Steps taken by Government satisfactory -Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa MP | Sunday Observer

Steps taken by Government satisfactory -Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa MP

Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa MP
Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa MP

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the world the Sri Lankan government has stepped up to combat its spread within the island. From appointing a task force to monitoring passengers at the Bandaranaike International Airport and upgrading our health services, the Government has implemented a number of measures to tackle the crisis.

This week the Sunday Observer reporters Rajitha Jagoda Arachchi and Maneshka Borham sat down with Minister of Health Care and Indigenous Medical Services Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Opposition MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) respectively to discuss the measures taken by the Government, its shortcomings and future plans to face a possible spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Excerpts from the Interviews :

Q. The Government has taken a number of steps to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading in Sri Lanka. As a member of the Opposition, are you satisfied with the measures taken?

A.We can be satisfied with the steps taken by the Ministry of Health at the moment. But obviously decisions and the necessary steps will have to be determined only according to the spread of the virus. However, after the positive identification of the first patient within Sri Lanka the Ministry of Health intervened, and they have been keeping tabs on the places visited by the patient and those of whom she interacted with.

Since the virus has not spread widely in Sri Lanka I believe the facilities we have and the steps that have been taken will be sufficient to face this danger.

Q. As a medical practitioner yourself and as a parliamentarian, do you see any shortcomings in the action taken by Sri Lankan officials in the face of the outbreak?

A. During a serious health outbreak, any government will take some time to respond to it initially. We must accept this. However, the mechanism was only activated a day after a case was confirmed in Sri Lanka.

If I am to point out a shortcoming, it is common in Sri Lanka to see social media being used to distort the real situation in the country.

In this instance, we saw a number of posts giving incorrect health advice being disseminated. For example. the issue of the face masks, posts on which way to wear the masks and those claiming it is a must to wear were seen to be rampant on social media to instill panic and fear among the populace. This can affect the lives of the people.

It is part of the Government’s responsibility to stop this fake news from being disseminated at this time. Meanwhile, some were also attempting to use this opportunity to gain political advantage. The Government must intervene to stop these.

Q. As a responsible political party, what is the JVP’s contribution to this situation?

A. The role we could play was to make certain suggestions to the Government on what course of action to take in order to control the situation. Accordingly, we requested the Government to fly out the Sri Lankans currently in China. Since it is believed there could be human to human transmission of the virus we also requested that necessary steps be taken and that the airport be secured.

We also refrained from presenting our own opinions on the matter and only commented according to expert opinions. This is a time we must come together as a country and therefore no one should use this to gain political mileage or to sling mud at opponents.

Q. An officer of the Government Medical Officers Association was recently quoted requesting certain allowances for health workers who may have to closely work with coronavirus patients. What is your comment on this?

A. If any medical practitioner or the GMOA has made such a request it is incorrect and quite unfortunate at a time like this. What they must do at this time is not ask for perks but instead do their part to protect the public. To do that if they request the necessary equipment and gear, that is a fair request. In China, thousands of doctors are volunteering to work in affected cities despite the chances of contracting the deadly virus. Our country has seen similar instances. Following the tsunami in a matter of 52 days, the railway employees restored the destroyed railway tracks without any special benefits or allowances being accorded to them. We saw our doctors also volunteering in droves at the time. Therefore, our medical practitioners should not request increments or allowances at a critical moment like this.

Q. Deadly outbreaks such as the recent one are becoming commonplace the world over. How should Sri Lanka revamp its health system to face such a scenario?

A. We still haven’t been able to implement a referral system in our health care. This does not mean it is nonexistent in Sri Lanka. But for example, we find midwives for designated areas but we do not have a dedicated doctor and a team of health staff for the same area. They will be held responsible then for the health in their area. This is vital in developing a health care system. If we can develop such a referral system we will be able to identify as soon as an outbreak occurs to contain it within that area.

Q. Despite the Government’s assurances that there is no serious outbreak the public seems to panic. What can be done to rectify this?

A. It is the Ministry of Health that must take the lead to stop people from panicking. However, there was a delay in creating awareness among the public. As a result, certain individuals and social media took the lead and went on to distort some facts. For example, while we do not have a need for face masks at the moment due to the panic created there is a lack of face masks in the market. If there is a serious outbreak we will not have enough face masks due to this unnecessary panic caused right now. So, when it comes to appointing task forces to combat the issue, the Government should make use of epidemiology experts in Sri Lanka. That is more scientific and productive. If they take the lead officials can gain the public trust more easily.

Q. The Government often heavily focuses on national security. In modern times biological warfare is an reality. This possibility has been discussed in the light of the sudden coronavirus outbreak. Is Sri Lanka ready to face such an eventuality despite the emphasis on national security?

A. It must be understood that national security does not only mean facing threats such as that of terrorists like the LTTE and Zahran. A wider spectrum is part of national security and includes factors such as health, food security, and technology. But we have been conditioned to think that the responsibility to maintain national security is limited to the forces and the Police. So, we must admit we are still years behind when it comes to this issue.

Coming out of this crisis China will surely take a forward leap. For example, after facing the SARS virus outbreak they rehauled their economic model with focus on a more scientific outlook on development. Previously, they have only focused on economic expansion, but following SARS they understood that other aspects such as education, health, technology and science must be developed together and therefore implemented a five-year plan. But we do not have such experiences from the past.

We have managed to combat minor outbreaks and following that we have not looked into how we will face a much larger crisis. If a similar crisis occurs in India we will be badly affected.

We need to keep better tabs on those who are entering and leaving Sri Lanka. If we can take this opportunity as a lesson it will be beneficial to us in the future.