BY SURESH PERERA
The Peliyagoda fish market coronavirus cluster believed to have been triggered by the fresh eruption of the contagion at Minuwangoda appears to be quite big in dimension and widespread in its reach, a senior medical official said.
“The fish market outbreak seems rather substantial with a potent level of transmission”, says Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara, Deputy Director of the Medical Research Institute (MRI).
“It is imperative that we trace everybody who came into contact with those infected to prevent the further spread of the virus”, he stressed.
Initially, 49 persons, mainly fish vendors, tested positive for corona, which led to the sealing of the complex on Wednesday. PCR tests were conducted on all vendors, customers and others within the premises and they were later transported in buses by the army to a quarantine centre at Diyatalawa.
By Friday, the number infected from the Peliyagoda fish market cluster climbed by another 182, while the total number of positive cases (since the Minuwangoda garment factory outbreak) has exceeded 2,850.
According to available statistics, Covid-19 cases have been reported from across many districts including Gampaha, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Galle, Hambantota, Kegalle, Kandy, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Jaffna, Mannar, Badulla, Kalutara and Moneragala.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka reported its 14th Covid-19 related death on Thursday. The patient, a 50-year-old woman from Kuliyapitiya, was under treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) at the time of her death.
Asked whether the quarantine curfew imposed in some areas of Colombo North was meant to facilitate contact tracing, Dr. Bandara, who doubles up as the Health Ministry’s official spokesman, said the objective was also to curtail the movement of people.
“As most people tend to travel from one area to another within their locality for various reasons, we want to restrict their movements to arrest the transmission of the virus”, he noted.
Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Shavendra has asked people, who had visited the Peliyagoda fish market over the past few days, to report to the closest PHI office to undergo PCR tests.
Visitors to the fish market queued outside the Mahara PHI’s office at Kadawatha for PCR screening yesterday.
PCR testing is imperative as most of those who had tested positive for the deadly virus were fish vendors and the possibility of contracting the virus through contact with them remains high, public health officials cautioned.
Where the emergence of the coronavirus at the Peliyagoda fish market was concerned, health officials suspect that the primary carrier was a vendor residing at Dompe.
He is believed to have passed on the infection to the others working within the complex, though it has still not been established how he picked up the virus.
Suspicions also linger about the infection being linked to the Minuwangoda cluster, the officials said.
On Thursday, police announced the imposition of a quarantine curfew in Kotahena as well, in addition to Mattakkuliya, Modara, Bloemendhal, Grandpass and Wellampitiya, where restrictions were placed the previous day.
The curfew in these areas will continue until 5.00 am on Monday (26).
With new infections on the decline, Sri Lanka was gradually recovering from the devastating fallout of the killer virus when the eruption of the garment factory cluster hit hard by triggering a fresh wave with more almost 3,000 new cases reported so far.
The Army Commander is on record saying the Minuwangoda cluster appears to be of foreign origin, but there has to be further verification to firmly establish the source.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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