COVID-19 Regulations Toughened
By Dilanthi Jayamanne
Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services, Pavithra Wanniarachchi yesterday (15) signed the Special Gazette, which would allow the relevant authorities to take legal action against those who violate regulations on health safety measures for COVID-19 prevention.
Media Spokesman of the Ministry, Viraj Abeysinghe said, accordingly, the public would have to adhere to maintaining the one-metre social distance and to wear the facemask while in public places.
Those who violate the gazetted health safety measures would, upon conviction by a Court, be imposed a fine not exceeding Rs 10,000 and/or a term of imprisonment of six months.
In addition, the Gazette specifies the entry to and maintenance of businesses and workplaces. Accordingly, a facemask should be worn when entering a business or a workplace while the person should on all occasions have the facemask on. Also, the temperature of all persons entering a workplace should be taken. Further, adequate facilities should be provided to wash hands or sanitise them at the entrance. A register should be maintained for all persons entering any institution in which the person’s name, identity card number and contact details should be written down. Also, the staffers and visitors should not exceed the carrying capacity of any institution.
The gasette would also strengthen laws regarding the locations to which travel can be undertaken, quarantine and transport activities.
Meanwhile, the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak announced that shops and pharmacies in curfew imposed areas would be opened today (16) from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m.
Health Ministry Spokesman Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara said that a total of 2,034 hospital beds had been allocated for the increasing COVID–19 cluster being identified at the Brandix facility in Minuwangoda.
However, the beds that had been allocated for these patients at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) were completely occupied.
A total of 14 hospitals had been lined up to treat patients of this 33rd COVID-19 cluster, he addedHe noted that 146 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds had also been allocated for treatment of these patients.
He noted that the molecular diagnostic laboratory facility at the Bandaranaike International Airport was to receive another polymerase chain reaction (PCR) automated machine today (16). Meanwhile, Colombo East Base Hospital sources said that it had stopped the normal functions of the Hospital. Currently, there are 90 patients with COVID-19 infections being treated by the Hospital including those suspected to have contracted the Virus. Of them however, only 75 had tested positive for COVID-19. The Hospital initially specified that it could cater to 130 COVID-19 patients, they said.
Responding to questions, sources said that currently the ICU of the Hospital was being newly constructed and that if a necessity arose, where a patient required ICU care, steps would be taken to transfer the patient to the NIID ICU facility.
Elsewhere, the Public Assistance Department (PAD) of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), situated on Deans Road, Maradana, was closed for 14 days after one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. Also, PCR tests were to be carried out on 80 of its employees. Further, the CMC too was closed to the public yesterday (15).
CMC sources said that PCR tests had been performed at the Gunasinghapura Private Bus Stand after three persons, namely the driver, conductor and the owner of a Mathugama – Colombo luxury bus tested positive for COVID-19. PCR tests were also carried out at Manning Market after the wife of one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.
A staff Member of the Hatton National Bank (HNB) Tower in Colombo 10 tested positive for COVID-19. The Bank, issuing a statement, said however that the patient had been diagnosed on 14 October. It added that all staff in the relevant area of Level 19 had been asked not to report to work and to self–quarantine. Also, by 6 a.m. yesterday, the total number of COVID-19 cases recorded from the Brandix facility, in Minuwangoda, increased to 1,723. During the first week (5 to 11 October), the number from the cluster was recorded at 1,186. The National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 said that 132 cases had been reported by 6 a.m. yesterday.
The Director General of Health Services (Cover Up), Dr. S. Sridharan issuing a communiqué to Provincial and regional hospital heads, issued instructions to “streamline the communication process during COVID-19.” The instructions were issued following the identification of the first COVID-19 patient of the Brandix facility in Minuwangoda. In his letter, he noted that the information provided to the media regarding the current status updates directly affected the COVID-19 control and prevention mechanism. The data should not affect the public, he said, stressing on the need for it to be channeled to the mass media only through authorised offices once approved by the Health Secretary.
Although in his letter, he identifies Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera as the official spokesman to provide information in this regard, the responsibility shifted to Dr. Bandara.
The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday urged the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services to utilise the 1,500 post interns, in units which were short of medical staff, to provide support during the current COVID-19 crisis.
GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando said that while they could be allocated to strengthen the services of the Epidemiology Unit of the Health Ministry and regional epidemiology units and Medical Offices of Health (MoH), the large number of pre-interns who were awaiting internships for the past one year could be given those internship appointments to fill in those vacancies in countrywide health institutions.
He noted that the Health sector personnel capacity should be preserved and strengthened if the country is to face a future spread.
During a meeting with the Ministry, the GMOA had noted that measures needed to be taken to roster the available health staff, while rearranging and reducing their routine work. This is also in a bid to face a future crisis in case there was a community spread of the disease and to prepare hospitals to take in patients.
As it is, although there were a tremendous number of cases being identified from the cluster, it was still at a stage where it could be controlled, he noted. Dr. Fernando said that the GMOA had submitted several proposals to the Health Minister and her officials which included increasing the capacity of polymerase chain reaction testing.
He noted that hospitals should be allocated to treat COVID-19 patients without causing a disturbance to essential patient care services.