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Tuesday May 11th, 2021
Health

Sri Lanka closes schools, isolates GN divisions as COVID19 surges

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has closed all schools in the Western and North Central provinces and isolated 10 Grama Niladhari divisions around the island starting today to contain the spread of COVID-19, officials said.

Education Minister Prof G L Peiris told reporters this afternoon that all schools, preschools and piriven (monastic schools) in the Western and North Central provinces will be closed till April 30.

Earlier in the afternoon, Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 task force announced the isolation of Polhena, Heeralugedara, Kaluaggala in the Kotadeniya police area and Aswennawaththa East in the Minuwangoda police area in the Gamapaha district, Pelawaththa North and East in the Megahatenna police area in the Kalutara district and Pupuhar in the Trincomalee district.

Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva, who heads the task force, announced a short while ago that the Imbulagoda and Katudampe Grama Niladhari divisions in the Galle district will also be isolated from 8pm today.

Sri Lanka has seen a surge in daily COVID-19 cases in the days following the Sinhala & Tamil New Year holidays.

Related: Fears of a crisis loom in Sri Lanka as COVID-19 cases surge

The Dambulla Dedicated Economic Centre will also be isolated due to its being a high risk area, the pandemic task force said in a statement.

The economic cetre was isolated at the start of the second wave of the pandemic in October last year when a cluster was detected there affecting the livelihood of farmers and retailers.

Other areas already isolated in the wake of the Avurudu surge are Kuliyapitiya, Thittawelgama Niraviya and Nikadalupotha Grama Niladhari divisions in the Kurunegala district and Adhikarigoda in the Kalutara district.

Sri Lanka recorded over 700 cases a day over the past three days: 969 on April 23, 895 on April 24 and 793 on April 25.

Health authorities urged the public to minimise travel and continue to strictly adhere to health guidelines in order to control the spread of the virus which authorities suspect to be a new strain.

Neelika Malavige, Professor in Microbiology at the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, said in a press briefing on April 23 that the SARS-Cov-02 virus is now confirmed to infect while airborne and not just as droplets.

“We will know what the new strain in Sri Lanka is within the next few days,” Malavige said.

The new variant has the capacity to infect more people than before, and while many cases earlier were asymptomatic, she said, this time even younger people are showing severe symptoms.

“This virus is airborne. If I’m infected and I remove my mask and speak, the virus can enter the surrounding and will be active for 1 ½ hours even after I leave the premises, infecting anyone who walks in after me,” said the professor.

Following a statement by State Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle last week that Sri Lanka was running out of intensive care units (ICUs) for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms, authorities have announced an initiative to increase the number of ICU beds in state hospitals. Sri Lanka’s ICU capacity is fast running out with more patients being transferred to ICUs with breathing difficulties, many of whom are young.

Related: Sri Lanka running out of ICUs for COVID-19 as younger cases with severe symptoms surge

Commenting on this, Health Services Director General Dr Asela Gunawardena said last Friday that hospitals still have enough ICU capacity to treat COVID-19 patients but it’s more important that health guidelines are followed in order to avoid infection.

“Previously the symptoms were not very apparent. Now they are much more visible and young people are more likely to develop them,” he said.

Gunawardena said that, unlike before, some people who get infected with the new strain may not show symptoms until after 14 days, meaning the virus’ incubation period has likely changed.

People who are testing positive now develop more breathing difficulties, requiring ICU admission and oxygen, he said.

The Health Services chief warned that if the public does not act responsibly, Sri Lanka’s situation may become as dire as that of India where cases have seen an alarming increase over the past few weeks.

Sri Lanka’s total COVID-19 cases have increased to 101,379. Currently 6,158 patients are receiving treatment at 69 hospitals and intermediate treatments centres around the

Country, official records show. (Colombo/Apr26/2021)

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