Sri Lanka received a piece of good news from the Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) last Friday (18). That is that the country will probably receive gratis 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from its parent company in the UK itself, next month (July), to fight the COVID-19 Pandemic continuing to plague the country in all its ferocity since the first case was detected on 27 January 2020.
Previously, ie in March 2021, Sri Lanka received the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility as this facility of WHO is known, also gratis, comprising 264,000 doses, with the promise of the culmination of the receipt of a total of 1,440,000 doses arriving by last month (May).
This first batch of vaccine doses received in March was manufactured by Serum Institute, India, under licence from AstraZeneca, UK. But, Sri Lanka receiving a total of 1,440,000 doses from WHO by last month end was not to be.
This was because India fell victim to the second wave of the bloody COVID-19 Pandemic with India thereby first preferring to vaccinate its own citizens, rather than aliens, with the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by its own facility. WHO’s COVID-19 vaccines are principally funded by countries and regions like the USA, UK, EU and Japan followed by laggards such as India, Russia and China.
Subsequently, Sri Lanka also had another hurdle to contend with to satisfy WHO’s rollout plan of these expensive vaccines given gratis to the island. That bottleneck was for the authorities here to show out their vaccine rollout plan, ostensibly in a transparent manner to WHO. That requirement was ultimately fulfilled by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) only on Friday, thereby clearing the deck for Sri Lanka to receive the balance WHO vaccines, gratis, where WHO planned to deliver to the country a total of 8.4 million vaccine doses to cover nearly 20 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million population by the year end.
It’s also learnt that this target of WHO still stands, despite other bottlenecks springing up since the first instalment was delivered on 7 March to Thursday, 17 June, a total of 72 days, such as the re-emergence of the COVID-19 crisis in India and problems relating to the vaccine rollout plan in Sri Lanka itself.
This seeming principle bottleneck, i.e. the vaccine rollout plan, which, apparently was the making by Sri Lanka itself, however, 72 days after WHO’s first instalment of vaccines was received on 7 March, was finally cleared only on Friday, 18 June, with WHO attempting to keep to its vaccine disbursement goal of 8.4 million doses before the year end, despite the 72-day delay, which was no fault of theirs.
Ostensibly coinciding with these developments, Sri Lanka reopened its economy yesterday, except for some 24 ‘Grama Niladhari’ divisions (see yesterday’s Ceylon Today), after keeping it closed for nearly a month to combat the third wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic currently plaguing the country.
At the time Sri Lanka closed its economy ‘this time,’ i.e. on 26 May, on a net basis on the previous day 25 May, Sri Lanka had 1,743 new COVID-19 cases, according to the Epidemiology Unit (EU). This comprised 2,971 new cases and 1,228 recoveries. Additionally, 25 May recorded 33 COVID-19 deaths.
Meanwhile, on the eve of Sri Lanka reopening its economy, i.e. after keeping it closed for 26 days, on Sunday (20), it registered 2,248 new COVID-19 cases 1,996 recoveries and, additionally, 54 deaths. Though, on a net basis new COVID-19 cases have come down as at Sunday, it has however, not yet turned negative, while the death rate has climbed.
Sri Lanka is far from being out of the woods. Vaccination is the only solution without harming the economy further by going in for another lockdown. As said before, the ball is well and truly in the Government’s court.