Health Services Director
General Dr. Anil Jasinghe
– Pic by Ruwan Walpola
- 3 men diagnosed, 2 travelled from Italy, 1 Germany
- 2 patients at IDH, 1 at Polonnaruwa hospital
- 2 new quarantine centres established in Diyatalawa and Kahagolla
- 17 hospitals equipped to treat virus patients
- Health Min. considering allowing private hospitals to test
- To get fresh equipment and repair ventilators, China aid arrives
- Measures to disinfect public transport from today
- Migrant workers banned from leaving SL
By the Daily FT News Desk
As three more COVID-19 patients were identified in Sri Lanka, bringing the number to five, the Government yesterday put in place nearly a dozen precautionary measures to combat the virus and contain any possible spread.
The measures included expanding travel bans, limiting migrant workers, closing universities and pre-schools, instituting new quarantine measures, disinfecting public transport, limiting public gatherings, improving information dissemination and establishing two new quarantine centres.
Last evening the Government Information Department releasing a statement notified three men had been diagnosed. A 41-year-old man had recently returned from Germany and was receiving treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH); the second, a 37-year-old, had returned from Italy and was quarantined at the facility in Kandakadu and is currently receiving treatment at the Polonnaruwa hospital; while the third, a 43-year-old, who had also arrived from Italy, is at IDH.
One additional quarantine centre has been set up in Diyathalawa and another at Kahagolla, bringing the total number of centres to four, apart from the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), which is a treatment centre.
As public concern intensified, the Government took several decisions to step up the battle against COVID-19 in the country. At a high-level meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat on Friday afternoon presided over by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, additional decisions were also made. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was also present.
According to a statement released by the President’s Media Division, the President had instructed officials to suspend issuing visa to people from European countries for two weeks and it had also been decided to quarantine every Sri Lankan arriving from Europe for 14 days. It has also been decided to restrict public gathering and functions to the maximum possible extent, but there was no decision at the time of going to press on whether political functions and rallies would be suspended.
The President had also proposed the establishment of a Task Force at a permanent location to take decisions as additional information emerges on the spread of infections. Steps have also been taken with the assistance of the World Health Organization (WHO) to expedite the diagnosis process, the President had observed.
WHO had also agreed to extend its cooperation towards the continuation of measures already taken by Sri Lanka to thwart further spread of the disease, the statement said.
During the meeting, attention was drawn to regulate the distribution process of face masks so they could be purchased from anywhere. The President also advised officials to facilitate the purchase of face masks at a controlled price. It was noted at the discussion that the firms, which can produce 150,000 face masks daily, had been identified.
A decision has also been made to disinfect buses and trains used for public transportation from today (14). The security forces will provide assistance in this regard. Strategies used by China to deal with the COVID-19 will also be studied by Sri Lanka so they could be adapted to local conditions.
“At present, China has successfully controlled the spread of COVID-19. China had given high priority to manage the social behaviours in a way that contributed to the effective control of the disease. Officials were advised to study the methods extensively that China has practised in this regard,” the statement added.
President Rajapaksa pointed out that the current situation should be used as an opportunity to experiment with the possibility of continuing services provided by State institutions as well as conducting school and university studies via the internet.
The President stressed on the importance of using electronic, print and social media to educate people about the disease but not to create a state of social confusion.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Western Province Governor Dr. Seetha Arambepola, Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Health Bhadrani Jayawardena, Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe and State officials attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day Health Services Director General Dr. Jasinghe told reporters that two patients aged 52 and 42 respectively had been identified with COVID-19 and were presently undergoing treatment.
“The two individuals, both tour guides, had used the same accommodation for overnight rest,” he explained. Health inspectors had mapped the number of individuals with whom the two had come into contact and directed a number of them to hospitals for surveillance as a precautionary measure.
According to Dr. Jasinghe, the Sri Lanka Army and the Health Ministry are looking at further contingency plans to quarantine more persons if the need arises. At present, 17 hospitals islandwide have been earmarked and outfitted to treat suspected COVID-19 cases, he added.
“With nearly 300,000 Sri Lankans in Italy and around another 30,000 in South Korea, we may have more returnees who will have to go through the quarantine process. They are Sri Lankans, we cannot abandon them,” he said.
“We are improving the surge capacity of our hospitals to deal with any emergency; WHO is going to purchase emergency and specialised medical equipment worth $ 100,000 for Sri Lanka. We are also in touch with other international and regional partners and organisations for assistance. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will also help us to get new equipment,” Dr. Jasinghe told Daily FT.
The Health Ministry is also refurbishing and repairing a number of ventilators and other specialised equipment in their stock to boost capacity, he said.
Responding to a question Dr. Jasinghe assured that there was no shortage of medicine needed to treat patients infected with the virus. The Government is considering giving the private healthcare sector permission to conduct tests for the COVID-19 virus, he said.
“Currently, we have not authorised private hospitals to conduct COVID-19 tests because they have to be done under strict conditions, under supervision, by trained staff and we need to establish a reporting structure for them to immediately inform us of positive cases,” he said, responding to a question about private hospitals offering to test for COVID-19.
“We have discussed giving permission to the private sector, but it must be regulated; we don’t want this to become a business,” he stressed.
The State health sector is by design prepared to address a public health crisis, Dr. Jasinghe said, pointing out that many of the private hospitals were not geared to handle such pressure.
Dr. Jasinghe explained that Sri Lanka had not barred passengers from China as the country has passed the worst of the epidemic, with daily reporting of positive cases on the decline since February. The Chinese Embassy yesterday donated 1,000 COVID-19 test kits and a large stock of face masks to the Sri Lankan Government.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Friday also suspended arrival of passengers from France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands and Austria as a precautionary measure expanding an earlier directive. The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) also restricted locals from leaving for foreign employment until COVID-19 is brought under control globally.