Thank you Brandix for true leadership!

Brandix CEO Ashroff Omar just told his staff that Brandix is making big cuts in executive pay in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Brandix is suspending Mr Omar’s own pay as CEO and that of all Board members for six months, and cutting the pay of all managers by 5 to 60%. Continue reading

COVID-19 crisis will not be over soon – We need to prepare for a long slog

The current lock-down – not only here but affecting two billion people around the world – should make it clear to everyone how serious COVID-19 is. What many still do not appreciate is that closing our ports and even a one month lockdown will not make the problem go away.

Let me be clear first about the good news – we appear on track to control the current surge in cases. So far almost all cases are linked to Sri Lankans returning from foreign travel, and there is little transmission between people in Sri Lanka.

When we get through this lockdown, life will not return to normal for at least the next 12 months. Our political leaders need to explain this, to prepare everyone for a long slog. To adapt the words of Winston Churchill at a similar moment: Defeating the current surge would not be the end. It would not even be the beginning of the end. But it might be, perhaps, the end of the beginning. In the absence of any effort to trust the public with what the long term strategy is, I provide an expert assessment of prospects. Continue reading

Cost benefit analysis supports much more aggressive testing than current MOH strategy

The lockdown (national curfews, work at home, school closures) plus MOH actively tracing contacts of foreign arrivals should work in controlling the current outbreak and could bring new cases down to zero within ten days. There are signs of that happening in the latest data.

MOH’s strategy will work in stopping the spread of the virus, but it is not sufficient and it cannot be sustained. The economy is at a standstill, unemployment will rise, businesses will go bankrupt, living standards will fall, and the government has no revenue. We need to allow businesses and schools to re-open to restart normal life and to get the economy going. Continue reading

India may be failing to detect community transmission of Covid-19 because of inadequate testing

Our graphical vizualisation of the Epidemiology Unit’s data on Covid-19 cases in Sri Lanka attracted attention in India, and I was interviewed by The Hindu, whose article appears here. Continue reading

COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka reach 100

As anticipated, the current surge in cases has pushed the tally of total confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 100, as reported by the Epidemiology Unit, MOH. It is likely that numbers will continue increasing for the next week at least, but it’s a positive sign that the number of new cases has dropped on some days and the trend does not show the explosive rate of increase seen in most other countries.

Government needs to urgently increase investment in expanding testing capacity

We face a long struggle with Covid-19 that will last into 2021. Even if we control the current outbreak, fresh outbreaks will happen unless we completely close our borders for the rest of the year. We must think ahead to how we can maintain air links and continue to function in the face of a continuing threat of imported infections. Vastly increased capacity to test for Covid-19 has to be part of that. It will require a significant investment in equipment, supplies and manpower – billions of rupees, but the economic benefits will outweigh the costs.  Continue reading

China reports zero local cases of corona virus

On Thursday 19 March, we reached a significant milestone in the current epidemic which should not go without comment.

China reported reported zero local cases throughout all its provinces including Hubei. The handful of cases it has had in the past few days have all been imported infections in visiting foreigners (mostly Italians) or returning Chinese. China is where the epidemic started three months ago, but it is now on the verge of being able to declare that first wave over and done with.

I wrote an article earlier to explain why the epidemic is no longer a Chinese problem. It was an attempt to alert everyone in Sri Lanka to the need to refocus on the infection threat from other countries, especially Europe. Unfortunately, it took over a week for me to get that published, and during that time the government continue to allow unrestricted arrivals from a range of countries with major and out-of-control outbreaks, such as the UK, France, Spain and Italy. As I wrote a few days ago, it is not therefore surprising that we ended up with the current outbreak with over 50 detected cases and almost certainly over a hundred undetected so far.

Cases to date - China 19/03/20

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covidsl – An unofficial Sri Lanka coronavirus tracker

We just came across this continuously updated tracker of Sri Lankan COVID cases developed by Isanka Wijerathne, a researcher at Kyoto University: It reports current and changes in total cases, tests done and recovered patients. Continue reading

Delays in travel restrictions have contributed to the current COVID-19 outbreak

Effective, strong and early action is critical at this time to prevent a large scale COVID-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka. Despite WHO advice to the contrary, travel restrictions have an important role to play, and are the most effective tool we have since we can still hope to prevent and contain a local epidemic. Unfortunately, despite taking early action to restrict and screen arrivals from China, Korea and Iran, the government delayed too long to impose further restrictions given what the data were saying. This and gaps in implementation have contributed to the sudden increase in cases starting on 10th March. Continue reading

COVID-19: How deadly is it?

A key question is how many people will die if we have a large COVID-19 outbreak?

R0 and fatality rates

Epidemiologists look at two numbers to assess how dangerous a contagious disease is. One is the number of people that an infected person will transmit the infection to – R0 or “R nought” to use the jargon. This tells us how infectious a disease is. Two is the percentage of infected people who will die: the case fatality rate (or mortality rate).

Both matter. How many people die is the multiple of how many people get infected and what percentage of patients die. The seasonal flu virus has a low fatality rate, but it is quite infectious. So each year millions of people get the flu and hundreds of thousands die. Continue reading