New COVID-19 cluster emerges with 103 persons testing positive

Tuesday, 6 October 2020 01:19 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

From left: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi  speak at the meeting of Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 pandemic yesterday 

  • 101 persons from Minuwangoda garment manufacturing facility test positive from multiple parts of the country 
  • Includes nine persons on leave from Minuwangoda, Kurunegala, Monaragala and Jaffna
  • 2,000 PCR tests carried out, over 2,200 undergoing quarantine
  • Govt. says claims of island wide curfew are false

By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya

A new COVID-19 cluster has emerged in Sri Lanka with 101 employees of a garment manufacturing facility in Minuwangoda testing positive for the virus.

According to the Department of Government Information, yesterday’s cases include nine employees of the manufacturing facility who had returned home on leave. Of them, five were from Minuwangoda, two were identified from Katupotha, Kurunegala, one from Medagama, Monaragala, and one from Velanai, Jaffna.

In addition to these cases, three returnees from the United Arab Emirates also tested positive for the virus yesterday, taking the total number of patients identified in the day to 91.

Over 2,000 PCR tests were carried out yesterday after a 39-year-old from Divulapitiya, a supervisor at the Minuwangoda facility, tested positive on Sunday. The individual was the first case identified from the community in two months, with her 16-year-old daughter also testing positive for the virus later in the day.

This led to the Government taking swift measures to minimise community transmission, with employees of the facility, their contacts, and school students subjected to PCR tests. This in turn led to the identification of more patients.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases identified in the island has thus risen to 3,503, with 221 patients currently receiving treatment. The number of recoveries rose to 3,259 with one person being discharged from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) yesterday.

In relation to the new COVID-19 cluster, the Public Health Inspectors’ (PHI) Union President Upul Rohana said 1,300 students and 300 members of the public from the Divulapitiya area have been directed for quarantine, along with 650 persons connected to the Minuwangoda garment manufacturing facility. He added that contact tracing efforts will continue.

Community transmission risk

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera yesterday addressed the media at a briefing held at the Health Promotion Bureau to discuss the impact of public focus shifting away from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He explained that factors were yet to point to community transmission, which refers to cases being identified from different parts of the country with no apparent connection between patients. “At present, factors are insufficient for us to say that there is community transmission and the group identified so far can be referred to as a cluster,” he said, adding that community transmission from the cluster will be determined from PCR tests to be carried out in the coming days.

However, he added that the threat of the clusters that emerged from the Welisara Navy Camp and the Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre were minimised due to the fact that those infected were in a closed environment. With the current cluster, the employees of the manufacturing facility travelled to and from work on a daily basis and made more contact with society.

Dr. Samaraweera added that the risk of community transmission was high in this instance because health officials are yet to determine how the patient identified on Sunday contracted the virus. There are two aspects to consider here, he noted.

“One factor is that we request anyone who worked with the Brandix facility or visited it, to refrain from travelling and to remain at home and inform medical officers of their connection to the garment manufacturing facility.” 

Public asked to exercise caution, avoid crowds

The Chief Epidemiologist also asked persons experiencing respiratory difficulties to seek medical attention immediately and wear a face mask and wash hands regularly with soap when visiting a hospital. He requested such persons to refrain from using public transport when visiting a hospital for medical services and to inform health officers in the area if they do not have private modes of transport.

It is vital that the public follow safety guidelines as the spread of COVID-19 depends on public behaviour, Dr. Samaraweera said, while asking the public to also minimise their interactions with society, avoid crowds, and remain at home as much as possible.

In a statement shared by the Health Ministry yesterday, Acting Director General of Health Services Dr. S. Sridharan also emphasised the importance of following safety guidelines issued by the Health Ministry, stating: “The elderly should be protected and, unless absolutely necessary, should remain indoors. The general public too, is advised to limit outdoor activities to the absolute necessities.”

Dr. Sridharan added that the Ministry will issue further guidance on activities performed in public and work settings in the form of a new timeline.

Six key decisions by Health Ministry

Measures are also being taken to prevent the spread of the virus beyond the Gampaha District, with a special discussion between Health Ministry officials taking place yesterday. Officials considered ways to expand health services offered in the district’s COVID-19 treatment facilities, healthcare professionals and their safety, strengthening of outpatient services, expansion of PCR testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and self-isolation.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi informed officials to plan and implement a program centring on the Gampaha District, and also to ensure that PCR testing facilities operate throughout the day.

Six key decisions were taken during the discussion, the main one of which was that a special committee of officers be appointed by the Health Ministry to monitor and strengthen treatment facilities in the Gampaha District. In addition to this, the Minuwangoda Base Hospital and the Iranawila Hospital will be used to treat patients identified within the Gampaha District, while the Gampaha District General Hospital will be used to monitor patients suspected of having COVID-19, as well as carry out necessary tests.

All factory employees in the Gampaha District will also be subject to PCR tests with measures taken to carry out close to 2,000 tests on employees of the Minuwangoda facility, their contacts, and school students yesterday. Steps will also be taken to increase daily testing capacity and provide staff with safety kits and equipment as required.

The Health Ministry also stated that the Suwaseriya medical advice service was available via the 1999 hotline, while the Suweseriya ambulance service was available via the 1990 hotline for all persons displaying symptoms of COVID-19. 

No islandwide curfew, all Police leave cancelled

The Government also informed the public that curfew imposed in the Divulapitiya, Minuwangoda, and Veyangoda police jurisdictions would continue until further notice. DIG Ajith Rohana stated that 39 persons were arrested for violating curfew regulations in these areas.

A Government release last night also confirmed that leave for all Police ranks had been cancelled with immediate effect in light of the present situation.

Meanwhile, the President’s Media Division yesterday issued a statement asking the public to not be deceived by claims circulating on social media platforms that an all-island curfew will be imposed today. The Department of Government Information added that the Government will announce decisions via official channels after reviewing the situation in the country.

In a separate statement, the Department of Government Information shared that the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs had announced a temporary suspension of ‘daham pasal’ across the island. They will recommence along with schools as per the instructions of the Director General of Health Services.