Navy in the forefront battling Covid-19 | Sunday Observer

Navy in the forefront battling Covid-19

Navy personnel assisting efforts to combat Covid 19
Navy personnel assisting efforts to combat Covid 19

On March 20, when Sri Lanka went into lockdown to fight the Covid-19 virus, the Sri Lanka Navy among others was at its forefront. Putting its full strength to combat the pandemic, the Navy established quarantine centres, assisted in improving facilities at hospitals, disinfected public spaces, and even provided rations to those in need even as they continued with their regular duties.

But days after carrying out an operation in Suduwella, Jaela, to round up a group of drug users violating curfew and health regulations the Navy was hit with devastating news. Barely a month after Sri Lanka went into lockdown, the Navy recorded its first Covid 19 positive patient. A sailor attached to the Welisara camp had gone back to his home in Lankapura, Polonnaruwa when he developed symptoms of the disease. Eventually, the point of direct contact with the disease was traced back to the operation conducted by the Navy in Suduwella around two weeks before. The Welisara Camp went into immediate lockdown, all leave for sailorswas canceled and curfew had to be re-imposed as infections surged.

Since then, 404 Covid-19 positive naval personnel have been discovered within the Navy, alarmingly mounting to nearly half of the total 835 Covid-19 cases recorded in Sri Lanka. The Navy cluster remains the largest to date.  The numbers continue to increase as aggressive testing is carried out.

However, remarkably, 16 sailors have now recovered within the last three days, evidently much faster than members of the public who have contacted Covid-19. According to Navy Spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Isuru Suriyabandara, the Navy is well on its way to recovery and will rebound soon.

“Sixteen have recovered so far, but even then, they will undergo a further quarantine period of 14 days,” he said. According to him, the recovered personnel are being housed in a facility at Ragama which was provided by a beneficiary as the Navy has decided not to send the personnel home to undergo quarantine. “The same process as home quarantine will be implemented here,” he said.

While medical opinion is still out on the fast recovery of the Navy personnel, Suriyabandara said it is a possibility that high immunity could have contributed to this.

“They follow a routine and also we enlist healthy people, they have stamina and partake in nutritious meals so I believe this could have benefited their recovery,” he said. However, according to the Spokesman, these factors appear to also have a negative impact where the virus is concerned as more than 95 percent of the Naval personnel who tested positive for Covid-19 were asymptomatic, making it harder to detect the virus. Currently, around 600 family members of the infected personnel are also being quarantined to contain its spread. “We have identified the second and third ring of contacts and have informed the State Intelligence Service to help trace them,” he added.

According to Suriyabandara, PCR testing is also being carried out within the Navy. Currently, over 2400 tests have been conducted and this has resulted in the discovery of those who had been infected by the virus.

While the Navy took prompt steps to contain the spread of the virus within the force, it was not without obstacles. Many blamed the Navy claiming it had not provided adequate protection equipment to its personnel. People also became vary of sailors on leave and began alerting the Police to their presence in their hometowns. Other unfortunate incidents also took place such as the attack on the father and brother of a sailor.

“We had to face a lot of social pressures” Suriyabandara noted, saying that however, the people could not be blamed.

Addressing the issue of equipment, Suriyabandara said the Navy used various techniques to protect themselves and the limited resources were managed and used effectively.

“The lack of resources is not one faced by Sri Lanka alone” he pointed out, adding that the Navy prioritised its use. “We categorised and provided adequate protection,” he said, noting that PPE sets were given to those who may come into direct contact while masks and gloves were given to others. According to Suriyabandara, a risk assessment would prove that taking the risk to round up those in Suduwella was far less damaging than if they were allowed to roam freely in the community. “So we took that risk and carried out the operation,” he said.

Another obstacle according to him is that many of the Navy personnel are not showing symptoms making it difficult to detect if they have contracted the disease. “But we are trying to counter this with aggressive testing,” he said.

Accommodation issues had also cropped up according to the Spokesman. “A camp is designed to accommodate a particular number of personnel excluding those on leave. But never have we had to have all personnel inside a camp at once” he noted. However, the Government and support from benefactors have provided the Navy with the necessary resources. “We are thankful to those who came forward,” he said.

Even as the numbers of those infected with Covid-19 keep rising within the Navy, it continues with its efforts in combating the virus while also carrying out regular duties. Suriyabandarasays that the best weapon the force is equipped with is the courage of its sailors. “Despite the social issue and personal issues faced by them they are determined to recover and overcome this,” he said. With all personnel working around the clock, Suriyabandara assured that in the weeks to come the Navy will be back in force to protect the Motherland.