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Free trade zone employees to undergo PCR tests as coworkers test positive for COVID-19

ECONOMYNEXT – Employees of several garment factories in Sri Lanka’s free trade zone (FTZ) will undergo PCR tests today after over 50 workers tested positive for COVID-19, officials said.

Subsequent to the large-scale contact tracing of the Brandix cluster that originated in Minuwangoda, health authorities started conducting PCR tests of factories in the FTZ where more than 50,000 people are employed.

Army Spokesman Col Vijitha Hettiarachchi told EconomyNext that more than 50 FTZ workers had tested positive for the novel coronavirus based on PCR tests conducted last Wednesday (7).

Eleven patients from Next manufactures and 34 from Chiefway garments tested positive, Hettiarachchi said, adding that employees at the Seeduwa Brandix plant also tested positive for the virus. These numbers are in addition to SriLankan Airlines cargo worker who also tested positive earlier this week.

Hettiarachchi, who is also spokesperson for the national task force on COVID-19 said PCR tests will be continued by health authorities to identify any new cases.

Meanwhile, Army Commander Lt Gen Shavendra in an earlier report said every identified patient in the country from October 03 has been traced back to the Minuwangoda Brandix cluster.

“When they were first discovered, the patients said they did not have any link to anyone in the cluster,” Silva told Sri Lanka’s privately-run Derana Television.

“But when we investigate, we find links.”

The army chief said some of the contacts were second level contacts while there were also a few third level contacts. The existence of third level contacts point to the existence of a cluster for a longer period, he said.

Silva had earlier said the infection was suspected to have been present at the Minuwangoda factory from around September 23 based on reports of sick workers, and there was a possibility of a person being sick as far back as September 13.

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The source of the cluster has yet to be found.

Silva said most of the new cases are reported from quarantine centres where the immediate families and close contacts of the Minuwangoda Brandix employees were being stationed.

All employees of the Minuwangoda plant have been traced, he added.

“All the COVID-19 positive people in the Minuwangoda cluster have been admitted to hospital while their contacts are in quarantine,” Siva said told reporters.

“85 percent of the families of those employees have also been directed to quarantine centres by now.”

Silva said other patients who have identified in different areas have also been directed to hospitals and quarantine centres.

“We have already admitted them to the hospital. Their families are also being directed to quarantine.”

“Army intelligence has traced all irst contacts of these patients and employees. We have them under self quarantine until we take them to quarantine centres,” he added.

Six staff members at the Brandix head office in Colombo 03 tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Monday, while six retail shops in Borella, Colombo 08, have been closed after it was discovered that a COVID-19 patient found at the Lady Ridgeway children’s hospital had visited the shops.

With new patients identified, Sri Lanka’s export firms are seeing attendance drop to the current COVID-19 wave raising concerns over production, a top official said against a backdrop of new infections being found in several factories.

Sri Lanka export development board chief Prabash Subasinghe said attendance was weak especially in the Gampaha district where the cluster originally emerged.

Health inspectors were also looking into other factories including Safe Way, Lanka Naigai and Okaya Lanka in the FTZ, leading to a drop in attendance, a government official said.

Sri Lanka identified 194 new cases in the 24 hours that ended at 6am today, bringing the total patients in the country to 5,038 with 13 Covid 19 related deaths. (Colombo/Oct14/2020)

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