Our IHP estimates in April of required PCR testing capacity are out of date – We need much more

In the past few weeks, a lot of people have been looking at the IHP estimates of required PCR testing capacity that I posted back in early April. We have not had the resources to revise these yet,* but if you are using our April estimates, this is to alert you that they are no longer valid.

In April we estimated that average daily PCR testing should be 6,000 tests/day, and that national PCR capacity should be 9,000 tests/day. Our daily testing need right now is probably in the range of 40-50,000 tests/day. Continue reading

Inadequate PCR testing capacity and testing remains our central problem

The increasing COVID-19 deaths in the past few days is a sign that the outbreak may be larger than our current constrained PCR testing is able to track. As I and others warned six months ago, we needed to ramp up PCR testing to keep the virus at bay and prevent future outbreaks. The President and PM gave instructions to that effect, but in reality this did not happen. Why remains a mystery, but the current outbreak is the inevitable consequence.

Increasing PCR testing reduces COVID-19 transmission (Reff). In combination with contact tracing and isolation, it is the most effective intervention we have to control the virus. Better by far than lockdowns, masks, school closures and asking people to wash their hands… Other countries that were doing well back in May did continue to ramp up PCR testing, despite in some cases having no local cases. All these countries have managed to avoid a second wave.

Whatever happens, the most important gap in our current strategy and by far the most important one we need to fix remains PCR testing. It’s not ventilators, it’s not quarantine or contact tracing, and it’s not our border controls. Continue reading

At the precipice—Reaching the limits in managing the crisis

*I am reposting here with some edits and added links the article I wrote in the Daily Mirror on 29th October 2020.

As a country, we’re in a moment of great peril. More than at any time during this pandemic. Unless we shift course, single-mindedly focus on the critical issues, and make the correct decisions and implement them decisively, we face not only an out-of-control epidemic, but economic disaster. Fixating on how the Minuwangoda outbreak started or who is to blame, or whether we have community spread or not, or is utterly pointless and has become a dangerous distraction from the real challenges. Continue reading

Time to rethink our COVID-19 testing strategy

*I am reposting here with some edits and added links the article I wrote in the Daily Mirror on 7th October 2020.

The Minuwangoda incident should come as no surprise. The problems were obvious with the Kandakadu outbreak, but I remained silent in the hope that lessons would be learnt, but it seems that I was wrong.

We must recognise that as long as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues, we can never declare final victory against COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. To do so is to fool ourselves and the public. Wise leaders, like Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand PM, warned their nations not to let their guard down, even after months of no local cases, because they understood that (a) no set of border controls can be 100% guaranteed to keep the virus out; and (b) it is impossible to know with certainty that there is no COVID-19 virus circulating unseen in
the community. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

“Eliminating” … “Crushing” COVID is possible and these countries are the real Superstars

Ever since the key numbers for the Covid-19 virus became clear in mid-February, it was obvious that all countries would end up trying to control its spread. The alternative of letting the virus rampage unchecked through a country would always end up being too awful for any government, however stubborn or stupid, to accept.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about the various strategies that countries could adopt, with a whole new lexicon of terms being thrown around in the media and by experts, and often used inconsistently. Welcome to our new world of “flattening the curve”, “hammer and dance”, mitigation, elimination, suppression … and the list goes on. But ultimately, all these strategies boil down to just two – ”Mitigation” and “Elimination”, and which of these countries choose is often a matter of how much short term pain they are willing to suffer for longterm benefits. Continue reading

Experts have advised for weeks that we need to do 2,000–6,000 tests a day, but why has this not happened?

We, at IHP, have consistently advocated that the COVID response must include massive testing, not only to detect patients for treatment, but more importantly to break the spread of infection by reducing the time that hidden cases spend in the community.

On 6th April, IHP produced estimates that we need to be doing 6,000 tests/day ideally, and a minimum of 2,000/day if we could not do that. We shared that report with senior MOH officials, but we also made it publicly available though this blog. Countless medical experts outside MOH, including many of the most senior doctors in the island, plus the GMOA, have made similar calls.

Later that same day (6 April), we learnt that MOH experts themselves had come to the same conclusion. Continue reading

We must speak the truth – the lockdown failed and we need fresh thinking

Given what we know about the new cases detected in the past two weeks, it was no longer justifiable to relax COVID control measures on Monday (April 27), including lifting the curfew in Colombo. This is a monumental and totally avoidable policy failure and an unmitigated fiasco. If accountability meant anything in this country, there would have been consequences for those involved in setting the health response. And to be absolutely clear, I do not mean the President, who has so far only acted in good faith on the advice he has been given. Continue reading