Editorial

COVID-19 REPORT (December 11, 2020)

Summary

The numbers, percentages, situations and strategies…

Covid-19 update Sri Lanka and world

Two months have passed since the Covid-19 ‘Second Wave’ started. A total of 3,482 cases were reported in first wave with 13 deaths and as of Thursday the 10th of December, we have 26,592 cases with 131 deaths in the second wave. And counting, let us add.

Anyway, 12,800 of the 30,075 infected overall have recovered. There are 8,131 active cases. The death count stands at 144 (0.48% death rate, i.e. 1 dead out of every 200 infected).

The daily case load has shown a spike over the last few days. The numbers from the Fish Market Cluster are stable but those from the sub and let’s say sub-sub clusters (prisons, Atalugama, Akkaraipattu etc) have been the major contributors to the higher daily case load.

The PCR and Anti Gen tests being carried out have focused on all vulnerable groups and areas. On average 13,000 tests were conducted per day over the last two weeks.  The infected to test ratio seems stable at around 4% which means prevalence is static although the daily case load is high.

The numbers can be broken down by district: Colombo at 12,832, Gampaha 7,244,  Kalutara 1,506 and Kandy 918. The numbers continue to be high due to the pecular nature of some of the cluster, for example the Welikada Prison in Colombo, Mahara Prison in Gampaha, Bogambara Prison in Kandy and Atalugama in Kalutara. Meanwhile the so-called “Minuwangoda Cluster” is now history. There are no active cases and the Bradix facility is ready to return to full functionality.

Cases continue to be reported in the Colombo Municipal areas; whilst infected rates from flats are declining, certain slums remain vulnerable.  It is also observed that the trend is moving from Colombo North toward South; from Modara, Mattakkuliya to Maligawaththa, Maradana, Dematagoda and now towards  Narahenpita,  Kirulopane and Wellawaththa. Many areas in Colombo North have now been under isolation for almost 50 days.

Here’s the breakdown of the ‘Sub-Sub-Clusters’ of the ‘Peliyagoda Fish Market Cluster’: Prisons, Police and Garment Factories (558 cases), Constructions Sites (472 cases), Atalugama (495 cases). Prisons and Atalugama pose location-specific problems, isolation in the former being impractical while it is being resisted in Atalugama!

It needs to be mentioned that those who cry ‘lock-out, lock-out’ are not offering any solution to stop the spread and those who, in opposition, demand ‘lockdown, lockdown’ have no answer to the question, ‘how are the most vulnerable going to live, what about their livelihoods?’

The prison situation is partly due to structural limitations. Some people arrested in areas in Colombo over drug related offences were housed at transit bay in Welikada, this transit bay used as a quarantine facility for incoming prisoners before they were being transferred into prisons. A few of them may have arrived infected and in due course infected others. Obviously they could have taken the virus when transferred to other facilities. Congestion was always a problem in prisons. Obviously the answer is not to let offenders off lightly. Such a decision could also raise the ire of law abiding citizens. A sustainable solution needs to be found.

There’s no argument about prisoners having a genuine health concern, they need to know whether they are infected or not. A testing strategy has to be put in place. On the other hand, there is a population of 550,000 in the CMC area and it is practically impossible to test one and all. In the same way, it is not possible to test all prisoners in all prisons. What if everyone tested is found to be infected? Where would they be housed thereafter? In KAndakadu? IDH? Other hospitals? Do we have the capacity? These are valid questions. There are limited resources. It’s easy to prescribe when you don’t have the medicine! That said, things certainly can be improved and it is hoped that authorities are addressing these issues in a serious manner.

Anyway, the truth is that random PCR tests have been conducted on a daily basis in all prisons since first wave and around 12,000 PCR tests were conducted in all prisons. While some prisoners may want to use the COVID situation to push for bailout / release, some may want a prison-break. These are realities. Others, outside, who are starved of slogans all ready to salivate. So they ask, ‘Was Zaharan’s wife surreptitiously infected, was Shani infected the same way?’  Well, there are several investigations that have been commissioned. The findings will be interesting, one way or the other.

Atalugama deserves special mention. It was locked down during the first wave in March 2020. There was an issue with the Police back then and again in September. The villagers have been averse to testing. Almost half of those tested positive absconded, refusing to be transferred to medical facilities. And now there are 495 cases in Atalugama and 4 deaths in just two weeks. There are spill-over effects being observed in Veyangalla in Agalawatta and Galbokka in Weligama as well.

A total of 643,550 PCT tests have been conducted since October 4, 2020, i.e. the beginning of the second wave. Over the last two weeks alone 175,333 tests were done. It’s never ‘enough’. Targeted testing seems the best way to go about it. It is imperative that the infected are removed to medical facilities and their contacts isolated.

There are no real alternatives to being proactive and responsible. Protection protocols need to be strictly observed. There was a serious lapse in this regard when it was claimed that a native remedy had been discovered. People rushing to grab ‘the cure’ abandoned all caution. The authorities didn’t move fast enough to bring things under control. Anyone can claim he/she has found a cure. And if anyone believes this (people believe a lot of crazy things, let us not forget) that’s their business. People can rush to buy anything, magic formulas included. They have to follow safety guidelines though!

To be fair, the syrup that drew crowds to Kegalle was made of ingredients that have curative properties. Still, the basic fact that needs to be understood is that 99.50% of the infected recover. Someone can say ‘gotukola kaenda is a cure, it is guaranteed that if 200 people who are infected have a glass every morning, 199 of them will recover fully in 14 days.’ He/she would be proven correct. Replace ‘gotukola kaenda’ with ‘ice cream’ or ‘a fizzy drink’ or ‘meditating on impermanence’ or ‘holding a rosary and praying’ and you’ll get the same result.

And while you remind yourself that it’s best to wear masks (following guidelines), wash hands, keep social distance, etc., if you are infected and end up in a medical facility, the ‘treatment’ you receive is most likely to be steaming (dun aelleema) and coriander (koththamalli) with ginger (inguru)!

So let’s not go overboard with ‘science’ and ‘cures’ (miracle or otherwise).

[Information for this comment was obtained from various sources including the Epidemiology Unit, hospitals, Police and security forces]

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