The Minuwangoda cluster has yielded more than 8,000 Covid patients

Epicentre of infections – people at the Peliyagoda Fish market being tested for Covid 19

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s biggest coronavirus infection clusters “Minuwangoda-Brandix” and the sub-cluster “Peliyagoda-fishmarket” has grown to 8,266 after a month-and-seven days, according to COVID19 taskforce data.

The country reported its second-coronavirus outbreak on 04 October after almost 5-months since the countrywide lockdowns were lifted claiming to have battled the first wave of COVID-19 without any community transmission. A 39-year-old employee at the Brandix factor in Minuwangoda, Gampaha was first detected in a random test conducted at the Gampaha hospital.

Thereby, aggressive contact tracing within the first week revealed that close to 1034 Brandix staff at the factory were infected and 49 close contacts were found with a PCR positivity rate of 7.54 per cent.

By 15th October, Army Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva who heads the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of Covid 19 (NOCPOC) declared that the cluster was under control and the patients found outside quarantine centres were contacts of the Minuwangoda cluster.

Questions were raised as to how the virus got into the community putting the apparel manufacturer, Brandix who employees close to 40,000 workers, under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, selective curfews were imposed in high-risk areas in Gampaha to contain the spread.

Approximately 3-weeks after the outbreak in the Brandix factory, the situation took a turn for the worse on 20th October when a sub-cluster was identified in the Peliyagoda fish market, the island’s biggest fish market and distribution centre where large number of wholesalers and vendors trade.

As health officials feared, the outbreak in the fish market resulted in a wider spread. Close to 1000 visitors to the market were quarantined and about 800 tested positive. Thereon, contact tracing revealed more patients across the country, the majority from Colombo and Gampaha.

Several fishery harbours and fish markets were closed after several fish traders who had visited the market were confirmed in several locations. This prompted quarantine curfews to be imposed in high-risk areas including 35 police areas in Gampaha, Kegalle, Kalutara, Colombo and Kurunegala as clusters developed.

From 24 October to 30th October 3264 cases had been reported in the country out of which only 405 were from quarantine centres, 232 from the fish market while rest of 2627 were non-related contacts outside quarantine centres.

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Officials have said there may be cross infections between the two clusters.

Sri Lanka’s Chief Epidemiologist Sudath Samaraweera said according to World Health Organization definition the island still had infections in clusters and it did not amount to community transmission but there were risks.

Community transmission takes place when there are multiple unknown clusters interacting with each other and patients start turning up in various locations.

As the numbers continue to rise there is a huge strain on resources too. Hospitals are out of beds, PCR backlogs and the country is sending first-contacts home which increases the chances of spread.

By the 5th week (from 31st October to 3rd November) another 1169 cases out QC were found and 151 in QCs. Taking the total of the 5-weeks to 8,266. Out of which 5,035 are contacts not from quarantine centres. Majority of the patients found were also asymptomatic.

Now, the whole Western Province is under quarantine curfew.

A “dangerous situation”

Research conducted by Sri Lanka’s Sri Jayewardenepura University has found through a gene sequence that the current Covid-19 outbreak is caused by a strain of SARS-CoV-2 found in Denmark and Sweden.

A team from Sri Lanka’s Sri Jayewardenepura University that also examined viruses from earlier clusters collaborating with their counterparts in UK, have said the current strain is a one that has not been previously found in Sri Lanka, after sequencing 16 samples.

“This virus belongs to the B.1.42 lineage which is found in countries like Denmark and Sweden,” Chandima Jeewandara, a senior lecturer at Sri Lanka’s Sri Jayewardenepura University who is a member of the research team told Sri Lanka’s Swarnavahini Television.

“It also has a mutation called D614G, which makes it highly transmissible.”

Doctors have also said the patients had higher viral loads when tested than in earlier outbreaks and it was spreading faster.

Researchers have said that on average SARS-CoV-2 causes 5.7 infections in populations with no immunity and no mitigation attempts. It is not clear how many the B.1.42 causes.

Within the last two weeks, Sri Lanka has recorded consecutive deaths too, most patients with chronic diseases falling victim regardless of the gap.

(Colombo/Nov04/2020)

Reported by Mahadiya Hamza

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