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Spike in Covid-19 infections raise concern over emergence of new virulent variant

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By Suresh Perera

Amidst the alarming surge in Covid-19 infections, health officials expressed concern over the possible emergence of a new variant of the contagion leading to the rapid transmission of the virus.

“We assume that a new strain of the virus has surfaced though it has still not been conclusively established”, says Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, Director of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit.

The rapid transmission level of the virus has raised concern over a new variant with a more virulent load developing to claim bigger numbers in terms of infections, health officials said.

With 634 deaths so far, Covid-19 positive cases have spiked over the past few days with admissions to intensive care units spiraling.

In the backdrop of many areas across several districts being placed under isolation as infection numbers soared, Dr. Samaraweera said the emergence of some new clusters has propelled the health authorities to clamp down emergency measures to halt the further spread of the deadly virus.

PCR screening has also been stepped up following the escalation of positive cases, with 15,000 tests conducted on a daily basis, the officials said. “If Colombo becomes a hotspot again, the spillover could have disastrous consequences”.

The next three weeks will be crucial as infections could proliferate if people don’t avoid crowded places, get-togethers and events, which are super-spreaders of the virus, they warned.

At present, the rise in infections cannot be described as a ‘third wave’, but it will happen if people continue to throw caution to the wind and disregard health safety guidelines, they cautioned.

The eruption of fresh clusters was the result of intense inter-provincial travel, shopping in crowded bazaars and get-togethers during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year notwithstanding clear warnings by health authorities to adhere to stipulated Covid-19 preventive measures, the officials explained.

Now, the country has to pay the price for the folly of a few who didn’t give a tuppence about safety protocols, they pointed out.

Take the Pamunuwa area in Maharagama as an example. Prior to the New Year holidays, business establishments and the bazaar there were crammed with shoppers many of whom disregarded Covid-19 safety guidelines, health officials said.

The end result was that two shops selling clothes were closed, after two employees tested positive for corona and 22 of their close contacts identified and isolated, they noted.

The latest area to be placed under lockdown on Thursday was Kuliyapitiya in the Kurunegala district, where a surge in infections was witnessed.

Sub-clusters have also emerged in Kurunegala, Narammala, Alawwa, Gampaha, Colombo, Kottawa, Piliyandala, Panadura, Puttalam, Trincomalee and Jaffna.

Some sub clusters were also reported from the garment sector after some workers were found infected in a few factories. Twelve persons from Batuwatte in Ragama and 26 individuals from Divulapitiya also tested positive after they had participated in various New Year related activities.

Contact tracing of close associates was set in motion with those identified so far placed under isolation.

Some employees of a bank in Colombo were also found infected.

As a preventive measure, the Prisons Department announced on Friday that no visitors will be allowed into any prisons for two weeks with effect from Saturday, April 24.



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Facilities for infected pregnant women inadequate – SLCOG

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The distribution and availability of high-flow oxygen machines to treat Covid-19 infected pregnant women were not adequate, President of the Sri Lanka College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (SLCOG,) Dr. Pradeep de Silva said yesterday.

Dr. de Silva said that while they had not yet faced any lack of oxygen in treating Covid-19 infected pregnant mothers, things could change rapidly given the limited availability of equipment. “Having an adequate supply of oxygen alone is not enough. You need high flow oxygen machines, and 50 litres of oxygen per minute is needed to operate a high flow oxygen machine. I do not know how many machines we have in this country but where I work, Castle Street Maternity Hospital has about four. We need to estimate the number of these machines we require and how much oxygen we want. From my understanding, the distribution and availability of high flow oxygen machines to treat Covid-19 infected pregnant mothers is not adequate.”

Dr de Silva said that Sri Lanka needed about 50–200 high-dependency unit (HDU) beds per district, based on the population, 10–50 high flow oxygen machines per district, four for ten ICU beds and two dedicated Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines.

“If we get this, we will be able to deal with pregnant women who develop complications from COVID-19 for the next four to five years,” he said.

Dr de Silva said that currently one pregnant woman who has been infected with COVID-19 is receiving ECMO treatment. There is also a shortage of beds at the Mulleriyawa Base Hospital, which has the largest ward dedicated to COVID-19 infected pregnant women. On Thursday, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Dr Mayuramana Dewolage, who heads the ward that treats COVID-19 infected pregnant women at the Mulleriyawa Base Hospital, said that they only had 37 beds were dedicated to pregnant women with COVID-19. They didn’t have any HDU or ICU beds dedicated for their use, he said.

“We share HDU and ICU beds with other patients at Mulleriyawa Base Hospital,” Dr Dewolage said.

The President of the SLCOG also urged all hospitals to find a separate space for pregnant women who were receiving treatment at their institutions. When COVID-19 pandemic started, the Health Ministry instructed all hospitals to do so but it was now obvious that those instructions had not been followed, he said.

“When the second wave started people got ready but later, they just stopped getting ready and now we are unprepared to meet the challenges of the third wave. We need to find a way to manage this. If the Ministry of Health has not prepared a plan, we are ready to help formulate one,” the President of the SLCOG said.

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Those who had AstraZeneca first jab, should take Sputnik V with adenovirus 26 – Specialist

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

If those who have taken the first dose of AstraZeneca are to receive a second jab of Sputnik V, they should take the first Sputnik V vaccine with adenovirus 26 (Ad26), Consultant Immunologist and head of the department of Immunology-MRI, Dr Nihan Rajiva de Silva says.

Dr. de Silva said that the first dose of Sputnik had Ad 26 and the second had adenovirus-5. “Adenovirus-5 is common. We may have been exposed to that and we may have developed antibodies. Adenovirus-26 is rarer and we will better respond to that. That is why the vaccine-maker has used adenovirus-26 in the first vaccine. So, if you had a first jab of AstraZeneca and you are to get the second dose from Sputnik-V remember to get the first jab,” Dr. de Silva said.

He added that any vaccine has the chance of reducing the severity of the virus and that the general public should get vaccinated when the opportunity is available.

Dr. de Silva said that there was a shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines because the Serum Institute of India could not deliver shipments as promised.

“However, we are now getting Sputnik V vaccines and we are looking at mixing them. There is a study in Russia about the efficiency of mixing Sputnik V with AstraZeneca and the results should be out soon. I can say that theoretically mixing the two vaccines should work,” he said.

Dr. de Silva added that the AstraZeneca vaccine should work against the new variant spreading in the country.

Consultant Cardiologist at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Dr. Gotabaya Ranasinghe said that those with heart issues, non-communicable diseases and were obese must get vaccinated to minimise the complications of Covid-19.

Dr. Ranasinghe said that those in the above-mentioned categories were at risk of contracting, getting complications and dying of COVID-19 and research had proven that vaccination would reduce the chance of such eventualities.

“If you worry about getting vaccinated, talk to your doctor. Don’t seek advice from friends and family,” he said.

Dr. Ranasinghe added that they had limited the number of heart surgeries they do due to COVID-19. ICU beds used for heart patients too were being now allocated for COVID-19 patients. “We only do the most pressing cases. But this means that the waiting list keeps on growing. Now, the waiting list is over eight months. If we limit the surgeries more and keep taking away ICU beds available for those who have had heart surgeries, the waiting list will grow further,” he said.

The Consultant Cardiologist also advised the public to eat healthy food and engage in moderate exercises, at least five days a week. This will reduce the mental stress as well as boost the immune system. ‘We recommend moderate exercises like jogging and brisk walking, for 30 minutes, five days a week. Being healthy is as important as wearing masks or adhering to physical distancing,” he said.

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STF raids narcotics distribution centre close to Bloemendhal police station

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Acting on information received from the Organised Crime Fighting Unit of the elite Special Task Force (STF), police commandos, on Thursday (6), arrested a person running a narcotic distributing network, 1.5 km away from the Bloemendhal police station.

The STF identified the suspect as Thawasidevan Pradeep Kumar, 21, a key associate of one Suresh with links to a criminal outfit run by Kimbulaele Guna, now absconding in India.

DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that the raiding party had recovered 2 kg, 22 g and 88mg of ‘ICE,’ with a street value of Rs 25 mn in addition to 4kg, 2 g and 527 mg of substance known as ‘hash,’ as well as Rs 400,000 in cash and a mobile phone.

Kimbulaele Guna is believed to have sought refuge following an LTTE attempt to assassinate President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the final PA presidential election rally at the Town Hall in December 1999.

DIG Rohana said that Guna’s brother Suresh was a major heroin distributor in Colombo. The STF later handed over the suspect, along with contraband and locally made ‘hash,’ and his phone to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB). The raid on the heroin distribution centre situated in Aluth Mawatha, Colombo 15, followed specific information received as regards the ‘operation’ conducted with impunity (SF)

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