COVID-19 scare hits Matara
By Dilanthi Jayamanne and Leon Berenger
Panic hit the Deep South region of Matara yesterday, after a Russian national tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, forcing some 150 persons to be placed under quarantine, while officials conceded that there had been a serious lapse of responsibility on the part of the hotel management, where the patient was housed for the past 12 days.
Among those placed under quarantine were the staff and family members of the hotel as well as certain employees and customers of two upmarket shopping centres in Matara.
The unidentified Russian was a part of a larger group of 14 persons belonging to a crew of a cargo plane that had landed at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) on 12 September and were due to leave the country yesterday.
The group had taken up residence at the hotel, which is not listed as a quarantine centre with the health authorities, and therefore it was a serious lack of responsibility on the part of the hotel management, Chief of the Epidemiology Unit, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera said.
He said it was a mandatory requirement for all flight crew from any airline arriving in Sri Lanka to stay in quarantine for 14 days.
If their flights were scheduled to depart within this time frame, the crew members are required to travel to the airport direct from the quarantine centre.
He added the authorities will launch a probe into the issue at the very earliest, aimed at preventing any similar reoccurrence of this nature, since it was a serious threat to the health safety of the public.
According to officials, the hotel management had also failed to inform the regional health officials on the arrival of the foreigners, which is mandatory prior to registering fresh guests. Meanwhile, regional health officials spanned out across Matara, after the Russian was spotted visiting at least two upmarket supermarkets and other areas, to track down persons who had come into close contact with the patient.
As news of the detection spread, panic-stricken parents rushed to schools to collect their children, while some business places opted to put shutters purely as a precautionary measure, but officials ruled out a possible lockdown of the area.