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Sri Lanka factory attendance drops as Covid-19 found in more firms

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s export firms are seeing attendance drop to the current Coronavirus wave which raising concerns over production, a top official said while Covid-19 infections were found in several factories.

Sri Lanka export development board chief Prabash Subasinghe said attendance was weak especially in the Gampaha district where the cluster originally emerged.

Sri Lanka has placed several areas in Gampaha, which is the epicentre of the new cluster under curfew.

“And in the rest of the country with the workers not interested to attend work, there will be a loss of production,” Subasinghe said.

“We need to understand how long this will take to be contained. We are concerned.”

However, he said quarantine and other procedures were necessary to contain the cluster.

Sri Lanka has said it will avoid a full lockdown and will manage with tracing and quarantine and local lockdowns, where the country now has experience. Decisions will be made by analysing the latest available data.

With Coronavirus under control many of Sri Lanka’s export factories were operating without interruptions until September with exports recovering to around billion dollars a month after Coronavirus lockdowns ended.

In September also exports reached a billion US dollars, up 5.6 percent from a year earlier.

An official connected to an industrial zone said a factory can generally operate with about 50 percent of the workforce.

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Since the first worker was discovered infections have since been found in several other factories, in the nearby Katunayake Free Trade Zone which also had links with the Minuwangoda factory.

Around 17 persons were confirmed in by Monday, with over a dozen coming from Next Manufacturing in the Katunayake zone a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s anti-Covid task force said.

Health inspectors were also looking into other factories including Safe Way, Lanka Naigai and Okaya Lanka, which may take the total over 25, leading to attendance dropping, a government official said.

Health officers are also investigating a case in Biyagama, he said.

“Many workers are not coming to work and going home to their home villages,” the official said.
Sri Lanka has not placed any travel restrictions out of the Gampaha district, except for the curfew areas.

The Board of Investment had encouraged all firms under its purview conduct random tests as a precautionary measure.

An infection was also discovered in a factory worker in Rajagiriya which was supplying Brandix, last week.

Infections have also been spreading through boarding houses and rooms where workers stay.

“If your room-mates your or partner spouse has been asked to do a PCR test, you should be in self isolation without going to work,” Sri Lanka’s anti-Covid Task Force chief General Shavendra Silva told a local television station.

“Don’t wait for authorities to come and tell you.”

Manpower companies which provide temporary workers to a number of factories are also at a potential risk, an official familiar with the practice said.

Some workers of manpower firms are also reluctant to reveal their addresses since they have living arrangements away from home, that they do not want to be made public, health officials involved in contact tracing say.

Meanwhile police have asked all firms to update their employee records.

Sri Lanka has been aggressively tracing and quarantining associates of discovered Coronavirus. Almost all workers of the Brandix factory has now been traced, authorities say.

The cluster at Brandix may date back to at least until September 22 based on medical records of the company, General Silva told the media.

Factory records had also showed a worker was sick on or around September 15, he said.

General Silva said they had also narrowed down around 10 workers who had initially got sick and traced backwards to try to find where they got the infection. They also traced one worker back to the prison, but had drawn a blank when they did an anti-body test, he said.

The first Brandix factory worker was found by a random test conducted by Gampaha hospital.

In addition to contact tracing other hospitals have been separately screening people with respiratory diseases and also testing other when they had information of persons linked to Minuwangoda area coming to their hospital.

Mawanella Hospital found three doctors infected after they screened staff on information that a worker from Gampaha had sought treatment.

Other hospitals including Panadura and Horana has found infected persons, which authorities say are all linked to the factory cluster. (Colombo/Oct14/2020)