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Sunday June 20th, 2021

Only one case of Indian B.1.617 strain in Sri Lanka so far, but threat persists: official

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ECONOMYNEXT – The Indian national in Sri Lanka who tested positive for the Indian B.1.617 strain of SARS-CoV-2, the island’s only case yet, has made a full recovery, but  there is no way to know for certain if the deadly variant is present in the community without further genome sequencing, a health official said.

Sri Lanka’s Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera said on May 12 that sequencing of community samples will continue at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura’s Department of Immunology to detect any variants including B.1.617 that may be in the country.

Samaraweera said the Indian strain, which has caused much devastation across the Palk Strait, poses a threat to Sri Lanka too.

As of writing, B.1.617 has been detected in 44 countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared it a fourth ‘variant of concern’. These strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are more transmissible, or are associated with more disease severity, or evaded immunity (meaning they can infect people who have already had COVID-19 or have received a vaccine).

Sri Lanka has banned inbound passengers from India to prevent the strain from entering the country. India’s daily cases have surged past 300,000, and 2,500+ daily cases in Sri Lanka are threatening to overrun the island nation’s healthcare system.

Dr Samaraweera pointed to a possibility of B.1.617 finding its way to Sri Lanka from a country other than India.

“The Indian strain has been detected in many countries. We have that threat too now,” he said in an interview given to the Government Information Department today.

Samaraweera claimed Sri Lanka’s quarantine regime won’t allow any leaks as no person infected with any variant is released to society until they have stopped viral shedding.

According to Samaraweera, Sri Lanka first detected B.1.167 in Sri Lanka on May 08 in a sample collected from a quarantined Indian national. The patient had made a full recovery and been released upon a negative PCR test before his sample was sequenced, after which it was confirmed that his (recovered) infection was caused by B.1.167.

“We have somehow managed to prevent the Indian strain from entering the country, but it is something we should anticipate. Just yesterday, 38 cases were from people who had arrived from abroad,” said Samaraweera.

If an infected person somehow slips through Sri Lanka’s otherwise rigorous testing and containment efforts, he said, the strain could enter the community.

“We don’t know if someone slipped through and infected the community. To determine that, we shall continue genome sequencing of the samples we collect from the community. We send samples to the University of Sri Jayawardenapura every week,” he said.

A similar situation was seen in the now dominant variant of the virus in Sri Lanka known as the B.1.1.7 UK variant was first detected.

Authorities claimed the UK strain was first detected in the community in April, though they had earlier said it was found as early as end-January. This was later revised, according to the university lab.

Related: Sri Lanka, B.1.1.7 and dousing fires: In conversation with Prof Neelika Malavige

Despite increased quarantining of close contacts and ramped testing (though not before an inexplicable lag, B.1.1.7 spread rapidly in the community in the wake of the Sinhala & Tamil New Year holidays in mid April.

Director of Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura Dr Chandima Jeewandara said today that both UK and Indian variants show a similar transmissibility and mortality rates. (Colombo/ May 12/2021)


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