Officials recognise risk of Indian variant

Thursday, 13 May 2021 01:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Say UK variant prevalent during third wave
  • Precautions taken to prevent Indian variant from spreading in SL, but concerns remain
  • Patient numbers skyrocket from 3,000 on 15 April to 22,500 by 11 May 

Health authorities yesterday stated that the UK B117 variant was found to be the prevalent variant during the third wave of COVID-19 but did not eliminate the risk of the Indian variant spreading in society.

At a press briefing held yesterday, Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said the UK variant has been identified in samples collected from areas like Colombo, Gampaha and Kurunegala.

At present, the Indian variant has only been detected in one sample collected from a quarantine centre. However, all precautions are being taken to ensure the variant does not spread in the country.

All air travel between Sri Lanka and India has been suspended and the Sri Lanka Navy has been requested to guard the coast as a lot of trade takes place at sea. “The Navy has been alerted to be very vigilant about such interactions with Sri Lankans and Indians in order to avoid bringing the Indian strain into Sri Lanka because it is thought to be highly infective with a very high mortality rate,” Dr. Fernandopulle said.

According to Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, the Indian variant was detected in the samples collected from an Indian national undergoing quarantine in Sri Lanka. By the time the strain was detected, however, the individual had undergone treatment and had recovered from the virus.

“A new variant has been reported from India and it has been detected not only in India but also in the UK and other countries. Our country faces a risk because the virus can enter the country through travellers from India as well as other countries with the variant,” he explained.

It was for this reason that quarantine measures are in place and genome sequencing is carried out in addition to PCR testing. According to the Epidemiology Unit’s situation report published on Wednesday, 3,893 Sri Lankan returnees from abroad and 315 foreigners have tested positive for COVID-19 to date. This includes 38 Sri Lankans returnees who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Despite measures in place to prevent the Indian variant from spreading in Sri Lanka, Dr. Samaraweera warned that there is always a risk.

“We do not know if the variant has spread to society through a patient who escaped us,” he said, adding that this is why genome sequencing carried out by the Sri Jayewardenepura University is important.

Despite the majority of COVID-19 detections during the third wave being linked to the New Year cluster, the Chief Epidemiologist revealed that a number of detections were made among persons displaying COVID-19 symptoms who had sought medical care from outpatient departments of hospitals.

According to Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, patients have also been detected among contacts of patients who have been directed for quarantine. He added that the high transmissibility of the COVID-19 variant as well as travel during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year has caused the rapid spread of the disease.

“We see an increase in patients displaying symptoms like fever, cough, cold, chest pains, and difficulty breathing. However, we must not forget that a large group of people are asymptomatic. Strangers we interact with in society as well as known persons we meet at a place of work could be an infected person,” he warned, stressing the importance of following safety guidelines.

Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle shared similar views, saying the speed at which daily detections have increased since 15 April is higher than before.

This was due to the nature of the UK B117 variant and as of 10 p.m. on Tuesday, 31,616 COVID-19 detections had been made during the third wave.

There were less than 3,000 persons receiving medical care at 10 a.m. on 15 April. However, there were 22,591 COVID-19 patients under medical care at 10 a.m. yesterday. The increase in detections has led to concerns regarding the treatment capacity in the country.

When questioned about it, Dr. Fernandopulle said the Government will expand treatment capacities as needed but the solution to the issue was preventing the spread of COVID-19 and the need for increased treatment facilities.

However, she admitted that shortages could occur if infections increase rapidly. Even if ICU capacities, for instance, are increased, medical staff cannot be trained within a short period of time, she said.

“Medical professionals will find it easy to control this situation when the country is under lockdown,” she added, explaining that the decisions taken by the Government regarding restrictions also take into consideration the socioeconomic impact of movement restrictions.


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