President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his address to the nation yesterday called on the public to be ready to make more sacrifices if the country were to remain in lockdown to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Noting that with increased vaccination, the number of cases and Covid deaths would decrease, the president urged people to work together as a team to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that he and most of the seniors who died from COVID-19 and he had advised the health sector to conduct rapid antigenic tests at least once a week, which are aimed at people over the age of 60 with chronic illnesses.
“I urge everyone in the country to be ready to make more sacrifices if the country is to be cordoned off for a longer period of time in the future. At this crucial moment, everyone should strategically move the country forward by recognizing the gravity of the situation. So I respectfully ask everyone. “
The following is the President’s full speech: “The accepted opinion of the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of medical experts and according to the globally standardized methodology, is that vaccination is the only solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is why in the recent past I have been particularly committed to bringing vaccines to Sri Lanka. I have spoken personally with the heads of government in countries like China and India. I have personally written letters to several other heads of state. Talks were held with countries that manufacture vaccines through our Foreign Ministry, our ambassadors and high commissioners. Our officials have coordinated with vaccine manufacturers.
“All of these efforts were made because I wanted to vaccinate everyone in our country. As a result, the country is now receiving a large number of vaccines that we need every month. First, we received the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India.
“After that, we were able to have the Sinopharm vaccine manufactured in China, but delivery of the vaccine to the public was delayed by about a month due to the delay in the approval of the vaccine by the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA). Nonetheless, the government has been taking action since May 8 this year to continuously administer the Sinopharm vaccine. Additionally, we received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the United States, the AstraZeneca vaccines from Japan, and the Sputnik vaccines from Russia. By the 19th of this month, a total of 12,019,193 vaccine doses had been administered as the first dose.
People have now been given fifty-one million twenty-four thousand one hundred eighty-five (5,124,185) vaccines as a second dose. In addition, we have about three million vaccine doses that need to be given as a second dose. Another 3 million doses will be received later this month. Currently, around 98% of people over 30 are vaccinated while 43% are receiving both doses. By August 31, more than 81% of the population can receive the second dose. Until September 10th, 100% can receive both doses. With this development, the number of patients and the number of deaths will decrease.
“The government has taken steps to vaccinate all frontline health workers, those involved in essential services like ports, security and factory workers, by giving them priority. People over 60 were also given priority vaccination. In addition, more than a million factory workers under the age of 30 were also vaccinated.
“We continue to adhere to restrictive measures such as imposing travel restrictions between provinces across the country, isolating the Grama Niladhari divisions, imposing a curfew, summoning only key civil servants to work, ceasing functions such as weddings , Closure of certain shops, prohibition of travel between the provinces and prohibition of gatherings in places of worship.
“We were able to successfully tackle the first wave of the COVID-19 virus due to the measures we took at the time. Such strict decisions had to be made at the time because there were no other options at the time. The country must be completely cordoned off for several months without interruption. Through all of these efforts, we were able to overcome the first wave of COVID-19.
“Although we have occasionally taken action to lock the land down, we should understand the ramifications of that decision. The country’s lowest economic growth since independence was recorded during the first wave of COVID-19 as a result of the country’s lockdown. The apparel sector in particular, which generated sales of around US $ 5 billion in Sri Lanka, was hit hard. Your orders have been stopped. Many lost their jobs. Export earnings fell.
“Our tourism industry, which generated over $ 4.5 billion and provided a livelihood for over 3 million people, has completely collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost. The country’s occasional lockdown dealt a severe blow to the construction industry. You are unable to hire the staff you need. It is not possible to procure the raw material at the desired time. In the past year and a half, we have lost most of the expected domestic and foreign investments in this sector.
“Small and medium-sized businesses are another important sector of our local economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major barrier for these companies, which contribute more than 50% of GDP. Due to the continued disruption of their operations, these companies lost revenue and faced serious problems without being able to repay their loans or pay salaries.
“Those who got leases for vehicles couldn’t pay the installments. Home loan borrowers have been unable to pay loan installments. In addition, there were almost 4.5 million self-employed and day laborers who were helpless because they had completely lost their sources of income. Amid all of these obstacles, we also had a responsibility to keep people alive. We have not shirked this responsibility.
“Every time the country has been locked due to COVID-19 risks, we spend around Rs. 30 billion in each round to an allowance of Rs. 5,000 for the people who have become helpless with no daily income. The state has borne these costs several times. In addition to the cost of quarantine centers run by the government, each family quarantined in their own homes will receive an aid package worth Rs. 10,000 for two weeks. Even in this dire situation, the government never took action to cut the salaries or allowances of more than 1.4 million civil servants.
“Although our foreign exchange earnings have declined, we have not defaulted on government loan payments. With loans taken out by various governments in the past, we had to pay a whopping loan installment of around $ 4 billion a year. All of these loan installments were paid on time. The country’s economy would be in a major crisis if the country were to be completely locked down again. It is not a situation that this country can endure. The clothing industry has received a large number of orders in the export sector.
“If we cannot deliver these orders on time, we can lose a large amount of foreign currency. We are also making great efforts to rebuild the collapsed tourism industry. Currently, almost 200 tourists come to the country every day. If we close the country, we will have to start attracting tourists again from the start. In addition, the country’s economy will be severely affected by the renewed relief of day wage earners, small and medium-sized businesses and businesses due to a lockdown. People should understand the implications of a full lockdown. Today, with the exception of a few countries, most of the others, including economically strong ones, have fully opened up.
“The tourism industry in the world is gradually recovering. The countries that are open today are seizing this opportunity. Our country, with its small economy, should also take advantage of this opportunity. We cannot allow the country’s economy to collapse completely by refusing to take the necessary action. However, I have decided to lockdown from 10 p.m. today to 4 a.m. on Monday 30th Monday of this month to curb the surge in COVID patients.
“This situation is not a rivalry or conflict between various ideologues, unions, doctors, other health authorities and the government. We have to understand the reality. This is a serious problem that the whole world is facing. Today all countries are conforming to the ‘New Normal’ method. As a government, we have properly taken all the necessary measures.
“While the government is doing everything in its power to provide oxygen, set up intermediate treatment centers, and deliver vaccines, it is the role of doctors to treat patients appropriately. Also, I really appreciate the service that doctors, nurses and all other health officials have done so far, despite the danger to their lives. I also pay my respects to health officials of all ranks who have sacrificed their lives.
“It is clear that this is no time for strikes and protests. Do not try to destabilize the country. Even if the health sector is looking at this issue from one angle, we as the government must manage the small economy in our country if we are to continue uninterruptedly paying off foreign debts, paying salaries and providing subsidies. Most of the people who have died from the COVID-19 virus are over 60 years old. The majority of people have long had chronic illnesses. And they are not vaccinated. People with these chronic conditions should seek treatment as soon as they develop COVID-19 symptoms.
So I have recommended that the healthcare sector conduct rapid antigen tests at least once a week for people over the age of 60 with chronic diseases. I urge everyone in the country to be ready to make more sacrifices if the country is to be cordoned off for a longer period in the future. At this crucial moment, everyone should strategically move the country forward by recognizing the gravity of the situation. Therefore, I respectfully call on everyone to work together as a team to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. “