Fight against COVID gets tougher

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Jun 19 2021

It has nearly been a months since stringent travel restrictions were imposed island wide to curb the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The authorities were hoping the restrictions would prevent public gatherings and that there would be a gradual reduction in the number of cases reported daily.

However, a month later, daily case numbers are still over 2,000. Despite restrictions and the arrest of those who violate restrictions, people are seen freely moving about, engaging in their daily activities.

It is true that on-going restrictions have dealt a death blow to many people and businesses, where not only daily wage earners, but small businesses – especially home-based family businesses – are going through many hardships.

Yet, we must control the spread of this pandemic, if we are to come out of the worst health crisis in a century. Our hospitals can no longer accommodate the sheer numbers of positive cases reported every day. The daily cases are still far ahead of the number who recover and are discharged from hospitals, making the situation go from bad to worse.

Yet, some in the public are still acting irresponsibly, flouting guidelines and throwing parties. If the situation does not show an improvement, it would be no surprise if the authorities decide to go for tougher actions – maybe even imposing an island wide curfew, similar to last year. 

Meanwhile, the deadly COVID-19 Delta variant, B.1.617.2, which was first identified in India, was found in Aramaya Place in Dematagoda for the first time outside a quarantine centre, University of Sri Jayewardenepura researchers said.

It was detected during sequencing done on the SARS-CoV-2 variants in Sri Lanka on Wednesday (16). The University said an unusual viral outbreak was detected from the Colombo suburb which prompted authorities to collect nine samples from the area.

They were sequenced with other samples obtained from the Colombo Municipal Council area, Karapitiya and Batticaloa, which led to the detection of the highly virulent Delta variant in Dematagoda.

Meanwhile, the Alpha variant initially identified in the United Kingdom, was detected in Karapitiya, Batticaloa, Colombo 06, Colombo 08 and Colombo 10.

The Delta variant was previously detected in an Indian national in quarantine in Sri Lanka in May 2021 and a local repatriate who was also at a quarantine facility in early June this year. Furthermore, the Delta variant has now been designated as one of the four Variant of Concern (VoC) by the World Health Organisation.
The classification means a variant may be more transmissible or cause more severe disease, fail to respond to treatment, evade immune response or fail to be diagnosed by standard tests.

The Delta variant that emerged in India in February has spread around the world, raising fears that the strain may spearhead a wave of infections that could devastate healthcare systems, reverse reopening plans and even undermine the vaccine rollout. 

Experts believe that the variant sparked the huge wave in infections seen across India over the past two months. It now accounts for more than six per cent of sequenced virus samples in the US, according to data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A month ago, the strain accounted for just over one per cent of sequenced virus samples, according to the CDC data. In the UK, it now comprises 91 per cent of new cases, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Early evidence suggests the variant could cause an increased risk of hospitalisation in comparison to the Alpha strain, according to Public Health England (PHE).

An analysis of 38,805 sequenced cases in England showed that people infected with the Delta variant carried 2.61 times the risk of hospitalisation within 14 days compared with the Alpha variant, when variables such as age, sex, ethnicity and vaccination status were taken into consideration, the PHE said recently.

The UK, where the strain is now dominant, is providing something of a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.

The fast spread of the variant has prompted France and several other countries to place new restrictions on travellers coming from the UK.

The detection of the Delta variant in Sri Lanka should not be taken lightly by any means considering the dangers observed by the particular strain especially when the local recovery rate is lower than number of daily infections.

The public is hard pressed to adhere to health guidelines with austerity measures and price hikes. The authorities should amend their COVID-19 strategies that are effective and also compatible to the public’s demands.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Jun 19 2021

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