Monday 19th October, 2020
Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army is of the view that the infection that triggered the current wave of COVID-19, which has sent Sri Lanka reeling, could be of foreign origin. He said so, taking part in a television programme yesterday. His line of reasoning is convincing.
There were no COVID-19 infections for two months outside the quarantine centres following the elimination of the Kandakadu cluster. If the current wave resulted from infections that had gone undetected for two months, as argued in some quarters, there would have been several outbreaks of the disease in different parts of the country; how come Minuwangoda has become the epicentre of infections?
There is no way COVID-19 can spread here through foreigners or Sri Lankans, who arrive here legally because they have to undergo mandatory quarantine for 28 days and PCR tests. Therefore, going by Lt. Gen. Silva’s aforesaid contention, which we agree with, there are two possibilities: either the infected persons are illegal immigrants who did not undergo quarantine, or those who came here legally but skipped quarantine and PCR testing. It is not possible for illegal immigrants to trigger an explosive transmission of the disease unless they work with a large number of others in a congested environment, and the same is true of those who have come here through proper channels but may have dodged the quarantine process or part of it.
Lt. Gen. Silva has said the country from which the infections responsible for triggering the latest COVID-19 cluster came cannot be named as inquiries are still on. The government may not be able to make an official announcement to that effect, at this juncture, but is duty bound to reveal to the public, after completing investigations, where the infected persons came from and whether they are employed here either legally or illegally. Those who violate the health guidelines, endangering people’s lives and causing enormous losses to the economy now have to face legal action; they can be fined and imprisoned. Therefore, the allegation that some employers have had quarantine laws bent to enable their workers who came here from overseas to report for work before the mandatory 28-day quarantine period is over must be probed and, if anyone is found to have done so, he or she must be prosecuted.
Whether all those who were flown in here, either through the BIA or the Mattala airport, underwent proper quarantine for 28 days can easily be ascertained, for all records pertaining to them including passenger manifests are available. So, the government can find out whether there have been any quarantine law violations on the part of those who came here, if it is not under pressure not to do so. A few weeks ago, a member of the crew of a Russian cargo plane, which landed at Mattala, tested positive for COVID-19. He was found in a hotel in Matara. How come they were allowed to travel that far without being quarantined for 28 days? Have other foreigners also been allowed to roam free, in this manner, after landing at Mattala? Has the Mattala airport become the COVID-19 entry point?
Developing countries are struggling to keep their economies afloat owing to COVID-19, and cannot resort to nationwide lockdowns and quarantine curfews again. Such measures are fraught with the danger of giving rise to even social uprisings; they, as the World Health Organisation has rightly pointed out, make the poor poorer. These nations can be destabilised with the help of coronavirus, which will ruin their economies and make them much more servile to aid donors. It behoves them to be fully awake to this situation. Hence the need for Sri Lanka to dig deeper and find out how the latest wave of infection came about.