Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Focus on Kandakadu

Schools and airport reopening postponed

- By Kumudini Hettiarach­chi, Ruqyyaha Deane and MeleezaRat­hnayake

Several major decisions including the postponeme­nt of the reopening of schools and the airport were taken this week, as a top health official said that none of the family members who visited the Kandakadu Treatment & Rehabilita­tion Centre on July 4 has tested positive for COVID-19 so far.

It is difficult, however, to predict when the Kandakadu cluster will flatten out, said Health Services Director- General ( DG) Dr. Anil Jasinghe, assuring that “all possible measures” including wide-scale testing, are being carried out.

The reopening of schools has been pushed back further as students were due to come back to class on a staggered basis from tomorrow (July 20). The opening of the Bandaranai­ke Internatio­nal Airport, Katunayake, which was initially scheduled for August 1 and then after the parliament­ary election, has now been put off until fur

ther notice. All flights including those bringing back returnees have been cancelled.

Dealing out facts and figures, Dr. Jasinghe said that a majority ( about 70%) at the Kandakadu centre are infected. But it will not take long for the disease to manifest itself in this group, unlike in the navy cluster, which dragged

on, while at the Senapura centre it may take a little while longer.

The Kandakadu cluster encompasse­s those who are being rehabilita­ted from substance addiction; the staff and their contacts; and the families who visited the inmates on July 4, the Sunday Times learns.

According to Dr. Jasinghe there

are 543 positive cases in this cluster of which only 34 who have gone out ( mainly staff) or had close links with these staff members who have gone out are included. These 34 positive cases include 18 from Rajanganay­a and this is where there could be a few issues, “ehe- mehe wenna puluwan” because a positive person had gone to a funeral and an alms-giving. No family member who visited the inmates has been diagnosed as positive so far.

When asked how t he Kandakadu cluster would have got triggered, he said that the origin of the disease would have been from around 100 substance abusers from Suduwella in Ja-ela and Band a ran ayake pu rain Keselwatta being sent in batches for rehabilita­tion to Kandakadu. “Remember their behavioura­l patterns are different and the virus could spread.”

Rejecting allegation­s that the health authoritie­s were “hiding” the actual numbers, Dr. Jasinghe underscore­d that there was no community spread of COVID-19 in the country. There may be one or two cases without an ‘epidemiolo­gical’ link (where the origin of the disease could not be traced), but this does not mean that there is community spread. If there is such a spread, more and more numbers should surface. If people are sick they will go to hospitals across the country and if doctors suspect COVID-19 they will order testing and “we will know”. There is not a single person in the ICU, so how can facts and figures be hidden?

“Linked to the Kandakadu cluster, 5,000 RT-PCR tests have been conducted so far and it is from them that we were able to identify the 543 positive cases. We have tested a large number of people in Rajanganay­a alone and this weekend we will be doing the second round of testing here to net in any who may have been missed out,” the DG said.

Reiteratin­g that all family members who visited the centre on July 4 have been tested with not even one of them being positive, the DG said that 120 tests have been performed in Rantembe, 123 in Tantrimale and 101 in Pallekelle which included one staff member. Since some staff members had gone back home to Diyagama (close to Homagama), they had done 201 tests in the area and found eight positive cases.

With a rehabilita­tion meeting held in Colombo bringing in some staff members from Kandakadu, tests had also been performed on 78 people from Nikawewa and 74 from the Kotugoda church where a staff member had gone, with all bringing forth negative results. With a member of the private Melsta hospital in Ragama visiting Kandakadu for lectures, 69 hospital staff members were tested, all being negative. The results of tests done in Kurunegala are awaited.

On Thursday, Dr. Jasinghe said, 2,406 RT-PCR tests were done in 24 hours from all over the country, with the bulk being at Rajanganay­a.These tests included 812 random samples from the community; 476 from quarantine centres; 407 from private laboratori­es and 44 from the airport.

(Please see Pg 16)

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