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Imported COVID-19 cases on the rise in Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT – Imported COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Sri Lanka, with more returnees from the Middle East testing positive for the virus, an official said.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera told EconomyNext that this is due to high community transmission in Middle Eastern countries.

Of the 331 COVID-19 cases that were recorded over a period of 24 hours that ended at 6am today, 83 were returnees, health ministry data shows, indicating a spike in cases among repatriated Sri Lankans.

Over the relatively quiet couple of months between Sri Lanka’s first and second waves of the pandemic, cases were detected only among groups of returnees that were chartered back to the country via special SriLankan Airlines flights. According to Dr Samaraweera, community spread that spiralled out of control in other countries was the reason for the increased number of cases among returnees.

“Even if these repatriates test negative in a PCR test carried out before they board, they may still test positive after several days in quarantine in Sri Lanka,” he said.

A total of 2,303 Sri Lankans who returned from abroad and 193 foreigners who travelled to the country since March last year have tested positive for the virus so far.

Meanwhile, labour activists in Sri Lanka’s Katunayaka and Biyagama free trade zones claimed that apparel companies are not paying for enough PCR tests for workers and ask that the government intervene in the process.

“These workers have been working since the start of the pandemic to keep the economy afloat. Several clusters are again forming in the zone, which has been neglected by the authorities,” Programme

Coordinator of the Dabindu Collective Chamila Thushari told Economy Next.

Thushari said most of the workers employed in different companies are boarded in the same hostels and share bathrooms and other limited sanitary facilities, increasing the likelihood of these workers carrying the virus even if they may not show symptoms.

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According to National Centre for Trade Zone Workers Convener Gamini Rathnayaka, 1,037 workers have tested positive for the virus in the Biyagama and Katunayaka zones and more PCR tests need to be conducted with state intervention.

Addressing the issue in the FTZ, Samaraweera said the apparel companies have requested the authorities to perform random PCR tests on staff at company expense.

“We are changing testing strategy for the FTZ, which will be implemented after analysing the cases reported and spread pattern in the ara.  At the moment we are conducting random tests of the workers in the zone. Workers with symptoms will also undergo PCR testing immediately,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s national task force for the prevention of COVID-19 confirmed that the costs for PCR testing of employees will be borne by the companies.

“We’re having a discussion about this today and will take a decision on the next stop to control the emergence of possible clusters within these zones,” task force spokesman Colonel Vijitha Hettiarachchi told EconomyNext.

Sri Lanka’s total COVID-19 cases has increased to 88,238, with 2,737 active cases and 305 individuals currently under investigation. With five deaths reported yesterday, death due to COVID-19 has increased to 532. A total of 84,969 patients have been discharged from hospital upon recovery.

A drop in the number of daily cases have been observed in the past few weeks, which officials say is due to strict preventative measures in place. However, there has also been a corresponding drop in daily PCR testing, which officials attribute to a drop in close contacts resulting from decreasing cases.

Reported by Chanka Jayasinghe (Colombo/Mar16/201)

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