Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, a former Chief Epidemiologist.
“An immediate review of the ground situation is a must before the lockdown is eased in stages and the trust of the people won to ensure that they will be supportive of measures to keep the new coronavirus down in this ‘new normal’ situation.” Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, a former Chief Epidemiologist said in an interview with Sunday Times on April 26th 2020.
The Former Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, goes into detail as to what should be done to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections and safeguard the health of all Sri Lankans. Questioning whether meticulous plans have been drawn up while the country, especially the hotspots, were in lockdown from March 20 to April 25, he says that this would have been the time to thrash out the details with all stakeholders putting their heads together.
“What we need now is an independent group whom the government can trust to give an honest and frank review of what the situation is, what has worked and what has failed,” says Dr. Abeysinghe.
The former Chief Epidemiologist’s exit strategy is:
- Evaluate the current situation at a lower administrative level such as an assistant divisional level to find out quickly how Sri Lanka has fared in the past 4 to 6 weeks. What measures have been successful or failed? Is there any risk of COVID-19 raising its head in such an area and in the whole of Sri Lanka?
- Initiate firm plans to maintain the current status in Sri Lanka – that is the clustering stage. Make sure there is no escalation. Ensure that certain clusters don’t get out of control (like a tank filling over), around them or within them. For this we need to scrupulously detect, isolate, test, give care, identify the contacts of positive cases and quarantine them.
- Strengthen the health facilities – this should include stringent plans as to which hospitals COVID-19 patients would be sent to and which hospitals patients with other illnesses would be directed to. Each hospital should have protocols, formulated by an efficient team to manage its system and take decisions when an emergency arises. This should be a collective view.
- For the high-risk hotspots – How will places such as markets, bus-stands and railway stations where large numbers gather be managed. There is also a need to look at homes where disabled and old people live in limited confines. How will the health and security forces cover these hotspots?
- Do the schools have plans? No class should have 40 children. So, should the schools work in sessions to accommodate smaller groups? Initially, should only children who are sitting for examinations be brought into schools, while online teaching platforms are launched for other children using the tabs that have been distributed to schools?
- Minimize the risk of importing the virus again with people returning in their numbers to Sri Lanka. The airports and ports would have to be very vigilant. Screening and quarantining need to be followed with adequate spaces in quarantine centres to enforce the social distancing measure. Do we have adequate quarantining facilities? Otherwise, the country will see a fresh round of infections.
The most important weapon is the trust of the people, making them have faith in the government’s measures.
When there is a lockdown, what we do is keep the virus suppressed and the spread controlled. To stop a rapid spread on easing the lockdown, the government needs to get people on board as its partners. The authorities need to educate, engage and empower the people to support all actions taken with regard to the virus. The most important weapon is the trust of the people, making them have faith in the government’s measures.
Analyzing the lockdown, Dr. Abeysinghe says that its purpose was to minimize the movement of people, but regrettably some people did move about and spread the disease. Some of the health and security forces personnel who went to investigate these persons got infected. There is a need to check out how they got infected and where the gap was.
The navy personnel getting infected needs immediate epidemiological investigation – how did this number get the infection? Was it through a few who got exposed or have many got exposed and how? These are the questions that beg answers, he adds.