Sri Lanka taking thousands of sailors out of Navy camp to contain Coronavirus

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is taking thousands of sailors out of a Naval complex in Welisara to contain an outbreak of Coronavirus, which is continuing to spread among within the camp, officials said as the total Coronavirus cases went up to 972 with 11 new cases.

“Military barracks are built in a certain way,” Army chief Shavendra Silva who heads the island’s ant-Coronavirus task force told Sri Lanka’s Derana television.

“There is a need to maximize physical distance. To keep physical distance all cannot remain the barracks.”

Over 5,000 sailors were housed in the Navy complex in Welisara in the Western Coast health officials have said, when the first sailor who was on leave turned up at a hospital in north central Sri Lanka.

The sailors are believed to have been infected while helping trace and quarantine a cluster in Sudewella near Welisara involving contacts of an infected person who was a drug user.

At the time random tests were denied to asymptomatic at risk frontline staff. Initially tests we denied to anyone out of hospital.

Then tests were given to close contacts and denied to those released from quarantines. But the testing regime on asymptomatic persons had since been relaxed.

Over 250 military personnel had fanned out in curfew, hitching rides on food distribution trucks infecting family members and developing small clusters around the country.

However all military personnel were recalled and Public Health Inspectors quickly found their contacts.

General Silva said two days ago 550 sailors were taken to quarantine centres run by the army.

On May 18 520 sailors were taken to quarantine centres.

“Today about 400 sailors will be taken,” General Silva said. “Tomorrow and the day after also, we will do this way to provide an environment for to keep physical distance.”

Sri Lanka’s health service had appointed a committee of four epidemiologists to look into the issue at Welisara camp as new cases turned up each day.

“They have given several recommendations,” the head of Sri Lanka’s Health Service Anil Jasinghe said.

Jasinghe said two sailors who had taken part in some military parade who were found to be infected may have been selected by the Navy as persons who did not have the disease.

“But after investigations it has been found that several were with infections,” he said.

“It was never the strategy to test everyone. In the Navy also there was a way. Now the main task is to place the sailors in the camp in different locations.”

Health official say the Navy camp is now about the last cluster remaining and random testing of high risk group are being conducted in society. In the last two week no new cases have turned up from such random testing in society.

Sri Lanka had also banned voluntary testing-in-the-work-place of asymptomatic persons and has to depend on the state to conduct tests as they see fit.

There have been calls to relax the ban, so that companies could test high risk groups such as drivers, front office staff or cleaning staff before any possible infection got out of hand.

Sri Lanka’s health authorities however have been aggressively contact tracing of symptomatic persons who turned up in hospital and the lack of a strategy to find asymptomatic persons who were missed by tracers were largely covered by curfews.

Sri Lanka had confirmed 992 coronavirus cases up to 2355 on May 18, the health ministry said. So far 9 persons have died and 559 had recovered. Some new cases were also turning up from foreign returnees who were already in quarantine.

On May 18 out of 11 reported new cases, 10 were from the Navy and one person was a returnee from Singapore.

“We have found several cases from among foreign returnees, but they do not pose a danger to society as they are in quarantine. (Colombo/May19/2020)