COLOMBO: Sri Lankan doctors renewed warnings to the government on Thursday to immediately impose a nationwide lockdown after authorities rejected the measure despite a surge in cases stretching hospitals to the limit.

Fueled by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, coronavirus infections and deaths have doubled in the island country since last month to a daily average of almost 3,000 new cases and a daily death toll above 100.

Sri Lanka tightened some restrictions last week — banning state ceremonies, public gatherings and inter-provincial travel — as reports emerged of coronavirus patients dying while awaiting admission to overcrowded hospitals. But most activity is allowed, with businesses still operating as normal.

Cabinet spokesman Jayantha Pathirana told reporters on Wednesday there was “no need for a complete lockdown” and that the government will take “a suitable decision” in accordance with recommendations from its special health committee for the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the country’s Association of Medical Specialists has warned that hospitals have “already run out of oxygen.”

Dr. Lalkumar Fernando, the association’s president, told Arab News: “With the delta variant being commonly detected, the number of patients, and more disturbingly, the exponential rise in the number of oxygen-dependent patients, our capacity to accommodate people has virtually reached its tipping point.”

On Thursday, the island nation reported a record high of 124 coronavirus deaths per day, with doctors expecting the mortality rate to rise further in the coming weeks.

“The effects of the delta variant of the coronavirus will be severe in the coming two weeks,” Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, director of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, said in a televised address on Thursday.

While the government said that it is aiming to vaccinate the whole nation by mid-September, just 3.53 million people out of the population of 21 million have been fully vaccinated so far.

With the slow vaccination campaign, a lockdown is increasingly viewed as the only way to contain the spread of the delta variant.

“Now the country is in a dangerous situation and imposing a lockdown is imperative to slow the spread and save the weak people from dying,” rights activist Muheed Jeeran told Arab News.

“The worrying part is that the most contagious delta virus is roaming freely in public places and many infected people are not detected by the government radar.”

Sri Lanka has recorded more than 5,500 coronavirus deaths and 342,000 infections to date according to official data.

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