Sri Lanka’s Welisara Navy base epicentre of the biggest COVID 19 cluster to re-open soon – Defence Secretary
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s defence authorities are expressing confidence that they have the largest cluster of COVID 19 patients, which is in the country’s Navy, under control and the Welisara Naval Base where the cluster grew would be re-opened soon.
Secretary to the Ministry of Defense, Major General (Rtd) Kamal Guneratne told reporters yesterday that the huge Welisara base which normally houses more than 4,000 personnel has been emptied.
“Specialists from the Epidemiology Unit of the Health Department have gone to the camp and are instructing the Navy how they should go about making sure the camp is safe,” he said.
“We will not reopen the camp until these experts give us the all-clear,” he said.
He said that the base should be re-opened “in the next few days.”
He said the number of Navy Personnel still in hospital receiving treatment for the virus is around 140.
The Navy cluster of patients first exploded around April 22 when a sailor on holiday in Polonnaruwa was found to be infected and admitted to a local hospital.
Since then the number of Navy personnel and their close associates and family members who have become infected are 936, more than half of the total number of COVID 19 positive people in the country since the outbreak.
Sailors from the camp had been allowed to visit families outside the Districts of Colombo and Gampaha which were on lockdown and inter-district travel was banned.
This caused family members and associates in a number of rural districts starting smaller clusters of COVID 19 patients. The authorities quickly moved in to isolate the contacts that these sailors had had in these areas.
As the infection spread rapidly inside the Welisara camp it was evacuated of those who tested negative for the disease.
All Navy Personnel who were outside the camp on leave were recalled and placed in schools which were empty, Guneratne said.
He said that after yielding higher numbers of patients “only one or two are being detected every for the past few days.”
At the time it was officially declared that the Navy personnel were infected when they conducted a search operation in the Jaela Suduwella area for alleged drug addicts who had been exposed to COVID 19.
However Director-General of Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe said that he believes the infection was present in the Welisara camp even before the Suduwella search operation was conducted.
Normal society can be open to us but in the case of the Armed Forces they are not open to us, however they have their own health system and they should have been alert to this possibility, Jasinghe told MediaLK.com in an interview published today.
The Sri Lankan authorities are also confident that they have stopped the community transmission of the virus.
“It is true we had a major outbreak in the Navy, but we were able to control it,” Guneratne said.
“We were successful in not allowing it to spread to the community,” he added.
Navy installations in other places particularly the Rangala Base inside the Colombo Port and a unit stationed in the Gafoor Building situation in the Colombo Fort close to the Port Authority Headquarters has also produced several infected personnel.
(Colombo, June 17, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana