- 692 persons test positive for COVID-19, triple clusters expand to 46,457
- New strain of COVID-19 detected in overseas arrival from UK: Chief Epidemiologist
- Stresses importance of strict measures to prevent spread within country
- Two persons positive among 100 tested in Jaffna buses departing from Wellawatte
- Police warns of isolation in areas if public fails to adhere to safety guidelines
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
The detection of 692 COVID-19 patients yesterday brought the total number of persons to test positive for COVID-19 in the island to 50,229, close to a year since the first COVID-19 patient was detected in the island on 27 January 2020.
According to the Department of Government Information, the patients detected yesterday include 685 associates of the Peliyagoda COVID-19 cluster and two persons linked to the Prisons COVID-19 cluster.
The triple clusters that emerged from Divulapitiya, Peliyagoda, and Prisons currently has 46,457 patients.
The country’s total patient count also includes 1,718 Sri Lankan returnees from abroad, 950 Navy personnel and their contacts, 651 persons linked to the Kandakadu cluster, and 135 foreigners.
The district distribution of the patients records 19,644 persons from Colombo, 10,255 persons from Gampaha, 3,365 persons from Kalutara, 1,750 persons from Kandy, and 900 persons from Ratnapura among those who have tested positive for the virus.
This includes the 588 COVID-19 patients detected on Tuesday, of which 158 persons were from Gampaha, 147 persons were from Colombo, 43 persons were from Kandy, 41 persons were from Kalutara, 33 persons were from Polonnaruwa, and 32 persons were from Ampara.
Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera yesterday stressed the importance of strict quarantine procedures and other measures to prevent the new strain of COVID-19 from spreading in the country.
“A research team including Prof. Neelika Malavige of the Sri Jayewardenepura University regularly study the strains of virus found in patients detected in the island. We have been especially focusing on recent overseas arrivals to identify the strain of the genetic composition of the virus in them,” he said, adding that the virus in an individual who arrived from England has been found to be of the new strain.
“This is an extremely important finding as we now know the threat is within the country and that special focus must be drawn to overseas arrivals,” Dr. Samaraweera went on to say. He explained that while the number of deaths and exacerbations of the virus may be low in comparison to the older strain, the new strain of the virus spreads easily and the number of deaths and exacerbation of the virus may increase proportionately.
The Chief Epidemiologist added that the country’s health system may not be able to cope if the new strain of COVID-19 spreads widely, which is why maximum effort should be taken to prevent the strain from entering country.
According to the Epidemiology Unit, 6,715 persons are currently undergoing medical care at 68 treatment centres. This includes 514 persons at the Punani Treatment Centre, 403 persons at the Bingiriya Treatment Centre, and 390 persons at the Giriulla Treatment Centre. Hospitals are also monitoring 652 persons suspected of having COVID-19.
The Epidemiology Unit adds that 43,267 persons have recovered from the virus to date. Among persons discharged yesterday are 93 persons from the Punani Treatment Centre, 90 persons from the Bingiriya Treatment Centre, and 47 persons from the Karadiyanaru District Hospital.
In terms of testing, Health Services Director General Dr. Asela Gunawardena yesterday said: “Since the spread of COVID-19 in the country, we have performed 1.4 million PCR tests. The total number of tests carried out [on Tuesday] is 14,329, through which 588 patients were detected.”
According to Dr. Gunawardena, 100 rapid antigen tests were carried out by Medical Officers of Health targeting buses headed to Jaffna from Wellawatte on Tuesday and two COVID-19 positive persons were detected through these efforts.
He requested those celebrating Thai Pongal today to limit festivities to their place of residence and immediate family and refrain from visiting relatives.
Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana echoed these views, saying special police teams have been appointed to monitor the situation today.
According to him, 2,462 persons have been arrested for failing to wear a face mask through operations carried out outside the Western Province since 30 October. This includes 24 arrests on Tuesday.
On 5 January, Sri Lanka Police carried out a special program to detect persons not wearing face masks in the Western Province. This was carried out on Tuesday as well and 137 persons were subjected to rapid antigen tests. Only one person tested positive.
However, between 5 January and 6 a.m. on Tuesday, 2,471 persons in the Western Province failed to wear face masks in public and face legal charges. They were also subjected to testing and 47 persons tested positive for COVID-19. Close to 400 of their close contacts have been directed for quarantine.
“An operation was carried out between 18 December and 5 January to perform rapid antigen testing at 11 exit points from the Western Province. This operation commenced once again at 6 a.m. [yesterday],” DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that 603 persons working at fish stalls in the Western Province were tested through another operation. Three COVID-19 patients were detected through this.
The Police Spokesperson also warned that certain areas may have to be isolated again if the public fails to adhere to safety guidelines.
“[On Tuesday], plainclothesman inspected areas in Colombo that were isolated for a long period. The observations revealed that residents of Colombo central and Colombo north are once again failing to comply with quarantine regulations,” he said, adding that the residents of these areas must understand the severity of the situation and act accordingly.
“Some of these Police divisions were isolated for close to three months. This was because clusters and sub-clusters were emerging,” DIG Ajith Rohana went on to say.
At present, only the Kattankudy Police Division is under isolation, with a few Grama Niladhari Divisions, housing schemes, and streets also under isolation.
In addition to this, the Health Ministry yesterday published a circular dated 11 January signed by Dr. Asela Gunawardena, in which he instructs health officials to adhere to specific guidelines when declaring movement restrictions and closure of establishments.
The recommendations state that the Medical Officer of Health of the area should personally assess the situation when there is a possibility of COVID-19 spread in the area and will be responsible for requests made for movement restrictions and closure of establishments in MOH areas. Requests for movement restrictions and closure of establishments should be communicated to the regional epidemiologist and regional director of health services.
While the circular specifies officials who should make the requests, it also states: “No person should be quarantined when travelling from a high prevalent district to a low prevalent district without getting prior approval of the Director General of Health Services.”