Health officials in Sri Lanka have identified some 50 people who were in close contact with the first confirmed domestic COVID-19 patient and instructed them to go into strict self-quarantine.
“Now that we have detected the first local case, we want to make sure that no more cases rise out of it,” a Health Ministry official told EconomyNext.
Patient-1 is is a 52-year-old male tour guide who is confirmed to have contracted the virus locally. The Italian-speaking Colombo resident had reportedly been travelling with a group of Italian tourists. Italy is second only to China in terms of confirmed novel coronavirus cases, with some 10,000 patients reported so far.
The Sri Lankan patient is currently undergoing treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) hospital in Angoda while his family is under quarantine.
Health Ministry Director General Dr Anil Jasinghe said in a statement earlier that the government is doing all it can to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Sri Lanka does not have adequate, permanent quarantine facilities at present but is using the Batticaloa Campus and the Kandakaddu rehabilitation center in Welikanda to temporarily quarantine passengers arriving from high risk countries: namely Iran, Italy and South Korea.
“We don’t have quarantine centers as such, but we have prepared some quarantine centers in an ad hoc manner to quarantine foreigners coming from extremely high risk countries. Even now, the facilities are getting saturated,” said the Health Ministry official.
A Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) official told EconomyNext that, as of yesterday, 588 people who came out of the BIA have been quarantined, a vast majority of whom are Sri Lankan.
Three of these are from Iran and 170 are from South Korea, while the rest are all from Italy.
“We don’t know how far we can go and also getting the basic facilities to such places is not only expensive but logistically a difficult task,” lamented the health ministry official.
The official also emphasised that quarantining large numbers of people at the same time will be institutionally impractical.
“We have to start small,” he added.
Those under strict self-quarantine will be inspected by public health inspectors and doctors on a daily basis or once every two days if it proves inconvenient, said the official.
“The public health staff is monitoring them to ensure that they are strictly adhering to these quarantine procedures; that is the first step.”
As a second step, he said, people who had close contacts with those identified are requested to remain vigilant.
“We have advised them to report to a hospital if they find any symptoms,” he added.
Other measures taken by the health ministry include restricting arrivals from high risk countries and actively discouraging tours, pilgrimages, public gatherings and conferences both national and international.
“Unfortunately, people coming here from high risk countries are Sri Lankans and we cannot restrict their movement,” the ministry official said.
Meanwhile, Director Chief operations Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka Shehan Sumanasekara said a new system is in place at the BIA to transport passengers directly from the aerobridge itself to the quarantine centres.
Manifests have been obtained from all airlines operating inbound flights for this purpose, he said.
“Anybody who has boarded a particular flight, even if it is on transit from Iran, South Korea or Italy, we will get them down at the aerobridge itself and take them to the domestic terminal without mixing them with other passengers,” said Sumanasekara, emphasising that such passengers will be segregated from the rest.