Coronavirus | Indian among 100 patients in Sri Lanka

3 Sri Lankan nationals tested positive on their return from India early this month

March 25, 2020 11:50 pm | Updated March 26, 2020 12:21 am IST - COLOMBO

No entry:  A worker spraying disinfectant at a bus terminal in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

No entry: A worker spraying disinfectant at a bus terminal in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

An Indian is among the nearly 100 COVID-19 positive patients undergoing treatment in Sri Lanka, The Hindu has learnt. Three other patients, who are Sri Lankan nationals, also tested positive on their return from India earlier this month, officials said.

Watch | COVID-19: Dos and don'ts from the Health Ministry

“All four of them are undergoing treatment and are stable,” Director-General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe told The Hindu on Wednesday. The Indian High Commission here confirmed that the Indian national had arrived in Colombo on March 12 on a tourist visa and tested positive upon arrival, but declined to share details of where the patient departed from.

As of Wednesday, Sri Lanka has reported 102 confirmed cases. Three of them have been discharged on recovery.

Based on the data published by the Epidemiology Unit of Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry, researchers at the Colombo-based Institute for Health Policy, a non-profit research institute focusing on public health systems and policy, have generated a graphic mapping the source of COVID-19 infections as of March 22, when 78 persons tested positive.

Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya, executive director of the Institute, said COVID-19 “remains still largely” an infection acquired outside Sri Lanka.

A majority of the infected persons are Sri Lankans who returned from Italy in recent weeks, followed by a few from the United Kingdom, Germany and India. This is apart from the first case declared by Sri Lanka in late January of a Chinese tourist who tested positive. She returned to China following her recovery. Only four out of the 100-plus cases reported in Sri Lanka are seen to be originating from India, but the information foretells a greater risk for India, the public health expert cautioned.

Noting that the cases originating from India, of one Indian national and three Sri Lankan returnees, were detected around mid-March, Dr. Rannan-Eliya, who specialises in health systems and policy both in Sri Lanka and globally, said: “During this same period, the total case count reported by India remained below 200. Such a high incidence in our arrivals from India simply does not fit the reported Indian case numbers.”

According to him, it “strongly suggests” there has been a “large undetected outbreak in India since at least early March, and the Indian authorities are failing to detect most of their cases”.

Further, he has recommended that Sri Lanka treat India as a “high risk” country when opening its airports to arrivals again. “Looking at how many of the arrivals from India were discovered to carry the virus, I fear that India has not detected over 80% of the cases,” Dr. Rannan-Eliya told The Hindu .

While being critical of Sri Lanka’s early responses — that didn’t include intensive screening of or an early ban on arrivals from Europe — he feels authorities subsequently realised the risk and took a series of useful measures. “I suspect we don’t have significant local transmission right now in Sri Lanka,” he said.

All the same, “the problem” in Sri Lanka too was that the rate of testing has been low and should be scaled up, in his view. The Medical Research Institute in Sri Lanka is the premier testing centre for COVID-19. “As of today [March 25], we have conducted 935 tests,” its director Jayaruwan Bandara told The Hindu . The rise in cases prompted authorities to set up six other centres, where about 400 tests have been performed, according to Dr. Bandara.

But to Sri Lanka’s advantage, it already has “sophisticated screening and tracing capacity” in place which has ensured that Sri Lanka remained Malaria-free, a status the WHO awarded the island nation in 2016, said Dr. Rannan-Eliya. “We are also hoping that in this curfew period any possible local transmission will get suppressed,” he added.

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