The Army and the State Intelligence Service have launched a mega operation to track down all those who came in contact with the COVID-19 patient who escaped from the National Infectious Disease Hospital last morning, to prevent a transmission into society, while a separate investigation was launched to find out how he managed to escape, Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva told Daily Mirror.
He said the 41-year-old patient was an inmate of the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre who tested positive for the virus and later transferred to the IDH. After the army handed him over to the hospital, the patient came under the direct purview of the health authorities.
"We are investigating how he escaped. But what we believe is that the hospital usually has normal security. He was transferred from Kandakadu to the IDH and once we handed him over to the hospital, he came under the health authorities. So we are now investigating together with the health authorities as to what happened. Once we were informed of his escape, we took immediate action to prevent him from mingling with the people. We deployed search teams because he was like a suicide bomber carrying the virus and we immediately nabbed him. We are contact-tracing as to what route he took, where he went and whom he met. It is totally under control," Lt. Gen. Silva said.
Sources from the Colombo National Hospital (CNH) said the inmate, whom the police identified as a drug addict with a limp on his left leg had escaped from the IDH on Friday morning at around 2.00 am when all patients were asleep, through an open window. The army and police are now checking the route he took soon after he escaped.
CNH staff said after alerts circulated in the media, early Friday morning, and after police released his picture, the inmate had arrived outside the CNH in a three wheeler and had informed two attendants standing outside the hospital that he was the escaped patient. They had immediately alerted the staff who made him sit him down on the pavement and prevent him from entering the hospital premises and informed the police, army and the IDH while two senior nurses, equipped in protective clothing and face shields, had approached him to make him wear his protective gear as well.
Within minutes the army and police teams who were looking out for him arrived and sealed the area and closed the road for traffic. The CNH staff then contacted 1990 and transferred the patient back to the IDH while the three-wheel driver who brought him there was sent to the Kandakadu quarantine centre.
The three-wheeler was kept outside the CNH and the area where the patient was found was disinfected for several hours.
"All steps were taken to prevent him from entering the CNH and no staff members approached him. The inmate must have been frightened after the alerts went out, which must have led him to surrender," a senior officer of the CNH said.
The Health Ministry said all those who came in contact with the inmate will be tracked down and sent to the quarantine centre and said the situation was under control.
The IDH also has launched an investigation as to how the patient escaped. (By Jamila Husain)