We’ve been busy for too long…and what we feared has happened

It’s been six months since I last posted here. Far too long.

When I stopped writing here, it was to work on something else. I think we succeeded earlier in the year in helping the public and colleagues better understand the challenge we faced with COVID-19 and countering the complacency. I think we had some impact, but clearly it wasn’t enough to really change things.

So my colleagues and I at IHP spent much of the past few months working on something else that we felt could have more impact. And in case you are wondering, it wasn’t funded by anyone. We did it and many of our staff took pay cuts do this, because we just believed it was so critical that it had to take priority over anything else that we could have done. Unfortunately, it took far longer also than we ever expected.

I am going to start writing again partly because I hope we can soon share what we were doing, and because sadly what we feared and predicted might happen, did happen.

Despite our best efforts and those of many Sri Lankans who spoke out in the national interest, the health ministry did not take the needed actions to ramp up PCR testing capacity or to scale-up testing of people in the community. As a consequence, we failed to put in place the defenses we needed to keep on suppressing COVID-19. The current second wave which started in Minuwangoda weeks ago was the inevitable result. If it hadn’t happened then and there, it would have happened at a future date and somewhere else.

We now face a dire situation. The current COVID-19 outbreak—our second wave—is far worse than what we faced in March and April. There is a very high risk that we will fail to crush it. It is also much worse than any recent outbreak in the countries we identified back in May as performing better than us, with the single exception of the Australian state of Victoria, which I will not discuss now.

We got to this point by failing to invest in PCR testing, and we won’t be able to get back to any real normality without addressing this problem.

To be honest, I still don’t fully understand why we did not do what was needed in the past six months—who and at what level failed to take the necessary actions. But clearly, those who had to make the necessary decisions were either badly advised or did nothing out of willful complacency. We desperately need to change that, so I must start writing here again.

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