ECONOMYNEXT – The COVID-19 strain that’s now spreading fast in Sri Lanka is confirmed to be the more virulent UK B.1.1.7 variant and is spreading at a 50-percent accelerated rate, health officials said.
The finding is a result of gene sequencing of 43 samples collected in Colombo, Boralesgamuwa and Kurunegala, Director, Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr Chandima Jeewandara said.
Almost all samples sequenced were found to be of the B.1.1.7 strain, he said.
The strain was first detected in the community on April 08 this year, Jeewandara told reporters this morning.
The UK strain was first detected in Sri Lanka’s military-run quarantine centres on February 12 following the sequencing of 92 samples collected from January to the first week of February in Colombo, Awissawella, Ingiriiya, Biyagama, Wattala, Mathugama, Mannar and Vavuniya, as well as from a number of quarantine centres, also according to Jeewandra who spoke to EconomyNext that day.
“Initial testing has shown a 55-percent increase in mortality rate and a 50-percent increase in transmission rate to those of other strains,” he said.
Noting that Sri Lanka’s health authorities are “alarmed” by the latest findings, the doctor said steps will be taken to bring the situation under control.
“We are unable to find where [the strain] originated. We first found it on April 08 in Borelasgamuwa, but we don’t know how it got there,” he said.
Dr Jeewandara said investigations will be carried out by the Ministry of Health to trace the origin and any infected people.
He added that the B.1.617 strain, the so called ‘double mutant’ found in India, has not yet been detected in Sri Lanka, but claimed that it is the same UK strain – B.1.1.7 – responsible for some 50% of the cases recently recorded in Delhi and elsewhere.
Another 5,000 samples from around the island have been sent to the Jayawardenapura University to be sequenced, he said.
Sri Lanka recorded 1,111 cases of COVID-19 yesterday, the highest daily total yet since the emergence of the pandemic.
With daily cases rising, the government has isolated several Grama Niladhari divisions around the country as a precautionary measure to contain the spread. A total lockdown has yet to be imposed, though all schools, preschools and piriven (monastic schools) have been closed till April 30.
Meanwhile, state hospitals have run out of the 147 intensive care units (ICUs) dedicated to COVID-19 patients as younger people are increasingly admitted to hospitals with severe symptoms, officials said. (Colombo/Apr28/2021)