Fresh measures to control COVID-19

Saturday, 24 April 2021 01:09 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi

  • Issues stronger guidelines as infections hit two-month high of 969 but rules out fresh lockdown citing economic impact, isolation preferred 
  • Public warned of new variant and possible airborne spread 
  • Two-week quarantine reintroduced for overseas returnees 
  • Appeals for public to stay home, next two weeks crucial 
  • Health Minister working to amp up hospital care and oxygen 
  • 5,021 persons are under medical care, 496 patients under observation 

By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya 

As infection numbers hit a two-month high of 969 people yesterday, the Government issued tougher COVID-19 guidelines as part of efforts to get the virus under control but ruled out a fresh lockdown citing anxieties over economic impact. 

The public is being urged by health authorities to strictly follow safety guidelines given the spread of a new COVID-19 variant and concerns the virus could be airborne. The new guidelines also included extending quarantine for overseas arrivals to two weeks and limiting the number of people who could travel outside the home at the same time to just two.  Issued by the Primary Health Care, Epidemic and COVID Disease Control State Ministry, the guidelines defined alert level three as one where several clusters are detected in different districts and emphasised the need to follow DREAM protocol, of distancing, respiratory etiquette, aseptic practices, and the proper use of a face mask.

The increase in COVID-19 detections in the country has raised concerns about a nationwide lockdown. However, addressing the press yesterday, National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) Head Gen. Shavendra Silva said there were no plans to enforce lockdown but that areas will be isolated as required.

“We are approaching a long weekend and everyone is asking if lockdown or any other regulations will be imposed. As of now, there are no expectations to do so, but we ask the intelligent citizens of Sri Lanka to refrain from going to crowded places as much as possible,” he said.

“We isolated the Kuliyapitiya Police Division (on Thursday) and we isolated two Grama Niladhari Division (yesterday)and, moving forward, if a considerable number of COVID-19 patients are detected from a particular place, that area will be isolated,” Gen. Silva went on to add.

The NOCPCO Head also stated that there was no need to impose restrictions to limit travel between districts but requested the public to limit non-essential travel between districts.

Kuliyapitiya, Ganewatte, Wattala, and Divulapitiya have been identified as cities showing an increase in COVID-19 detections and districts with a higher number of patients include Colombo, Gampaha, Kurunegala, Kalutara, Galle, Anuradhapura, Puttalam, Jaffna, Hambantota, Kandy and Trincomalee.

The public has been asked refrain from holding any New Year celebrations or going on any trips that have been planned, saying the public was smart enough to know what is best.

“We cannot consider the global situation separately and this is a reflection of the situation in other countries. A considerable number of COVID-19 patients are detected among overseas arrivals on a daily basis,” Gen. Shavendra Silva said, adding that despite this, the Government did not plan to suspend flights to bring down Sri Lankans from abroad.

A total of 1,100 persons were scheduled to return to Sri Lanka yesterday, he added.

Speaking to reporters, Prof. Neelika Malavige, who is attached to the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Sri Jayewardenepura University, said the increase in COVID-19 patients in the country is due to the behaviour patterns seen during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations as well as a new variant.

“We see that the new variant acts in a different manner to what was here before. We will make a statement in the coming days about the current variant and how it differs from the virus from the first and second waves. The disease is spreading in an extremely severe manner due to the new variant,” she said.

According to Prof. Malavige, if COVID-19 spread to up to two people from a single patient before, it could now spread to five or six persons. Slight changes in symptoms, somewhat severe symptoms in young persons, and an increase in the number of persons displaying symptoms can also be seen with the new variant.

With the previous variant, 90% of patients did not display any symptoms. This had a negative effect as persons no longer had any fear about the virus.

However, Prof. Malavige stressed the importance of following safety guidelines, especially wearing facemasks. She explained that studies carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other organisations found that COVID-19 spread through droplets but also remained in the air for up to 1.5 hours.

This made it crucial to wear face masks, especially indoors.

“As the Health Department or the Government, we do not plan to impose strict regulations,” Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena said yesterday, adding that patients are more prone to respiratory issues now and that the need for oxygen in treatment centres has increased.

The next two weeks would be crucial, he said.

The Director General of Health Services went on to say that there were capacity limits in treatment centres and ICU facilities, which should be considered with the increase in patients.

However, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi insisted that the Government will make arrangements to ensure all patients receive the treatment they require.

“We are not a Government that has left patients to die at home. If 1,000 patients were detected in a day, we arranged for hospital facilities for all 1,000 patients. We arranged for ICU facilities for all persons who needed ICU facilities. We worked day and night as a Ministry for this,” she said.

According to the Epidemiology Unit, 969 persons tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday and 931 of the patients have been categorised as associates of the Peliyagoda cluster. The Divulapitiya, Peliyagoda and Prisons clusters have expanded to 94,083 patients.

The country’s total COVID-19 patient count has risen to 99,691. In addition to the triple clusters, the patient count includes 3,383 Sri Lankan returnees from abroad and 273 foreigners.

The district distribution of COVID-19 patients shows 30,993 patients from Colombo, 18,906 patients from Gampaha, 6,902 patients from Kalutara, 4,312 patients from Kandy, and 3,312 patients from Kurunegala.

This includes the 672 COVID-19 patients detected on Thursday, of which 192 were from Colombo, 117 were from Gampaha, and 99 were from Kurunegala.

At present, 5,021 persons are under medical care and hospitals have 496 suspect patients under observation. The active patients include 226 persons at the Dambadeniya Treatment Centre, 221 persons at the Giriulla Treatment Centre, and 168 persons at the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital.

According to the Epidemiology Unit, the country’s COVID-19 recoveries have risen to 94,036, with hospitals discharging 151 persons yesterday. This includes 44 persons from the Giriulla Treatment Centre.


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