Reminiscent of the Sena Caterpillar which devastated crops across the country leaving epidemiologists and health authorities helpless on how best to control it leave alone eliminate or eradicate it from Sri Lanka’s soil comes the more alarming news of the deadly Coronavirus, a bigger health risk lurking on the side-lines waiting to invade Sri Lanka from Wuhan in the Chinese Province of Hubei thought to be the epicentre of the disease which is spreading across China and to several other countries in the region.
According to the latest BBC report, at least 106 people in China, 100 of them from Hubei Province, have died from the Coronavirus with the cases of newly-infected in that country having almost doubled.
It said the number of confirmed cases in China had risen to 4,515 as of January 27, up from 2,835 a day earlier with the country further tightening its travel restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of the flu-like virus.
The Coronavirus is known to cause severe acute respiratory infection and has no specific cure or vaccine with most of the deaths being those of the elderly or those with pre-existing respiratory problems.The virus outbreak was first detected during the Chinese New Year celebrations when millions move across the country to visit relatives and friends.
Meanwhile, addressing a news conference in Colombo, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said all possible measures had been taken to prevent the Coronavirus taking a foothold in Sri Lanka and accelerating into epidemic proportions. She said a thorough check was being carried out on all passengers including Sri Lankans arriving from China.
The minister said the Health Ministry had the capacity to detect any patient infected with the Coronavirus while the necessary drugs, equipment and medical and paramedical staff to treat patients were already in place. She said the Sri Lankan students returning from Wuhan would be transferred to the Diyathalawa Army Camp for a two-week period of quarantine to check if any of them were infected by the Coronavirus.
Health Services Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe said Chinese entering Sri Lanka were being permitted to leave the BIA only after a thorough screening carried out by doctors and emphasised the need to remain calm because the situation was under control with the necessary precautionary measures taken to prevent an outbreak. He said there was a separate surveillance mechanism at the airport arrival and departure lounge to monitor the health condition of the Chinese.
But sounding a note of caution, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) said there was a shortage of medical officers, medical supplies and equipment at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) Health Unit to successfully tackle the spread of the Coronavirus.
The GMOA told a media conference that among the several shortcomings was the lack of isolated-treatment facilities and the amenities to perform medical check-ups especially on passengers arriving from high-risk areas.
It said the Medical Supplies Division (MSD) too lacked sufficient quantities of medicines and emphasised the need to address these issues on an emergency basis.
In efforts at restrict the spread of the deadly virus, Chinese companies operating in Sri Lanka have instructed their employees, who visited China for the Lunar New Year and were expected to return to Sri Lanka, to remain in China till Sri Lanka sorted out its health issues and in the case of employees who had already returned to Sri Lanka, to undergo a self-imposed two-week period of isolation till they overcame the health risks arising from the incubation period and are certified free of any symptoms.
Be that as it may, the first case of Coronavirus infection was that of a 43-year-old Chinese woman, who entered the country as a tourist from Hubei Province, being tested positive. She is being treated at the Infectious Diseases Hospital at Angoda and is said to be responding to treatment and in a stable condition.
There is no gain saying the fact that the health authorities would also do well to carry out a check on all the Chinese living in various apartments rented out to them, especially in the Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte areas and clarify whether they had visited China recently especially during the Chinese New Year and monitor their health condition on an urgent basis. Sri Lankan health authorities should not be caught on the wrong foot because one careless slip would result in the people’s health being held to ransom. We cannot afford to be complacent while remembering that it is by remaining vigilant that the authorities could guarantee the safety of all Sri Lankans and those who visit this lovely country.