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Russian Airman has had Covid 19 and has recovered – Epidemiologist

ECONOMYNEXT -The Russian airman who created panic in Matara by seen shopping after testing positive for Covid 19 has had the disease and has recovered the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera said.

In a statement issued to media this evening, Samaraweera said that the airman was tested at the Covid ward in the Hambantota hospital and antibodies for the Covid virus was found in his blood yesterday.

“This means he has had the disease and recovered and is not infectious at present,” he said. “We will discharge him from the hospital in the next few days so that he can return home,” he added.

Samaraweera, however, said that what has taken place in Matara should never have happened. The Russian aircrew which was quarantined at the Amaloh Boutique Resort in Matara had been permitted to leave the hotel and go shopping.

“Persons under quarantine should not be allowed to leave their rooms,” the Chief Epidemiologist said.
He also said that the staff at the hotel should not have been allowed to go their homes while there was a group undergoing quarantine.

The Hotel Manager, Chamara Perera told EconomyNext that the crew had come for two days but had extended their stay, which observers say raises questions whether existing procedures are enough or additional tests or precautions should be taken if a stopover aircrew extends their stay.

Perera said there was an on-going blame game, saying health inspectors were not informed by the hotel and authorities were not aware, which was not true.

There were also statements made that the premises was not a designated quarantine hotel, but that there was no such requirement under current rules, Perera claimed.

EconomyNext was told by the spokesman for the Covid 19 Prevention Task Force that this particular hotel was not a designated quarantine centre and as such did not have the required Public Health Officials and Security Forces personnel to manage the people under quarantine.

The manager said the airline of the Russian crew had contacted Amaloh Resort via a local agent.

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Prior to arriving, the resort had requested clearance documents, entry permits and PCR test results, which the hotel says were provided via email.

Authorities Informed

The hotel had also contacted Mattala Airport to inquire about the crew and a manager told the hotel management has confirmed that the crew is exempted from quarantine procedure.

“The information given was they are flight crew; they do not get quarantined as they come for a short period of time,” Perera said. “So once the PCR is cleared, they can book the vehicle and can go and that is how they came. They were not escorted by the army or anything, they came in two private vehicles.”

Perera said Covid control authorities were also aware of the crews stay from the day of arrival.

“On the day they arrived, a Colonel from the COVID taskforce in Rajagiriya contacted my manager and he said that he is aware of the crew in the hotel and to stay in touch with him if there is any sickness or symptoms to immediately contact that number,” Perera said.

“Again, later in the evening, another call came from the same taskforce and spoke to the captain of the Russian crew. We don’t know what they discussed but it came through our office direct line and after the call, the crew captain said that they have all the necessary permission to stay in the country and that they don’t like to be disturbed.”

Perera says there have been statements that the crew was not sent to a designated hotel. But authorities had enough opportunity to that and it was not fair to blame the hotel.

Though the hotel is being blamed, Perera says when a plane lands in Mattala, authorities had the opportunity to direct them to a designated hotel.

“The crew also landed in Katunayake airport before coming to Mattala so in one of those places they must have filled the embarkation form and done the immigration clearance,” Perera said.

“At the immigration, they should have had clear instructions if these people are to be quarantined or get in touch with the army or whoever the authority’s responsibility to take them to the designated hotels and due procedure follows.”

Perera said the hotel had also informed the local Public Health Inspectors about the pending arrival of the Russian crew. The PHI had instructed them not to go into society and follow the procedure.

Perera said health measures were taken within the premises.

Supermarket Visit

However, the crew had left the hotel.

“They went to the Matara town in three-wheels once, but we told them that is not advisable. And the crew members did not step out of the hotel afterwards,” Perera said.

A statement from the Matara police said two of the Russian crew members had taken a three-wheeler to an Arpico supermarket around 11.51 am on September 20 and to a Keells Super at approximately 2.53 pm that same day.

A circular published by the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services on July 7 states that with regard to accommodation of foreign airline crew members, the “airline can select the hotel and there is no need to reserve hotels exclusively for the stay of foreign crew members”.

However, point 3 states that the crew should be transported by an identified vehicle and vehicle cleaning should be carried out by the relevant agency while point 4 of the circular states that at all times the crew members should be strictly confined to their hotel room during their entire stay.

Point 11 of the circular also says that the area Medical Officer of Health should communicate these measures to the hotel-management and monitor whether they are adhered to.

Extended Stay

The pre-departure test, which turned positive, is believed to be done due to international aviation rules.

The tests were done at a lab of one of the main private hospitals in the county, Perera said.

Perera recalls that from the time the news spread about the infection everything was a chaos.

“When the army and media started a big panic, my manager and the Russian crew requested another test to be done before they start shutting down the place and all,” Perera recalled.

“The crew captain specifically said that it felt like a terrible mistake because the person does not have any symptoms and they have been travelling very cautiously.”

The proprietor had allowed the army to use the hotel as a temporary quarantine facility and they had requested them to make sure it wasn’t a false alarm.

The rest of the 14 crew members were asked to leave immediately even though the Russians had said they have the mandate to stay until the other person is cleared.

(Colombo, September 26, 2020)
With additional reporting by Arjuna Ranawana
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