Curfew imposed in Katunayake
By Dilanthi Jayamanne
Police curfew will be imposed in the Katunayake Police Division from 5:00 a.m. today (15), Army Commander, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva said. He said the employees of the Board of Investment (BOI) companies in Katunayake can use their company identity cards as curfew passes.
A total of 72 employees serving in the Katunayake BOI were diagnosed with COVID-19, BOI Chairman, Sanjaya Mohottala, said yesterday (14). He also said employees of BOI companies located within Katunayake area, who reside in the five Police areas of Diwulaptiya, Gampaha, Mirigama, Minuwangoda and Veyangoda Police Divisions, will not be issued curfew passes.
Also, employees residing in curfew areas other than the five areas mentioned above, should be travelling from their own homes, and not boarding houses or factory (or other) dormitories and shared lodgings, to be eligible for curfew passes. The BOI employees requesting curfew passes should have no direct link to any of the known clusters or quarantined individuals.
Employees meeting the criteria mentioned above should use dedicated transport for the quarantine area and should not mix with staff from non-quarantined areas when travelling.
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer of Health of the Colombo Municipal Council, Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni, said all COVID-19 cases that had been reported in the Colombo City since the start of the Brandix cluster at the Minuwangoda facility have all been imported cases and not from within the city.
Dr. Wijayamuni said the Colombo City had not witnessed a patient from within it for over 160 days. Although the Health Ministry Spokesman, Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara, had said that a total of 160 COVID-19 cases had been reported from the Colombo District, only six of them had been identified from the city. They too were imported.
There were four cases from Lesley Ranagala Mawatha, stemming from a patient who had come to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for bone marrow treatment. The child and the father had been positive, while the mother, who was a minor employee of the ward, had also tested positive for COVID-19. She had been living with five others at a hostel situated on Lesley Ranagala Mawatha. PCR tests conducted on them had shown that another three of them were also positive.
The other two cases identified from a residency in Slave Island and Kent Road also had clear links to the COVID-19 cluster at the Minuwangoda apparel facility.
He said PCR tests had been conducted on 12 October at the Colombo Fort Railway Station, where 215 samples had been taken, while a total of 2,884 PCR tests had been conducted since 4 October 2020.
Dr. Bandara said by 2:00 p.m. yesterday, only 17 cases had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of them, five were from quarantine centres. Only 12 were identified as new cases. He noted that this was a positive situation when compared to cases that had been witnessed during the past few days.
Responding to questions regarding the repatriation process of Sri Lankans who were stranded due to the prevalent pandemic situation, he said the process would commence as soon as possible, once the 14-day quarantine period of many of those who had been taken in for quarantining with the emergence of the local cluster ended. Dr. Bandara said the Government too was keen on recommencing the process as early as possible.
Deputy General Manager of the Bureau of Foreign Employment and its Media Spokesman, Mangala Randeniya, said the repatriation of employees in the Middle East would tentatively recommence from November this year. The Bureau is a member of the Subcommittee on the Repatriation of Foreign Employees and keeps in close touch with the authorities, he said.
Meanwhile, a nurse of the National Hospital, serving in one of its Intensive Care Units (ICUs), had tested positive for COVID-19 while on her way to her hometown in Ambalangoda. Sources said the driver and conductor of the bus in which she had travelled had tested positive for the virus, which had resulted in a PCR test being conducted on all passengers who had travelled in the bus on that day. The nurse who had tested positive had been admitted to the Nagoda Hospital.
Three persons from Matugama have been diagnosed with COVID-19 following PCR tests conducted at the Nagoda Hospital, Kalutara earlier this week, health officials said, adding that they were the owner, driver and conductor of a luxury bus operated on the Matugama-Colombo Expressway. The driver and conductor of the bus were residents of Navulthuduwa and Badugama in Matugama. The owner of the bus was from the Ovitigala area in Matugama.
Meanwhile, managements of all factories are advised to strictly adhere to health guidelines and precautionary measures issued by the Health Ministry, Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi said.
Factory management is required to examine all personnel at least thrice a day for fever, inspect their places of accommodation and close contacts, constantly change working hours and shifts in factories to ease congestion in transport systems, supply meals, and immediately update the addresses of employees, Wanniarachchi added.
Meanwhile, steps have been taken to conduct PCR tests on employees of the Biyagama and Katunayake Free Trade Zones, enabling all to undergo these tests free of charge.
Furthermore, managements of factories are advised to strictly isolate factory areas, and restrict the entry of outsiders to their compounds to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
The National Operation Centre for the Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak said by yesterday morning, a total 194 COVID-19 cases had been diagnosed. The total number of COVID-19 patients from the Minuwangoda Brandix facility amounted to 1,591, while 1,036 of them were employees of the apparel factory. The remaining 555 were their close contacts. The Centre said from 5 to 11 October, a total of 1,186 patients had been detected, while during the second week, another 121 had been diagnosed. The number of COVID-19 cases from the facility on 13 October was 90, the Centre said.
The total number in quarantine centres functioning under the armed forces was 9,905.
Elsewhere, the existing shortage of Medical Officers of Health (MoH) and several other medical service categories in the Northern Province would make it harder for the provincial health authorities to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Northern Province Coordinator, Dr. T. Gandeepan, said there were six MoHs in Mullaitivu of which only four of them had a medical officer to serve in the MoH capacity, whereas the other two were vacant. The vacant post of Regional Epidemiologist in Mullaitivu is covered by the medical officer in charge of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).
The cadre requirement of the Mullaitivu Regional Health Office was for 69 medical officers, Dr. Gandeepan said.
The vacant position of Regional Epidemiologist in Mannar was filled by the MoH of Manthai West. He noted that the new MoH that had been opened in Marathankerney and Karainagar in the Jaffna District remained vacant, while the MoH in Point Pedro covered the duties of Marathankerney, he said.
The Kilinochchi Regional Health Office had several existing vacancies for MOHs, Medical Officers of Mental Health, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
He appealed to the Health Ministry to take urgent action to resolve the existing crisis in the regional health services of the Northern Province. MoH services were essential during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Dr. Gandeepan said from 2016 to 2018, there had been an additional payment of 25 per cent of the salary made for the ‘Acting in’ positions which were vacant in addition to performing duties of their own posts, which was paid for by the Provincial Government. However, in 2018, the Chief Secretary of the Northern Province had stopped payments, while the doctors had been instructed to ask the regional health authorities to request for the payment from the Ministry of Health.
Dr. Gandeepan said appeals had been made to the Governor of the Province, P.S.M. Charles, once she was appointed in 2020, while she had instructed the Provincial Council to pay the amounts, to no avail.
Although the issue regarding the transfer of well-trained ambulance drivers in the Health service had been temporarily resolved with the transfers of over 22 ambulance drivers within the district being shelved till 30 November, the provincial health service cannot say as to when the current COVID-19 threat would be over. “It is true that the drivers belong to a Combined Service. But these are ambulance drivers who were capable of transferring COVID-19 positive patients from quarantine centres to hospitals and who know how to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).”
Responding to questions, Dr. Gandeepan said, currently there were a total of 20 intensive care unit (ICU) beds available. “Unfortunately, although Mullaitivu has an ICU facility with equipment, we don’t have the medical officers to man it,” he noted.