- Confirmed cases reach 28; IDH intensive care facilities being expanded
- STF and Police track absconding returnees suspected to be carrying virus, legal action to be taken
- Health authorities search and seal unregulated test kits in private hospitals
- Health Ministry and Police order additional protective gear for front line personnel
The Government yesterday said it was confident that the situation of countering COVID-19 was well in hand but asserted strict quarantine measures would be enforced and warned legal action against those who break public health laws or attempt to spread fake news.
Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs Secretary S. Hettiarachchi said yesterday at a press conference held at the Government Department of Information that State employees returning from overseas travel would be required to undergo self-quarantine for 14 days with leave provided if they were returning from a high risk country. “Essential services will carry on as per normal, we have urged Provincial Councils and Government departments to liaise closely, as there is a drought in some parts of the country and water needs to be supplied via bowers to some communities, these services cannot be disrupted,” he added.
Hettiarachchi was joined by Government Spokesman former Minister Bandula Gunawardana, Health Services Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe, DIG Ajith Rohana, Police Spokesman SP Jaliya Senaratne and Department of Information Director General Nalaka Kaluwewa at the press conference.
“People and groups who spread fear through publishing fake news and try to destabilise the Governments efforts effectively counter the spread of the virus and enforce quarantine will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” cautioned Gunawardana, pointing out that everyone needed to act responsibility during times of national crisis.
Gunawardena also urged the public to adhere to the quarantine rules and postpone gatherings and public functions.
Addressing the press, Dr. Jasinghe appealed for those who were in self-quarantine to be responsibly and for those who show early signs of illness to notify local health authorities immediately. The number of cases has increased to 28, up 10 from 18 the day before. The new patients include a 13-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy.
Jasinghe pointed out that those who are tested positive receive the best treatment at the IDH and urged persons who show signs of the illness to follow public health guidelines and not report to testing at private institutions.
“I have banned private medical hospitals from conducting COVID-19 tests but they continue to do it anyway,” Dr. Jasinghe said, pointing out that many private facilities do not have approved test kits nor proper facilities to conduct the test. Government spokesman Bandula Gunawardena did not comment when questioned if the Government was planning to take any action against the rouge medical establishments, except to say that the matter will be discussed at the Cabinet tomorrow.
Responding to a question Dr. Jasinghe pointed out that the private medical sector was largely self-regulated and said that that he had repeatedly warned them of non-compliance with the approved testing regime.
One of key concerns during the public health crisis is that private medical facilities are not required by law to report cases which test positive for contagious infections. According to Jasinghe, health authorities had raided and sealed several unregulated test kits from several private hospitals during the last few weeks.
One patient, known as patient 11, had ignored warning from health authorities and got himself tested from a leading private hospital in Colombo and once notified that the results were positive, not reported it nor admitted himself in to care.
“This patient ignored warnings to quarantine himself actively evaded health authorities and entering quarantine for a number of days,” Dr. Jasinghe said. “He is a gem merchant, not an ordinary – poor person, a person of affluence, he knew his travel partner who was with him in Germany was diagnosed days before, his travel partner had warned him to get admitted, yet he spent days absconding, he got himself tested at a leading private hospital in Colombo and tested positive, yet kept in hiding trying to self-medicate,” he explained.
Health authorities had to dispatch a team of Special Task Force (STF) personnel to track down patient 11, who was subsequently taken to IDH for treatment. DIG Ajith Rohana told the press that the Police will take legal action against the 45-year-old gem merchant and his wife (who had aided and abetted the patient) in the coming days. “If found guilty by the courts, they are liable to pay a fine or be imprisoned for up to two years,” he added.
The Police and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) yesterday arrested two individuals who had spread fake news of deaths resulting to COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The two individuals will appear before Colombo Magistrate Court tomorrow to face the charges. The CID is investigating 23 instances of fake news on social media while the Police are investigating 40 complaints received on the matter, DIG Ajith Rohana said.
The Police will establish a seven-person team at each Police station to monitor and support enforcing the quarantine regulations DIG Rohana added, pointing out that the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the form of masks, gloves and hazardous material suites were already being purchased by the department.
Dr. Jasinghe cautioned the public from flocking to retail stores during the upcoming festive time and from purchasing clothing items which may be frequently touched or tried out by other customers due to sanitary concerns and possibility of transmission of the virus. “It may be best to put off such things until this threat passes,” he added.
Responding to a question, Dr. Jasinghe said the Government was expanding intensive care (ICU) facilities at the IDH and other hospitals to meet any eventuality if there is an escalation but downplayed the possibility of it.
Commenting on the use and availability of protective suits and PPE for front-line medical practitioners and first responders, Jasinghe said that the Ministry was replenishing stocks. “As an example, at IDH we need on average at least 10 suit kits per patient in care, the suits are disposable, one-time use only, so we have to have ample stocks.”