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Sri Lanka once ‘quarantined’ cases suspected in Coronvirus flare-up, showing gap

ECONOMYNEXT – A well-known testing gap that exists in Sri Lanka compared to Vietnam may have led to the flare-up of the island’s latest Coronavirus cluster at a state-run rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, which has ballooned to over 500, according to statements made by officials.

Major General Dharshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation said inmates of the Kandakadu rehabilitation centre usually came from Welikada prison, except in May.

“In the month of May there were two special cases, some drug addicts who were taken into custody in and around areas in Colombo,” Major General Dharshana Hettiarachchi told Sri Lanka’s privately run Derana Television.

“They were sent to a quarantine period for 14 days, they did the PCR test also.

“It is possible that in cases that tested negative, there could have been one or two cases who were positive, but not indicated as positive. So we presume through them this would have come to the others.”

The head of Sri Lanka’s health service, Anil Jasinghe said an earlier cluster involving drug addicts was linked to the current cluster.

Sri Lanka, however, is one of the countries which is perhaps most successful in controlling the virus though behind Vietnam.

In Sri Lanka, television reports show people leaving quarantine after 14 days given a certificate. But as a precaution, they are asked to home quarantine for another two weeks.

In Vietnam, the world’s most successful country in containing Coronavirus, a quarantine certificate is not given after two weeks in a centre, but only after at least two negative tests following another two weeks of home quarantine, observers who are familiar with the strategy say.

Major General Dharshana Hettiarachchi said some inmates later got sick and a doctor came from Polonnaruwa hospital to treat them.

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“They got a fever, they got medicine and they recovered,” he said. “Most of them are in their prime youth.”

The cluster was discovered when an inmate was transferred to Welikada prison in Colombo and authorities acted quickly to round up quarantine staff.

How Sri Lanka and Vietnam are smashing Coronavirus, and what will happen next

During the crisis, Sri Lanka’s health authorities have displayed an unusual reluctance to test at-risk Coronavirus patients, though restrictions on testing were gradually relaxed.

It is not clear why testing was tightly controlled.

At first, health officials went public saying the PCR test was a ‘diagnostic’ test and was not a screening test, and tests were limited to a hospital setting, stopping both voluntary and community testing.

The National Medicinal Regulatory Authority, which slammed price controls and disrupted supplies of masks as the health crisis started, also raided a private hospital that was offering tests and sealed it.

At the time, however, authorities were trying to get all symptomatic persons to come to a state hospital.

Without voluntary or community testing, there was no way to detect asymptomatic persons.

Sri Lanka is now doing sporadic community testing, especially in Colombo Municipal areas.

In the early stages, the person in quarantine was also not tested at all either after entry or before release.

Sri Lanka last week said, first (F1) contacts of a school child who had got infected had been sent on home quarantine, in sharp contrast to practices adopted in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, F1 contacts are tested immediately to decide whether their contacts also need to be tested.

Authorities in Sri Lanka wait for up to 10 days before testing contacts of an infected person which observers say increase the likelihood of anyone who develops the disease passing it on to another, especially if they are in-home quarantine.

In the case of a Navy camp, where the first detection occurred in late April, cases turned up throughout May and June as authorities failed to test the entire camp en masse.

In Vietnam, entire city blocks were tested and repeated to kill the spread, observers familiar the practices in the country say. (Colombo/July15/2020-sb)