Govt. launches National Ops. Centre to counter COVID-19

Wednesday, 18 March 2020 01:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Director General Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe, acting CDS and Army Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva and Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi at the launch of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO). PiC By Pradeep Pathirana

  • Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva heads National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID- 19 outbreak
  • Urges over 1,500 recent returnees to adhere to self-quarantine regulations 
  • 548 returnees answer Govt. call; register with Police, local health authorities
  • Puttalam District under close observation; regional lockdown on the cards
  • Welikanda Hospital being equipped to treat COVID-19 patients
  • Quarantine facilities expanded to 22
  • IDH to expand critical care capacity; health authorities confident that treatment capacity adequate
  • Govt. to soon decide on shutting down nightclubs, betting centres 
  • 40 spectators at Roy-Tho warned by health authorities to self-quarantine


The Government yesterday established the National Operation Centre for Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), aimed at mitigating the impact of the virus, as the number of patients tested positive for the disease increased to 43 at the time of going to print.

The NOCPCO, established under a directive from the Presidential Task Force on countering COVID-19, was launched at its premises in Rajagiriya, with Acting Chief of Defence Staff Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva appointed as its Head.

Addressing the media at the launch, Lt. Gen. Silva requested the press and the public to use information issued from the centre instead of relying on unverified news.

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Director General Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe, DIG Ajith Rohana, Police Spokesman SP Jaliya Senaratne, Western Province Governor Seetha Ambepola and senior Government officials joined Lt. Gen. Silva at the press conference. 

“From now on, please know that the official information will be issued by this centre,” the Army Commander said, adding that the Government was confident it was in control of the COVID-19 outbreak in the island.

Lt. Gen. Silva explained that with the Government having already taken measures to stop all persons from entering the island from airports and seaports yesterday, what remained was to effectively manage the local spread of the virus.    

Commenting on the measures put in place, Lt. Gen. Silva said that the armed forces and the Health Ministry had expanded the number of quarantine facilities to 22. At present, 2,258 individuals are undergoing a 14-day quarantine program at the facilities. 

“We did not quarantine those who returned to the island between 1 and 9 March, and the Government has repeatedly requested them to self-quarantine, but some have acted irresponsibly,” he stated, pointing out that, according to the data at hand, the Government believes close to 1,500 individuals have returned from Italy, South Korea, and Iran during the time period.

“Around 800 of those individuals are residents of Puttalam. If we don’t see the self-quarantine being enforced, we will have to take a decision in this regard, perhaps in terms of regional measures,” he opined.

However, with the Defence Ministry issuing a call on Monday night for these individuals to register themselves with local public health officers or the Police, 548 had done so by 12 noon yesterday. They were commended by the authorities for acting responsibly, although somewhat late, given that they had already been requested to register themselves with local authorities on the day of arrival in Sri Lanka.

Health Minister Wanniarachchi downplayed the calls for a countrywide ‘lockdown’, citing the need to have essential services operational, along with an ample supply of essential goods available, especially for low-income wage earners, who did not have the luxury of stocking up on food items for days.

Wanniarachchi argued that bringing the nation to a standstill would have many implications, and was not a decision to be taken lightly.

She urged those who returned to the island between 1 and 9 March to adhere to the regulations, pointing out that those who acted irresponsibly would place the wellbeing of the nation at risk.

“Some of those who returned from Italy misbehaved during transit to the quarantine centres, and now one of the Army officers involved in transporting them has been exposed to the virus. This is very sad, why do our people behave in this manner?” she questioned, pointing out that there was a lack of discipline. 

“The Chinese got millions to quarantine at home and they did; we can see the results improving in China, why can’t our people do the same?” she argued. Commenting on the focus on the Puttalam District, Wanniarachchi said that the Government was closely monitoring the situation, and would have to make a decision about possible regional quarantine measures if the self-quarantine regulations were not met. Responding to a question, the Minister said that the Government was likely to order the closure of nightclubs and betting centres in the next few days.

Director General Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe warned that if individuals did not self-quarantine, they would have no choice but to send them to quarantine facilities.

“While many have been responsible, it only takes one or two who behave irresponsibly to possibly infect many others,” he added.

Responding to a question, Dr. Jasinghe assured that the facilities at IDH were adequate to meet the present demand. 

“We are expanding the critical care capacity at IDH and equipping the Welikanda Hospital as a contingency,” he added, pointing out that specialist medical staff needed to staff the new treatment facility would be sent to the location from other base hospitals.

Dr. Jasinghe also downplayed concerns of a major outbreak, pointing out that early measures were yielding results. However, he cautioned that if the public failed to maintain social distancing, did not follow specified sanitary and hygiene practices or violated self-quarantine regulations, the situation could escalate.

Jasinghe argued that each individual must be responsible at this hour of national crisis.

Speaking on the incident relating to a SriLankan Airlines crew member who had attended the Royal-Thomian Big Match, and later tested positive for COVID-19, Dr. Jasinghe said that public health authorities had monitored video footage of the function, and issued warnings to 40 individuals seen associating with the patient. The person in question is presently undergoing treatment at IDH.

All airline crew members have also been advised on preventive measures in keeping themselves safe while discharging their duties, and will be advised on possible self-quarantine if necessary, he added.     

“None of the patients at IDH are in a serious or critical state. At the moment we are satisfied with the treatment and the management of patients,” he added.