COVID Down, But Not Out
COVID-19 terror on a net basis infected 235 persons on the calendar day, Saturday (25 September), according to latest Health Promotion Bureau (HPB), a Health Ministry adjunct, data available at the time of writing, with the breakdown being 1,078 new cases being identified, with recoveries being a mere 843.
This is far from the ‘ideal’ situation which the country experienced more than two months ago, where for 10 consecutive days beginning from 3 July 2021 to 12 July 2021, Sri Lanka, on a daily basis registered net recoveries with 30 being recorded on 3 July, 661 on 4 July, 52 (5 July), 848 (6 July), 538 (7 July), 210 ( 8 July), 181 (9 July), 267 (10 July), 50 (11 July) and 297 (12 July) in the 24 hours ended at 10 am on each of these days according to the Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit (EU), before this trend was reversed the following day 13 July, with the country once more recording net new cases on a daily basis, a trend which has been continuing at least up to Saturday 25 September according to available data and which also propelled the present travel restrictions.
The country is seemingly set to reopen the economy after 4 am next Friday, when the current travel restriction period, which began at 10 pm on 20 August, is set to end, but not before it was extended on several occasions in the interim, with the latest extension up to 4 am next Friday having had had its genesis on 17 September.
Net new cases of 235 registered on Saturday are a far cry from the peak net recoveries of 848 which the country enjoyed on 6 July in the review period. This writer knows of undergraduates, of a particular State University in the Colombo District, who have got the first COVID-19 vaccine jab and who, even after the lapse of 31 days are yet to receive their second jab.
A person is said to be relatively immune to the COVID-19 virus for a year after he/she receives two jabs of the COVID-19 jab within a stipulated period of time after receiving the first jab. Sri Lanka’s peak tourist season with the arrival of the ‘cash rich’ Western tourist, for the purpose of escaping the winter, is set to begin in November.
Tourism in the seven-year period beginning from 2013 and ending in 2019 graduated to be Sri Lanka’s third largest foreign exchange (FX) earner unseating tea. Nonetheless, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic it was relegated to the seventh position last year.
According to the authorities, the chief reason behind Sri Lanka’s current FX crisis is the hit taken by the economy due to Sri Lanka’s tourism earnings taking a nosedive because of COVID-19 last year. The reopening of the economy led by the permission for public transport to operate in July seemingly caused the resurgence of the present COVID-19 crisis.
Therefore, Sri Lanka may have to tread softly before it thinks of reopening the economy on Friday when the current travel restriction period ends. Sri Lanka plans to fully vaccinate 60 per cent of its population, ie with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as described aforesaid by the year end (2021) according to the Finance Ministry’s 2020 Annual Report.
According to the EU, 11.6 million of the country’s population equivalent to 52.78% of its total populace has been fully vaccinated by 8.30 pm last Sunday (26). With a total population of 22 million, a figure of 60 per cent is equivalent to 13.2 million of the island’s total population. This means that 1.6 million of the country’s population, including the aforesaid undergraduates, is yet to be fully vaccinated to reach this 60 per cent or 13.2 million target before the year end. Further, in the review period, another 2.9 million of the country’s populace has received the first dose only, according to the EU.
This includes the aforementioned undergraduates. This works out to the fact that 65.41 per cent (14.4 million) of the populace has received at least one vaccine dose. Nonetheless, before thinking of reopening the economy, the Government should first ensure that that 2.9 million of the populace, who had received only the first dose, should also have had received the second dose. Sri Lanka prematurely reopened the economy thrice before only to close it once again at a tremendous cost both in terms of lives lost and also to the economy.
The first of such premature moves was made in October 2020, the second in April 2021 and the third, as mentioned aforesaid, in July 2021. Learning from past mistakes, let not the authorities prematurely reopen the economy on Friday when the current restriction period ends before first weighing the pros and cons, ie both health and tourism. Otherwise, Sri Lanka may have to go down for another lockdown on the eve of the tourism season which will be disastrous to the economy, notwithstanding risking the health of the nation.
Sri Lanka, since the first COVID death was registered on 29 March 2020 and up to last Saturday (25 September) has registered 12,680 COVID deaths according to the HPB, short of 320 to equal the fourth highest cause of deaths due to any disaster post-Independence which took place 50 years ago, ie the April 1971 Insurgency which caused 13,000 deaths.