ECONOMYNEXT – With 52 new cases detected in two retail stores at Pamunuwa and at a state bank in Colombo at the end of the April holidays, Sri Lanka’s health ministry has warned of a possible surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.
Sixteen people who work at the bustling Pamunuwa shopping district tested positive for the virus today, a spokesperson for Sri Lanka’s pandemic task force told EconomyNext. The workers are close contacts of another worker who had tested positive on April 11. The two shops have been temporarily closed down.
Every year, Pamunuwa attracts thousands of shoppers looking to make a bargain in the days ahead of the Sinhala & Tamil New Year festivities that fall on April 14 and this year was no exception, COVID-19 notwithstanding.
The spokesperson said 35 workers at a state-run bank in Colombo have also tested positive. More information was not forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera told reporters yesterday (19) that increased movement on the part of the public during the Avurudu holidays will likely result in a spike in cases over the next four to six weeks.
“We saw that some members of the general public failed to follow COVID-19 guidelines during the holidays, so there is a possibility that cases will rise,” he said.
Among the many people who had travelled to their hometowns for the new year returning to work in Colombo yesterday (19), Samaraweera said, there could be undetected COVID-19 patients who would’ve carried the virus to the provinces and back.
“We request the public to maintain physical distancing,” he said.
A similar situation was seen in the days following Christmas last year when a sudden spike in cases emerged that lasted until mid-February.
Sri Lanka’s public health inspectors (PHIs) have also joined the chorus of voices warning of a surge in cases.
PHU Union Chairman Upul Rohana said an increase in cases has been observed in several provinces over the past few days.
“There are signs of a surge in different parts of the country, particularly in the Western, North Western, and Eastern provinces. We have also identified small clusters in state corporations and private companies,” said Rohana.
“We have also found some patients who chose to stay at home without informing doctors or medical officers,” he added.
The PHI union chief also claimed there is a difference in the number of COVID-19 cases published by the health ministry and actual cases detected in laboratories – a view shared by President of the Association of Government Medical Laboratory Technologists Ravi Kumudesh.
Kumudesh told reporters yesterday that this difference has not been adequately addressed by the ministry, despite its being a persistent issue for the past eight months. The authorities’ approach to PCR testing has been unscientific, he added.
“In the last ten days alone, about 68,000 PCR tests were done and more than 2,500 cases were detected. A simple study of the data clearly shows that the number of infections detected varies with the number of tests performed, rather than the number of actual infections.”
Kumudesh said on April 10, 8,000 PCR tests were conducted, with 412 new cases detected. However, on April 14 the number of tests decreased to 4,074, showing a corresponding decrease in cases (151).
“On April 17, tests were again increased to 6,000 and 357 cases were identified. The scientific reason for the increase or decrease in the number of tests conducted by the Ministry of Health is not clear, but it is very clear that the number of patients found increases or decreases with the number of tests performed,” said Kumudesh.
The lab technologist further said Sri Lanka’s total number of COVID-19 cases had surpassed 100,000 on April 03 as per lab results, contrary to official reports that indicate some 97,000 cases as of this morning. The ministry of health has not specified a reason for the difference, he said.
“According to the official data of the Laboratory Service, the number of cases as of April 03 was 103,640.
For about eight months now, there has been a discrepancy between lab data and the official data of the Ministry of Health, but no correction has been made so far. This discrepancy makes it very clear that the ministry is confused about its statistical approach to the pandemic,” said Kumudesh.
Kumudesh urged the ministry to be careful in wording their statements issued to the public and to ensure that such statements are scientifically sound.
“It is a serious omission that the epidemiology unit has not been able to establish an information management system to regulate data related to the epidemic more than a year after the first outbreak,” he said.
According to official data issued by the Health Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka detected 309 new cases over a period of 24 hours that ended at 6am today. Of these, 18 were Sri Lankan returnees from abroad. Total cases detected so far since March last year, according to official records, is 97,105 with 3,111 active cases and 620 deaths.
Health authorities conducted 4,230 PCR tests yesterday. (Colombo/Apr19/2021)