The detection of more than 300 COVID19-infected patients, the largest in a single day, at the Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre at Welikanda in the Polonnaruwa District is a wake-up call to all Sri Lankans that the deadly virus is continuing to spread its tentacles across the country and that complacency is not an option.
The Health authorities continue to underscore the importance of constant vigilance and the strict adherence to health guidelines, such as the wearing of face masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene and the avoidance of public gatherings, as an important way out of this danger. But what is alarming is the sight of hordes of people mingling around close to each other with scant regard to the wearing of face masks or physical distancing leave alone hand hygiene when VVIP personalities arrive to address election gatherings.
Although, we were made to believe that the clusters came to an end with the Welisara Navy Camp episode, it does not appear to be so when considering the latest cluster sprouting up at Kandakadu. A relentless search operation is being conducted by the security forces to trace those who had come into contact with the thousand or so inmates housed at the Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre and the infected counsellors working there.
The seriousness of the situation could be gauged by the fact that schools which re-opened after a four-month closure have been closed again for at least a week ending tomorrow. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has cancelled its propaganda rallies with former prime minister and United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe requesting the Election Commission to postpone the general election while Election Commission Chief Mahinda Deshapriya had said he was closely monitoring the latest health situation in the country.
According to Health Ministry’s Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, the latest infections appear to have been triggered off by contact with the Suduwella drug addicts, who were sent to the rehab centre after they had completed their mandatory period of quarantine and somehow had escaped detection before being transferred there.
At this point we digress a bit to condemn downright the anti-social activities carried out by rumour mongers, who, at difficult times such as this, spread unfounded rumours and misinformation on social media websites and over the phone to sow seeds of fear, panic and uncertainty among the people. To avoid falling prey to the insidious conduct of these mischief-makers, it is best to obtain COVID19-related information only from reliable government sources.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has warned that there is a possibility that the virus could make its entrance into society through the illegal drug trade and that there is a higher risk of the virus making its presence felt from the Kandakadu COVID19 cluster for multiple reasons including the unpredictable behavioural pattern of the patients.
SLMA President Prof. Indika Karunatilake told the media there was a possibility of this happening through the illegal drug distribution network and that this was a matter for concern. He said this behavioural pattern had prevailed during the first round of clusters, which Sri Lanka managed to control somewhat successfully.
“In settings where large numbers stay together for a long period of time, the infection can spread rapidly. There were 300 cases detected in one day. But it does not mean they were all infected on the same day,” Dr. Karunatilake said. “Sri Lanka followed a system of trace, test, and treat which was very effective in controlling the initial outbreak. However, with the Kandakadu cluster and with some having links with the illegal drug distribution networks, the contact and tracing process is more challenging. This factor also carries the risk of the epidemic moving into the community transmission stage.”
Be that as it may, the Kandakadu cluster erupted amid several medical officers expressing grave concern about the lackadaisical attitude displayed by the people when it comes to strictly observing the preventive measures prescribed by the health authorities to keep us, our family members and our neighbours safe from the onslaught of this unseen enemy. We are all stakeholders in the battle against this menace and while cooperating with the government and the health authorities to eradicate this deadly virus, we on our part need to exercise vigilance while being aware the threat has not disappeared from our midst and being aware of the frightening prospect that a single infected person is sufficient to spread the disease among many more.