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Fresh clusters could erupt despite slide in Covid-19 spread outside WP

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Senior medical official warns:

bY SURESH PERERA

Many districts outside the volatile Western province witnessed a slow-down in the transmission of Covid-19 over the past week, but the slide does not mean the worst is over as there’s every possibility of a fresh cluster erupting anywhere at any time, a senior medical official warned.

“Apart from the Western province, other districts in the country, which reported significantly high numbers earlier, have now seen an overall drop in the spread of the virus”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.

The overall coronavirus situation in these districts has improved with relatively lower positive cases emerging, he noted, while cautioning the public that dropping their guard could translate into a regression with the explosion of new clusters.

The Gampaha district, which earlier remained under lockdown as positive cases of the deadly virus hit a new high following the outbreak of the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda fish market clusters, has seen a gradual de-escalation with some areas deemed ‘high risk’ at one time witnessing a decline in terms of numbers, he explained.

It is encouraging that there have been no fresh cases reported from Minuwangoda, where the initial cluster within the Gampaha district erupted and spread to the free trade zone, Peliyagoda and Wattala in Colombo North, Dr. Herath stressed. “There was zero new patients from Katunayake as well”.

“With 500 plus Covid-19 patients reported from the Gampaha district in the Western province on Wednesday, I wouldn’t say there’s an overall significant big improvement as such, but some areas, where numbers were relatively high, have seen a decline with the virus in Minuwangoda and Katunayake dying down with zero new patients”, he outlined.

Some areas within the district still remain isolated with 28 Covid-19 patients discovered from Wattala and about seven to eight others from Biyagama and Negombo.

It cannot be said that “everything is going very nicely” in the Western province in relation to the spread of the contagion as many areas still remain ‘high risk’ amidst concerted efforts to tackle the threat, he said.

In addition, small clusters have also been identified in the Colombo district, including one at the Colombo port and another at a steel factory at Kotahena, he elaborated.

Asked about a possible time-frame to contain the raging pandemic in the Western province, Dr. Herath replied, “it’s difficult to predict, but the virus could die down within two to three weeks if no new clusters emerge. If the public adhere to preventive guidelines, an overall improvement in the situation can be expected. Otherwise, a new cluster could explode anywhere”

For example, if a Covid-19 patient visits a boutique and those who patronize it later fail to wear a face mask and touch surfaces and ignore the guidelines to wash their hands, a new cluster will emerge and spread to others they associate with, he said.

The public should also avoid visiting crowded places as the risk of infection is high. Without public support, it’s impossible to curb the threat. If people do what’s expected of them for their own safety and that of others, the virus will die down, he continued.

Asked about the relatively high number of infections from the Peliyagoda cluster, he said it could have happened due to droplets spreading out as the fish market is generally noisy.

On PCR testing, Dr. Herath said 10,000 per day capacity has already been reached with long-term plans to double the number, which means a bigger investment. Just as much as more random sampling in selected areas is called for, as the whole population cannot be screened, improving the efficiency of laboratories and reducing the operating time are also imperative to identify positive cases.

“We cannot unnecessarily spend funds on test kits without proper direction. There are asymptomatic patients who need to be identified through enhanced testing as the diagnosis cannot be done clinically”, he emphasized.

On the possibility of reopening the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), he said that it’s not practical to keep it closed indefinitely. It has to be reopened at some point though there are associated risks with a virus that is virulent.

If the risk factor is placed at 1%, of 1,000 people coming to the country, 50 could be infected and if 50,000 were to arrive, at least 500 could be carriers of the virus, he warned.

However, there’s no option but to take the risk as the country cannot afford to keep its gateway to world closed forever, Dr. Herath said.



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