ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has limited random PCR tests to hospitals and areas with minimum COVID-19 cases due to a large number of patients and close contacts being found daily, a health official said.
Health Services Deputy Director Dr Hemantha Herath told EconomyNext that 22,713 PCR tests were conducted on June 02.
“We try to keep daily test numbers at a minimum of 20,000 or between 15,000 and 25,000,” he said.
Sri Lanka recorded 3,297 COVID-19 cases on June 03, increasing total cases so far to 195,843. According official data, the number of cases recorded since April is 98,534, a sharp increase attributed to the fast-spreading B.1.1.7 strain.
“What happens here is that we have to allow some space for machine repairs and to sterilise the labs so there is no contaminations. On such occasions, we have to shut down some of the labs. So we cannot run all these labs 24/7. But if the situations call for us to run all labs without a break then obviously we will do it,” said Herath.
Currently PCR tests are being analysed in 37 laboratories in both public and private sectors.
Herath said with the rapid increase in daily cases, most field officers do not have the capacity or the time to conduct random tests after testing a large number of identified cases and close contacts.
“But areas that record a minimum number of cases, and at hospitals, a certain number of random tests are conducted,” he said.
Herath did not specify the number but said it changes daily.
“Though we have extended the number of PCR tests, there will always be a limit. Also when there is an increase in case numbers, it is obvious that we will concentrate on testing close contacts rather than random samples,” he said.
Currently 31,839 patients are receiving treatment at 191 treatment centres, including hospitals and intermediate treatment centres. Official data indicates 79 patients are currently receiving intensive care.
Chairman of the Public Health Inspectors (PHI) Union Upul Rohana told the privately owned Derana network on June 03 that around 35,000 undetected cases may be present in the community.
“In the first wave we did two types of PCR. First one was for close contacts. Second was random tests in suspected areas to rule out any new clusters that might be forming,” Rohana said.
Noting that Sri Lanka has limited lab facilities, Rohana said if the daily cases are presumed to be around 3,500, with a minimum of two people in each home a patient lives, at least 7,000 people will be tested as first contacts.
“But we do not test the first contacts of the first contacts,” he said.
Rohana further said, with the health authorities calming that one patient has the ability to pass the virus to a minimum of five people, close to 35,000 people with the virus can be present in the community.
“Once we test the first first contacts, we do not have the capacity to test more, which means we don’t have the capacity to detect cases in the community,” he said.
Rohana added that the PHIs and other unions in the health sector urged the government to go for a lockdown.
However, said Dr Herath: “It doesn’t matter how many restrictions we impose if people don’t follow them.”
“We won’t be able to control the spread of the virus if people act with no responsibility,” he added. (Colombo/ June 04/2021)