Officials blame unrestricted travel for Sri Lanka’s surge in daily COVID-19 cases

TRAVEL HOLIDAYS: Sri Lanka is almost back to normal with traffic on roads. With overnight curfews ending people are free to travel longer distance for holidays.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is in the midst of an upsurge in COVID-19 cases, even as daily PCR testing has reached a worrying low. Daily cases exceeded 900 for the third consecutive day yesterday, with authorities attributing the surge to unrestricted travel.

Health Services Deputy Director General Dr Hemantha Herath told EconomyNext yesterday that an increase in travel during the December holidays and in early January, as well as new subclusters that have emerged, has contributed to the rise in cases.

Sri Lanka identified 963 new COVID-19 cases yesterday bringing total cases since March last year to 72,174.

Herath said the surge was to be expected.

“People were stuck at their houses close to a year and it was not possible to impose a curfew island-wide in [the December-January period],” he said.

“We issued warnings, asking the general public to limit their travels. But many ignored the warnings and went ahead, spreading the virus, and so the number of cases has now increased,” he said.

Some 150 cases were also discovered at two garment factories in Minuwangoda and Mahiyangana, Hearth said, which has also led to the surge in cases.

He further said daily PCR testing has picked up, with some tests that were pending in a backlog being completed over the past two days.

President of the Association of Government Medical Laboratory Technologists Ravi Kumudesh told EconomyNext that over 7,000 backlogged PCR tests have yet to be completed at the Medical Research Institute (MRI) and other government laboratories: some 5,000 at the MRI, 1,500 at the Anuradhapura hospital lab and over 1,000 at the BIA.

Denying this, Herath said: “We had some backlogged tests that were completed during the past few days, but it is not entirely correct to say we had thousands of them.”

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According to the Deputy DG, Sri Lanka has 34 labs conducting PCR tests and there may be a backlog of pending tests when the PCR machines need repair.

“But if the repairs take some considerable amount of time we re-distribute the samples to other labs to continue testing,” he said.

Last year, Herath said, there were thousands of samples pending testing.

“Even when if we worked 24 hours a day there could be a small number of tests remaining to be completed. At times like that we will assign our staffs for overtime duty and make sure all tests are completed,” he said.

Herath reiterated that with some issues in the machines being fixed and backlogged tests being cleared the number of PCR tests increased over the past two days. (Colombo/Feb12/2021)

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