I think I may have had Covid. And passed it on to Sally. But this is Sri Lanka and you can’t just grab a free Rapid Antigen Test. Anyway, I’m not especially bothered either way – it was mild (though Sally is worse). The irony is that whatever I caught, I got it at the vaccination centre a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been under curfew for a month, with at least another fortnight of misery to endure, and I haven’t been anywhere else in that time.
This country is obsessed with pandemic peripherals – wearing masks outdoors, repetitive hand-washing whenever one enters any kind of building, banning the sale of alcohol – but completely ignores the one thing that makes a difference to how viruses spread, which is social distancing. The vaccinatiion centre was mobbed. The army was hanging around in numbers, doing absolutely zilch. We oldies are all supposed to get jabbed at home but I was by no means the oldest person there, and certainly not the most frail-looking. Some folk looked like they wouldn’t make it home afterwards. But Sally and I were thankful for small mercies. Getting vaccinated at all had proved to be quite a saga.
I managed a first shot of Astra-Zeneca back in England in early February before returning to Sri Lanka at the end of that month. And as luck would have it AZ was what we got here in the end. Second dose due mid-October. Developing coutries grab whatever supplies they can lay their hands on and we know people who’ve had Sputnik, Sinopharm and Pfizer (which everyone here calls ‘fizzer’) so we were duly chuffed. A couple of English GP friends had both told me I should just start again with whatever was on offer anyway.
Sri Lanka had promised to vaccinate all residents including us expats. Unfortunately the message hasn’t always percolated down to the local officials – called Grama Sevakas – responsible for getting the people to the needles. Many of them believe that vaccinations are reserved only for Sri Lankan citizens. So while our staff all got their jabs, no call-up papers arrived for us and we waited to see what would happen. And in due course our staff reported that if we signed some forms in Sinhala for our Grama Sevaka he would arrange for us to be vaccinated at Peradeniya University Hospital. Armed with the forms we hired an expensive car (one can only travel with registered companies and lots of paperwork in lockdown, and they don’t come cheap) and presented ourselves for jabbing. After being directed from one hospital building to another a few times, we discovered that this hospital was only engaged in vaccinating health staff, not the general public, and besides, no-one was being vaccinated that day as the relevant staff were on strike. Back home to await further devekopments.
A friend advised us to contact the British Honorary Consul in Kandy for help. We hadn’t previously been aware of the existence of such a person who is actually a Sri Lankan by birth, travelling on an Australian passport – a fact which apparently has put a few British expat noses out of joint. Personally I cared not if he came from Mars provided he did the job.
Amal, the Honorary Consul, fixed it through his local Grama Sevaka down in Kandy whose palm we had to cross with money and whose forms we had to fill in with a fake address in Kandy – in fact Amal’s address. Then off to find the vaccination centre which we’d been told was in a college “backside Tooth Temple” – which in Singlish means “behind the Temple of the Tooth” and, sadly, does not refer to the worship of a beast with gnashers in its bum. Another expensive hire car trip but the driver said he knew where we were going. As we approached Kandy Lake we fell in behind a vehicle with the words ‘Army Mobile Vaccination Unit’ prominently displayed on the side. “Follow that truck” I thought, but our driver had other ideas and took us way up into the hills, asking every passer-by where we should be going until he finally found someone who knew. We turned around, headed back down to the lake and sure enough there was the army mobile unit parked just where we were supposed to be.
I wish I could spin a scary yarn about the actual vaccination but, truth to tell, it was utterly routine.