Govt. scrambles to increase PCR testing capacity as 49 test positive for COVID-19

Saturday, 25 April 2020 00:59 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Health Ministry moves to increase PCR testing capacity, including universities and private sector
  •  UGC to move PCR machines to Health Ministry labs as total cases hit 417
  • ADB-funded testing facility nearing completion in Mulleriyawa; new lab to conduct 1,000 PCR tests daily
  • Govt. to import more PCR test kits, local production of swabs if approval given
  • 35 Navy personnel test positive; includes five sailors on leave

As Sri Lanka hit a new daily high of 49 reported COVID-19 patients and the total number of cases shot past 400, the Government scrambled to expand PCR testing capacities by getting universities and the private sector more involved.

The record number of newly diagnosed patients brought the total number of cases to 417.

According to the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health, 301 active patients were undergoing treatment as of last night. A total 109 patients have been released from care after recovering and seven patients have succumbed to the virus to date. A total of 183 people have been hospitalised.

According to the Government Information Department, 11 of the 49 patients identified yesterday were either under self-quarantine or in quarantine centres run by the Government, and originated from Bandaranayake Mawatha, Colombo 12. Thirty sailors from the Welisara Naval Station also tested positive yesterday, while five sailors who were on leave also tested positive for the virus.

Speaking at the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 (NOCPC) yesterday, Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe said that health authorities have reached their peak testing capacity with 1,142 tests carried out on Wednesday (22 April). He was joined by Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, NOCPC Head Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, and DIG Ajith Rohana.

"We carried out a record number of PCR tests on Wednesday, which was 1,141, and that is our maximum capacity at the moment," Dr. Jasinghe said, pointing out that the Health Ministry has taken steps to increase the testing capacity with PCR machines which are in universities and were having discussions with private sector hospitals to use their facilities to further expand testing.

"We have had discussions with private hospitals and have requested them to provide pricing options to the Ministry," he explained. The Health Ministry has requested the University Grants Commission (UGC) to move several PCR machines in use at universities into Health Ministry labs to increase the testing capacity on an urgent basis.

"Further we are building a state-of-the-art testing laboratory at Mulleriyawa, funded by the ADB, which will be completed in a short time. This laboratory will have the daily capacity to conduct 1,000 PCR tests," Dr. Jasinghe said, pointing out that once online, the facility will significantly enhance the testing capacity.

The Government is planning to import more PCR test kits and other necessary equipment to expand testing capacity, he said, adding that Sri Lanka has begun to test locally manufactured swabs used to collect test samples and expressed confidence that if the swabs receive approval today, such medical items can be produced locally.

Dr. Jasinghe stated that he has released a circular to all hospitals, giving guidelines and instructions to follow on how to restart clinical operations and normal medical services once some normalcy returns.    

Addressing the press, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi called on the public to act responsibly in the face of the public health crisis. Wanniarachchi blamed the irresponsible behaviour of some residents of Bandarayake Mawatha, Colombo 12, and of Suduwella in Ja-Ela for contributing to the spread of the virus.

She charged that the irresponsible behaviour of those who were exposed to the virus in Suduwella has endangered service personnel working on the frontlines to contain the spread of COVID-19, citing the Navy personnel who were infected after being deployed to hunt down the groups who broke quarantine regulations.

The Health Minister appealed to the public, asking them not to undo the hard work of medical professionals and other essential service workers who were working tirelessly and in the face of significant risk to themselves.

According to Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, 10 persons who completed the mandatory quarantine program at the Punani quarantine centre had been released yesterday after a medical examination. "A total of 4,376 persons who completed quarantine have returned home to date, and 2,869 remain in quarantine at 29 centres island-wide," he stated.

The Army Commander also stated that 76 Sri Lankan students who were in Kathmandu, Nepal were repatriated on Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL-1425 yesterday, and promptly sent to quarantine at the Punani centre.