Divulapitiya cluster continues to grow with 19 more testing positive

Friday, 9 October 2020 00:17 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Cluster grows to 1,053, all employees subjected to PCR tests
  • Virus likely to have spread beyond areas where curfew is imposed: Army Commander
  • 80 persons arrested thus far over curfew violations
  • Constraints of health system must be considered: GMOA

By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya

Nineteen more people connected to the Minuwangoda garment manufacturing facility tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, increasing the Divulapitiya cluster to 1,053.

The total number of patients identified in the island has thus increased to 4,478, of which 1,188 are currently receiving treatment at various hospitals. This includes 211 persons at the Kamburugamuwa Hospital, 133 persons at the Hambantota District General Hospital, and 119 persons at the Welikanda Base Hospital. Hospitals are also monitoring 289 persons suspected of having COVID-19.

The number of COVID-19 recoveries rose to 3,278 yesterday, with four persons from the Welikanda Base Hospital being discharged, the Epidemiology Unit stated.

According to the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), 42 persons arrived from Qatar yesterday and have been directed for quarantine. A total of 8,029 persons are currently undergoing the process at 80 centres.

The NOCPCO added that 164 persons left centres yesterday having completed the process, bringing the total number of persons to leave quarantine centres to 49,577.

The Government is still in the process of directing family members and contacts of recently-identified COVID-19 patients to quarantine centres, Army Commander and NOCPCO Head Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva said yesterday.

He requested all employees of the garment manufacturing facility and their contacts who are yet to report to the health authorities to do so by contacting 011-3456548. Silva added that all employees as per data provided by the facility had been subjected to PCR tests. This includes 150 persons connected to the company but who are not on a full-time employment basis.

He also addressed claims circulating on social media regarding the apparel manufacturing company arranging for flights to bring down persons from India. According to Silva, 48 Sri Lankans from India arrived at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on 22 September and were directed to the Sheraton Kosgoda Turtle Beach Resort for the mandatory 14-day quarantine, as per a request from the garment manufacturing company.

They completed the process on 6 October under Sri Lanka Army supervision and will self-quarantine for a 14-day period. Silva assured that the persons did not leave the quarantine centre prior to the completion of the process and underwent PCR testing as required.

The Army Commander also said an individual experienced sudden illness in the Kandakadu area while being taken to a quarantine centre on Wednesday. The individual’s daughter had tested positive for COVID-19 and was an employee of the garment manufacturing facility.

“Medical teams of the Sri Lanka Army carried out all possible procedures, but unfortunately she passed away from a heart attack,” Silva added. The death is not being considered COVID-19-related and the number of COVID-19 deaths in the country remains at 13.

Silva also responded to questions on patients being identified from various parts of the island, explaining that patients identified thus far were via contact tracing. However, some employees of the facility have gone home on leave, he said, adding, “If they have come into contact with others, we will see cases emerging from the community in the next seven days.”

He went on to say, “Over 70% of the employees at the facility have tested positive, so the virus load is extremely high in comparison to other clusters like Welisara and Kandakadu.” This increases the possibility of spread, Silva explained.

It is thus each person’s individual responsibility to ensure they do not spread the virus to others as it was likely the virus has spread beyond areas where curfew has been imposed. “Just because curfew has not been imposed in other areas, it does not mean that they are 100% safe,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday said curfew imposed in 18 Police jurisdictions in the Gampaha District would continue until further notice. The Sri Lanka Police also issued a statement on curfew violations, mentioning that 21 persons had been arrested and one vehicle taken into custody during the 24-hour period ending at 6 a.m. yesterday.

Since 4 October, 80 persons have been arrested and 19 vehicles taken into custody, the Police added.

Measures to contain the spread of the virus continue, with patients being identified from various parts of the island, including a pregnant individual who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Castle Street Hospital for Women. 

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera said: “She is an employee of a company that provides services to the garment manufacturing facility. We thus carried out PCR tests at that company as well.”

He added that health authorities were expecting to identify more patients from the PCR tests carried out on employees of the garment manufacturing facility and their contacts, with families and contacts being subjected to tests yesterday.

“This cluster is extremely large and we are experiencing this during a time when society went back to its normal state, which means that people who came into contact with patients freely integrated with society during the past few days. Thus the virus may have spread to other people and, to prevent further spread, we need to minimise our activities by remaining at home,” Dr. Samaraweera added.

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) had similar views on the spread of the virus, with GMOA member Dr. Haritha Aluthge saying, “This cluster is likely to expand and the bigger it gets, the more the constraints of our health system should be considered.” This includes human resources, physical resources, ICU facilities and beds.

“The next 24 hours are extremely decisive,” Dr. Aluthge added.

Given the continuing expansion of the cluster, several organisations yesterday issued notices on the temporary suspension of certain services. This includes the Department of the Registrar of Companies, which will be closed for the public until further notice. Services like the incorporation of companies, registration of societies, and registration of public contracts can be obtained via the Department website.

The Department of Government Information’s Publication Bureau will be closed for transactions until 16 October and the publishing house of the Department of Government Printing will be closed until further notice.

In addition to this, the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department yesterday issued a statement limiting prayers to 50 persons at mosques with the capacity for over 100 persons and 50% for mosques with a lower capacity.

Meanwhile, the International College of Business and Technology (ICBT) yesterday issued a statement that a student of the campus, who was also an employee of the garment manufacturing facility, had tested positive for COVID-19. The student had only attended classes on Sunday and all persons who visited the campus premises since then have been asked to follow Government health guidelines. The campus has been conducting classes online since Monday.

St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo, also issued a statement on a student’s parent testing positive for COVID-19. According to the statement, the family has been placed under quarantine, undergone PCR tests, and results are being awaited.

The Minuwangoda Police Station was also temporarily shut down yesterday after an individual operating its canteen tested positive for COVID-19. The individual is a contact of an employee of the Minuwangoda garment manufacturing facility.

However, in a statement issued yesterday, DIG Ajith Rohana said they planned to resume operations soon, with the premises being disinfected and certification from health authorities being obtained. Officers from other Police stations will be stationed at the Minuwangoda Police Station.

Measures are also being taken to quarantine all persons at the station and those who made use of the canteen services.