Responding to the going COVID crisis in Sri Lanka, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M.A. Sumanthiran demanded that “the government take full responsibility” for this “grim situation” and heed the advice of medical experts.
“Due to the urgency of the situation the country must be locked down” Sumanthiran stated.
This week the reported average daily death toll exceeds 100 deaths bringing the total number of deaths since the pandemic began to 5,620. Sri Lanka’s own Medical Association, as well World Health Organisation officials, have called for an immediate lockdown to avoid the deaths of 18,000 people by January.
Militarisation of public health
In his public address he highlighted that last year, whilst parliament was dissolved, “opposition parties made several requests to the government but none of these were adhered to”.
Instead, the Rajapaksa administration established its own Presidential Task Force headed by Sri Lanka’s army commander, and alleged war criminal, Shavendra Silva. Silva oversaw the country’s COVID response.
“We asked that parliament be reconvened to enact new laws to combat the situations. Through these new laws we could have ensured that the right people made the decisions and that they were implemented, and that it happened in accordance with the law. We could have ensured that the rule of law prevailed” Sumanthiran highlights.
Sri Lanka’s militarised response to COVID has been widely criticised with Boram Jang, Legal Advisor at the International Commission of Jurists Asia & the Pacific Programme, stating:
“Having the military to oversee the public health policy and to act as the State’s first responders also normalises military occupation, exacerbates the existing ethnic divides, and further deteriorates human rights in Sri Lanka”.
Sumanthiran maintains that the response to the pandemic should have been led by public health, not military officials.
Silencing public health officials
In his statement, Sumanthiran further highlighted the ongoing distortion of data related to the virus.
The government are “hiding the numbers of deaths and that of those infected with the virus” he stated.
“All of us know that those figures are all wrong”.
Sumanthiran’s statement comes as public health officials have expressed alarm over discrepancies in published data and reported cases. There are also allegations against a high-ranking Sri Lankan Army Officer and two specialists at the Epidemiology Unit of manipulating data to underplay the impact of the pandemic.
Commenting on this Professor, Suneth Agampodi, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Chair Professor of Community Medicine at Yale’s school of medicine, stated on Twitter:
The global use of Sri Lankan COVID-19 data seems useless and misleading simple due to the reported(https://t.co/cOsMmg8XdX) extreme data manipulations with keeping the numbers <3000 while the actual confirmed is >5000 daily. @bbchealth @WHO @AlJazeera @CNN @the_hindu @WHOSEARO https://t.co/oA02qegt2Q
— Prof Suneth Agampodi (@sunethagampodi) August 13, 2021
Amnesty International has also slammed Sri Lanka highlighting how the government acted to silence public officials. On 19 May 2021, Sri Lanka’s Secretary to the Ministry of Health issued an order threatening disciplinary action against anyone in the health sector who spoke to the media.
Appealing to people
Faced with the government’s reluctance to act, Sumanthiran made a direct appeal to the public.
“Whatever the government says, even if the government is acting on political expediency and not in your interests, you must have your own interest at heart”.
“Do not go out unnecessarily”.
“Please stay indoors and save lives”.