Sri Lanka extends curfew as virus toll hits new record

Colombo (AFP) –


Sri Lanka on Friday extended a stringent coronavirus curfew for another week after reporting its highest daily death toll of more than 200.

A nationwide lockdown had been due to end Tuesday but Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said it would be extended until September 6.

The announcement came as 33 leading health professionals, including World Health Organization experts in Sri Lanka, called for even tougher restrictions.

After resisting pressure for a lockdown for several weeks, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed on a 10-day closure from August 20 amid warnings that hospitals could no longer cope with the spread of the Delta strain.

Sri Lanka's total coronavirus deaths exceeded 8,000 on Thursday and its 412,370 infections make it one of Asia's worst hit countries.

Doctors say the real toll is at least twice as high and authorities have resorted to mass cremations to clear bodies piling up at hospitals and morgues.

The health experts said in a report, seen by AFP, that extending the lockdown until October 2 could save up to 10,000 lives.

The government has relied on a vaccination drive to counter the spread of the virus. More than 6.4 million of the 21 million population have received two vaccine doses but the caseload has still overwhelmed hospitals.

The country's main National Hospital in Colombo is reported to be at breaking point with hundreds of staff testing positive and no more intensive care beds available.