Overall contribution for battle against Covid-19 immeasurable, says Army Commander

Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva.

Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff, says the overall contribution made by the armed forces in Sri Lanka’s battle against Covid-19 is immeasurable.

In a brief interview, General Silva explained their contribution to the ongoing countrywide vaccination drive as Director General of Health Services (DGHS), Dr. Asela Gunawardena declared that the survival of the public depended on full vaccination.

Appearing on Derana ‘360’ Monday night, Dr. Gunawardena warned of dire consequences unless the people received both jabs.

Responding to interviewer Sanka Amarjith, Dr. Gunawardena said that of 4,132 Covid-19 deaths, only 23 died after having both vaccines. Of 14 mn. who had received vaccines, 2.7 were so far given the second jab, Dr. Gunawardena said, adding that 177 succumbed having received one jab.

State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana said that almost all of them had been over 60 and simultaneously affected by two or more medical conditions.

The CDS said that in addition to Narahenpita Military Hospital where selected groups, including teachers had been inoculated the Army managed countrywide makeshift vaccination facilities in support of health authorities. Gen. Silva regretted that the armed forces role in fighting the epidemic as well as formation of the Covid Task Force had become political issues both in and outside Parliament.

The former Commanding Officer of the much celebrated frontline fighting formation Task Force I /58 Division said that the deployment of the armed forces helped achieve vaccination targets. Gen. Silva emphasized that joint civil-military effort made it possible to inoculate over 14 mn. people with 2.7 mn. of them receiving both jabs.

Pointing out that vaccine roll-out began on January 29, within 24 hours after Sri Lanka received half a million Covishield (AstraZeneca) doses courtesy India, Gen. Silva said that the military was engaged in the inoculation process from the very beginning. Gen. Silva said that as the country continuously received stocks of AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Pfizer, Sputnik, Moderna vaccines from different sources, the military gradually stepped up their efforts.

The government brought in the SLAF and the SLN in May and July respectively as the military expanded its role in the vaccination drive.

The CDS said that the deployment of the armed forces streamlined the entire inoculation process. SLAF spokesman, Wing Commander Dushan Wijesinghe and SLN spokesman, Capt. Indika de Silva explained the initial deployment in support of the overall efforts before they undertook inoculation on their own.

Responding to another query, Gen. Silva pointed out that the military lessened the heavy burden on the civilian apparatus tasked with inoculation drive.

Responding to UNP leader and National List MP, Ranil Wickremesinghe criticism of the Covid Task Force as well as the accusation that Parliament had been denied control over the operation undertaken by them, Gen. Silva said that the former Prime Minister received the first jab at Narahenpita Military Hospital in February. At the time the UNP leader had received first and the second jabs, he hadn’t re-entered Parliament. Mr. Wickremesinghe re-entered parliament in late July.

Gen. Silva said that at the task undertaken by the armed forces stretched them to the maximum though officers and men met the challenging task. “Running vaccination centres 24 hours a day certainly not an easy task,” Gen. Silva said, pointing out that the public really appreciated their role.

Gen. Silva said that the military remained committed to take the ongoing vaccination drive to a successful conclusion. Referring to a statement made by Chairman of State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) Dr. Prasanna Gunasena on Monday, Gen. Silva said that the country could be proud of that 96 percent of those above 30 had been inoculated.

However, only 25 per cent had been fully vaccinated, Dr. Gunasena told the media at the Information Department urging the public to be patient as they would receive the required protection two weeks after the second jab. Dr. Gunasena said that they intended to give the second jab to the remaining group this month.

Gen. Silva said that the government had announced the vaccination of those under 30 once the ongoing drive was brought to a successful conclusion.

The Army Commander said that some had conveniently forgotten how the eradication of terrorism allowed the government to fully concentrate on battling Covid-19.