After almost two months of successfully mitigating the spread of COVID-19, a sudden unexpected surge of new cases has given way to renewed fears of community transmission in the country.
Over hundred new cases have been reported today from the community and there are serious concerns the island will be subject to another lockdown that may also last months.
Origins Of A Cluster
But first, where from this new cluster?
This seventh major cluster to be reported—the first after the government announced they had successfully prevented community transmission of COVID-19 in May—came to national attention when an apparel factory worker, aged 39, from Divulapitiya in the Gampaha district tested positive for COVID-19 while admitted at the Gampaha Hospital.
She had fallen ill on 28 September and been admitted to the Gampaha Hospital on 30 September, where, when tested for COVID-19 prior to discharge, as per current regulations, she had tested positive for the virus.
She was then promptly transferred to the National Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Colombo, and her immediate family, 15 hospital officials and 40 others who had worked with her at the apparel factory in Minuwangoda advised to self-quarantine.
The government acted swiftly, imposing an immediate police curfew on the areas of Minuwangoda and Divulapitiya—and later Veyangoda—as they embarked on the process of contact tracing.
Although the 39-year-old garment factory worker is the vector for the current cluster of COVID-19, the source of the virus has not yet been established.
It is for this reason, Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) Lt. General Shavendra said, curfew was being imposed in these areas.
“All those who have travelled through the area in the past days should also take precautions,” he told the media on Sunday (4). “Curfew will only be lifted once the source is traced. It is a matter of hours or days.”
PCR testing on contacts yesterday revealed that the 16-year-old daughter of the patient had also tested positive for the virus. By this morning, the numbers had exceeded seventy, and it is likely the figures will increase in the coming days as the government and health authorities intensify testing.
Critical Next Hours
Acting swiftly, the Education Ministry, the Archdiocese of Colombo, the Buddhist Affairs Ministry—among others—declared an early start to school holidays that were due to begin at the end of this week.
Thereby, all government, private and international schools, as well as Buddhist religious ‘Daham Pasal’ have been closed until further notice. Tuition classes in the Gampaha and neighboring Colombo district have also been temporarily halted.
In addition to these, health authorities have directed the public’s attention to health regulations published as the country came out of a three-month lockdown in May, noting that many had taken light of the situation and were not taking precautions as they should.
Head of the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health, Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera reminded the public they must not socialise any more than needed, need to stay at home as much as possible, and to maintain a minimum of 1-metre distance from each other when out in public, as well as to ensure that face masks are worn when out and to ensure that hands are washed frequently.
Speaking to the media yesterday (4), Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva said the next 72 hours would be critical to monitor and ascertain if those who had visited the apparel factory employees had contracted the virus or not, after it was revealed that a number of others from outside the factory had visited in the past days.
The patient in question had also used a company-owned private bus to travel to and from work, and those who travelled alongside her have also been directed to self-quarantine.
While there is no indication the country will be forced into a lockdown yet, Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera has certainly sounded the alarm, calling for more public cooperation and vigilance.
"After two months we have detected COVID-19 from among the community. This could continue in the future. It may already be in the community. So we must adhere to all health precautions,” he said.
Editor's Note —The number of cases was updated from 88 to over 100 to reflect the day’s tally of cases and the number of clusters were updated from six to seven.