Sri Lanka has earned the dubious honour of becoming the only country in the world to see its Coronavirus infection numbers increase sharply after nearly five weeks of islandwide curfew and questions are being raised about if testing during the shutdown was largely confined to high risk persons and security personnel attached to the Presidential Security Division and the Prime Minister Security Division.
Colombo Telegraph learns that even though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Office claims 21,000 tests have been conducted in Sri Lanka the truth behind the testing number is that most of these are repeat tests on security personnel attached to the PSD and officials coming into contact with the President and the Prime Minister on a daily basis.
President Rajapaksa suffers from a serious heart condition while Premier Rajapaksa has been showing signs of serious illness for over a year. Both men would be highly vulnerable if they contract the virus. As a result the Government has focused testing on the two top citizens and their immediate circles.
One week after the Government decided to lift the curfew in most districts and re opened public and private offices Sri Lanka’s infection numbers skyrocketed, registering an increase of about 300 new infections in less than a week. Sri Lanka Navy Personnel who were played key roles in transporting patients to quarantine centers.
Many of the naval personnel were sent on home leave without being tested for the coronavirus which has resulted in infection spreading even in districts that were previously considered low risk,
The militarization of the response to COVID19 under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s watch is being heavily criticized for the failure of the lockdown. Health professionals were sidelined while the military was put in charge of running the task force against corona virus. The military took the task on as if it was fighting a war. The approach seemed clinically efficient but medical experts says epidemiologically the experiment has been unsound. “It is much better for the health sector to lead the response rather than the military which has no medical training” observers said.
Lock-downs must be accompanied by widespread testing. The Sri Lankan Government locked the country down with a curfew but did not ramp up testing during the same period. Tests were largely restricted to narrow circles around infected persons and their contacts.
The first go to response to the crisis by President Gotabya Rajapaksa was to appoint Army Commander Shavendra Silva as the head of the Task Force to handle the crisis. Military Intelligence was utilized to go into details of persons who had returned from high risk countries and hound them as criminals. With the Pro-President media led by Derana and Hiru racially stigmatizing the victims of the disease the stage was set for the first catastrophe where patients rather than coming out with their symptoms hid in fear of the castigation.
The politicization of the response is seen everywhere. Entirely focused on obtaining the 2/3 majority in parliament it is now revealed that the government intentionally minimized testing in order to show lower numbers of infected people. Sri Lanka records one of the lowest numbers for testing across the world and the region. Despite having a robust healthcare service the country lags behind India Pakistan, Maldives and Bhutan for the number of tests done.
Colombo Telegraph learns that even among the 50,000 quarantined persons less than 20% have been tested for COVID 19. This was one reason why persons leaving quarantine centers after 14 days were testing positive 10 days after getting back to their homes.
None of the thousands of navy and Army personnel who were in charge of the movement of persons in and out of quarantine had been given the proper protective equipment or been tested regularly. (by Chamika Madiwake)