in through the now infamous ‘Brandix cluster’ crack.
However, there are also rumours that COVID-19 might have been spreading low-profile via asymptomatic carriers for some time; with this quagmire either blamed on the oversight of the authorities or the public’s negligence of the DREAM (Distancing, Respiratory Etiquette, Aseptic technique, Masks) concept. But then again this is not the time for petty finger pointing. The threat of COVID-19 won’t simply go away when cases slump and we need to be on our guard till an adequate vaccine is found in the coming months.
Recently, executive committee member of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) Dr. Haritha Aluthge said that the Epidemiology Unit should declare as to whether there is a community spread in the country at this juncture, without leaving room for various parties to speculate on the prevailing pandemic.
He said several in the medical profession had expressed their views regarding the increasing number of virus cases in large numbers and strikingly from various parts of the country. He noted that community spread was evident when multiple unrelated clusters were being identified within the community.
The question of contact tracing came up several months ago when lockdown was in full swing with many experts coming forward with plans of introducing a tracing-app. These plans were not seen fully fleshed out after the country re-opened, and almost completely forgotten after the General Election. Aluthge said that Sri Lanka lacks data to make any predictions regarding the situation or the state of the virus.
The good news is that only about 25 to 30 Medical Officer of Health (MOH) precincts have been affected by the virus so far. The GMOA said that hopefully more stakeholders would be able to identify all areas that have been affected with the assistance of the authorities via GPS technology. The stakeholders include popular ridesharing apps and other field experts who should have been commissioned with the task of contact tracing when Sri Lanka came out of lockdown.
The new cases also highlight the issue of capacity in hospitals in the country and also the problem of COVID positive healthcare workers. The GMOA also said that the strategy of containment should be to isolate Grama Niladhari Divisions, Police Divisions and Assistant Government Agent (AGA) areas instead of locking down the entire country again despite the rising number of cases. Sri Lanka cannot afford a total lockdown considering the crippling blow to the economy.
Meanwhile the World Health Organisation (WHO) cautioned against relaxation of response following the recent slight decline in COVID cases in South Asia, saying the pandemic continues unabated. “Our response only needs to be strengthened further to curtail virus transmission,” WHO Regional Director for South East Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh said. Sri Lanka should also roll out mass testing to fully gauge the spread of the virus; the results would definitely warn the public to take more precautions. The recent gazetting of COVID-19 guidelines is also a step in the right direction to make sure that everyone follows the rules to stay safe.
Should the administration fully focus on controlling COVID-19 at this point as it did prior to the polls to avoid raised eyebrows? COVID-19 is no joke and should be handled without Media pageantry. The pandemic should not be a showcase of Government prowess in this time of crisis.