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Sri Lanka Coronavirus controls aimed at new hotspots in Korea, Italy

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is applying its anti-Coronavirus control procedures to new hotspots as Italy, Korea and Iran emerged to the fore an official said, even as China’s epidemic showed signs of waning.

Sri Lanka does not automatically quarantine all arrivals from countries where Coronavirus is found, but tracks visitors and returning citizens from an area assessed to be risky.

Early in the crisis Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said it was not practical to quarantine every visitor for 14 days, when questioned why returning SriLankan’s from Chinese cities outside they Hubei province were not quarantined.

Instead, those entering the country are asked to fill a health declaration form, detailing their health status, place of origin and where they have been in the past 14 days and their itinerary in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka on March 04 has said 14 day quarantine will start for arrivals from high risk areas from the first week of March Sri Lanka halts cruise tourism, to start 14-day quarantine of high risk visitors

At the main airport in Katunayake, visitors go through a heat scanner. At the Colombo Port and Jaffna Airport handheld scanners are used. At ports, the medical officer on board the vessel has to file a health status report.

Anyone with symptoms is isolated and examined by medical officers who are on 24 hours duty at the port of entry and the patient is sent to hospital by ambulances that are standing by.

Based on the health declaration form, visitors are assessed. Those who are deemed to be from a high risk area or those who had visited a high risk area are tracked and monitored country-wide.

Daily Health Checks

A regional medical officer of health will visit them every day, take their temperature and assess their health status officials told reporters. Tourists will also be visited at their hotels.

Anyone showing symptoms are taken to hospital. Contacts are traced officials said.

Sri Lankans coming from virus hotspots are also asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Students who were flown in a rescue flight from Wuhan were kept at a military base for 14 days.

Foreigners or Sri Lankans showing symptoms are advised not to go to hospital on their own.

They are asked to call a medical officer of health or the Suwaseriya paramedic service who will transfer them to a one of 17 designated hospitals around the island.

“All possible precautions are being taken,” explains Hemantha Herath, the National Coordinator for Disaster Preparedness at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health.

“It may not be 100 percent foolproof as there may be people who do not show symptoms.

“However the system has worked well so far.

“People who have entered the country are also being detected as suspected cases. The single Coronavirus confirmed patient was also detected.”

As of March 01, 16 persons including one foreigner were under observation at 6 of the 17 designated hospitals around the country.

Since tracking started over 200 persons including 65 foreigners had been admitted for observation. Only one person, a Chinese woman has so far tested positive. She was released after making a full recovery.

New Hotspots

The same procedures are being applied to Korea, Italy and Iran.

Herath says based on data available so far most of the persons coming from Korea and Italy are those of Sri Lankan origin.

About 20,000 Sri Lankan expatriates are estimated to be in Korea. Over 100,000 are estimated to be in Italy.

Sri Lankans are free to return to the country anytime they wish.

If the country of residence has a good health system and they also have access to medical care and medical insurance, officials do not advise them to return immediately.

However if they are in a country where the healthcare system is weak, it may make sense to return.

Even if new countries or areas are declared as hotspots, Sri Lanka’s authorities have information to track them.

“Even if a new area is declared as a hotspot we have the information to contact and track people who have arrived in the country in recent days (from health declarations),” Herath said.

“Awareness has also improved.”

Sri Lanka’s epidemiology unit provides daily situation reports on the local and global situation.

The government’s Health Promotion Bureau provides updated information any runs a hotline at 0710 107 107 to answer questions.

Sri Lanka’s authorities do not ask everyone to wear a mask.

“In the current Sri Lankan context, there is no scientific justification to wear face mask routinely by the general public including children,” says the Health Promotion Bureau.

They advise to wash hands frequently, use sanitizer and stay away from crowded places, maintain distance and not to touch handrails unless necessary.

Only those with a cough or cold are encouraged to wear a mask.

Flu Season

Flu viruses spread strongly around the northern hemisphere winter. The so-called flu season picks up from autumn and peaks in February, and then wanes according to data from the US Centres for Disease Control.

The SARS epidemic also showed seasonality, though MERS, in the Middle East, did not. Scientists have say that ultraviolet in bright sunlight breaks up nucleic acids, which may generally slow the spread of micro-organisms.

There was also a concern that the use of chopsticks may have played a part in spreading SARS.

In South Asia, people eat with their hands and wash hands.

Many South Asians, except for Maldivians are also poor, due to bad central banks which depreciate currencies and do not have money to travel abroad frequently. South Asian citizens also face visa restrictions travelling to other countries and also within the region.

In East Asia, ASEAN has visa free travel.

In Sri Lanka, houses are built to reduce respiratory infections. Under rules originally set by British colonial rulers to contain the spread of tuberculosis, no room can be built without a large window.

All rooms should have a window at least 25 percent of the length of the outer wall for a house plan to be passed by the Public Health Inspector. Many houses are also built with gardens and side by side ‘townhouses’ are not common. Now however apartments are springing up.

It is also not clear whether countries with liberal governments and free press has an advantage in detecting outbreaks faster and awareness building quickly, so that citizens and others can protect themselves.

“The number of cases in South Korea seems high at least in part because the country has high diagnostic capability, a free press and a democratically accountable system,” Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar at George Mason University Korea.

“Very few countries in the region have all those.”

A large number of infections in South Korea has spread among a religious sect, which is relatively opaque.

In both China and Iran there have been concerns about the accuracy of data, though it may also be linked to weak diagnostic capacity. (Colombo/Mar01/2020)