Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)
Focus on Kandakadu from where the latest COVID-19 cluster mushroomed
Don’t bash our staff, says top rehab official, while detailing measures to contain infections
Remote but in a picturesque jungle setting, where flows the Mahaweli and roams wild elephants, just about four kms from the Somawathiya Chaithya is the Kandakadu Drug Treatment & Rehabilitation Centre.
It was from here that the latest cluster of COVID- 19 has mushroomed, even though precautions have been taken and now measures are being implemented to contain it.
Before explaining with emotion about the challenging work being carried out by the staff here, the CommissionerGeneral of Rehabilitation MajorGeneral DharshanaHettiarrachchi points out the measures taken and the possible origin of the disease at this centre which is about 35 kms from Polonnaruwa town, in the district of the same name in the Welikanda area.
As social media went on a bashing- spree of the staff members who have been infected by this disease which is not a respecter of any person, he urged people not to cast aspersions against the staff who are dedicated and have gone beyond the call of duty in attending to their work.
“These staff members are trying very hard to calm the minds of these substance abusers and send them back into society. They work long hours, giving ear to these people about some of whom their families murmur not very pleasant stories – how they snatch the chains off the necks of their own mothers; steal stuff from their grandmothers or create trouble in their own homes when they need cash to buy a fix. These are the people with whom the staff work. They are doing a major service,” he said.
The Kandakadu quarantine centre (evacuated of those in quarantine) close to the treatment &rehabilitation centre is now a field hospital accommodating 357, all from the latter, the Sunday Times learns.
“Ninety percent of the positive patients here are normal, showing no symptoms of COVID-19. A staff member
who tested positive had no fever and was fine, running three kms as part of his training, three days after such testing. Those with co-morbidities who may develop complications have been sent to the Welikanda Hospital and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases ( NIID). Army personnel including medical staff are looking after those in the field hospital, with
Specialists from the Polonnaruwa Hospital coming in regularly,” said Maj. Gen. Hettiarrachchi.
The Sunday Times understands that the inmates at the treatment & rehabilitation centre are between 18 to about 70 years old, with a majority ( about 85%) being below 45 years of age. In this group those between 18 to 25 years outnumber the others. They are from all
strata of life – impoverished to middle-class to rich families from across the country. Some are well educated having attended popular schools, while others are not so educated from humble schools. Their careers also range from daily labourers to professionals.
Reiterating that the origin of the Kandakadu cluster has not been determined yet, Maj. Gen. Hettiarrachchi says that there are suspicions how it could have been set off. Usually, all inmates at Kandakadu are sent by court for rehabilitation here. In May, however, there was a special programme in and around Colombo to apprehend drug addicts. Twenty- four such people were sent into 14 days of quarantine at the Galkanda centre run by the army and 44 at the Mullaitivu centre run by the Air Force. RT- PCR tests were also performed on them. Thereafter, they were sent to the Kandakadu centre on May 6 and 12 respectively, where they joined those already under rehabilitation, totalling 472.
Did the infection originate from there, is the possibility being considered, he said, adding however that there was no unusual illness detected during the ‘sick parade’ held daily. Doctors from the Polonnaruwa Hospital would come in and check out anyone not feeling well and treat them and they recovered. “There were no unusual or abnormal indications. We even took some of the inmates for surgeries at the Polonnaruwa Hospital.”
Maj. Gen. Hettiarrachchi said that with the inmates not being allowed visitors during the lockdown, it was only on July 4 that Kandakadu was opened, with strong adherence to health measures such as social distancing, hand-washing and face- mask wearing. Not a single family member who visited that day has tested positive so far.
The Sunday Times understands that 116 family members visited the centre on July 4 – some parents to see their sons; siblings to see their brothers; and wives and children to see their husbands and fathers.