Covid-19:Govt. ready to handle any situation–Lt. Gen Shavendra Silva | Sunday Observer

Covid-19:Govt. ready to handle any situation–Lt. Gen Shavendra Silva

1 November, 2020

The government is geared to contain the spread of the killer virus but it also needs the support of all people to achieve this goal, Head of the National Centre for the Prevention of Covid-19 Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva in an interview with the Sunday Observer last week said.


Q. How did the second wave spread this fast during a short period of time?

A. The first Covid-19 case was reported in March with the start of the first wave. Now the virus has spread and has infected over 10,000 people across the country.

During the first wave we were able to take steps from the detection of the first patient but this time when the second wave was reported to health authorities the virus had spread to close contacts.After we detected the first patient in Minuwangoda, around 101 from 150 PCR tests reported positive as close contacts of the first patient.

Later it was reported that from around 1,000 tests over 7,00 had contracted the virus which indicated the virus had spread. We had to manage that situation with measures to curb the spread but this time the number of infected cases is high.

In the first occasion we had to look for the infected people while controlling the spread of the virus but this time we have to control the spread with stringent measures wile identifying infected cases.

Q. But hasn’t the virus spread within a short period?

A. Yes, the risk of the virus spreading is high this time.

There is a possibility of a larger number of people getting infected from a single patient this time.

A good example is the case of a teacher. During the first wave a teacher who was infected at Kandakadu had come to Chilaw using public transport and a three-wheeler. Many were worried that the virus would spread through her but no one was infected. However, this time the situation is different. It has come to a stage that even if one gets too close to person he or she will get infected. However, we have taken all steps to curb the spread of the killer virus since the detection of the Minuwangoda cluster.

Q. Has the Peliyagoda fish market cluster spread around the area?

A. The fish market cluster has spread to several areas but most of them are from the Gampaha district. There are cases in Colombo and Kalutara as well. We had to isolate Hatton since we found patients in the area. The fish market is not like other places. People from various locations visit the market.

Q. But there is a belief that if quarantine curfew had been imposed in the Gampaha district as soon as the Minuwangoda cluster was detected it wouldn’t have spread this far.

A. No one can exactly say that it happened that way.

We cannot say exactly from where the second wave originated but we could clearly say that it come from a foreign source because the virus was not present in the community in September.

Q. So do you think there has been a lapse in the Covid-19 mitigation process?

A. One entity or group cannot mitigate the spread of a communicable disease. The second wave could be a result of one of the six methods. One from returnees but all of them were quarantined under our supervision and they went homes after undergoing PCR tests.

The second method is through foreign seafarers. They travel by air or sea and stay in a hotel for a few days. There is a possibility for the virus to spread this way.

Thirdly it is through foreign VIPs visiting the country but chances of the virus spreading through them is slim. The fourth method is through merchant vessels and other ships that call on ports.

The fifth is through cross border smugglers and the sixth is through foreign flight crew members who stay in hotels close to airports. There were two hotels designated for them at Mattala and Katunayake.

Q. You told the media that there was a high possibility of the virus to spread through foreign flight crew?

A. We can’t say that but it is a major concern. There is a slim chance of contracting the virus from ship crew members. There is a possibility of the virus spreading through another source.

According to intelligence reports there is a 90% chance of contracting the virus through flight crew members. But we can’t come to a conclusion till we are 100% certain. A Turkish Airline crew had come to Sri Lanka on September 11 and left on the 13th. A Ukrainian national who was part of the crew contracted the virus. He was treated and has left the country. When PCR tests were done on the hotel staff where the crew lodged, five of them were infected. Some of them have gone back to their homes. So there is major possibility of the virus spreading through them.

Q. However, don’t you think the spread could have been controlled had Gampaha district being locked down much earleir?

A. It has been over three weeks since most areas in the Gampaha district had been closed. Yet most of the infected cases were reported from the district.

We also have to consider the economy while given priority to health. Around 46 percent of our economy relied on exports.

If we shut down garment factories and other manufacturing facilities at the FTZ a large number of jobs will be at stake.

Q. During the first wave the country was closed and that helped to mitigate the spread of the killer virus. What are your views on this?

A. We did that because we did not have prior experience about this. But this time we can use that experience to control the spread of the virus and save the economy.

Q. But aren’t the people taking this lightly?

A. Yes, that is very clear. People believe that we will save them as we did during the first wave.

We don’t see people following health guidelines. I saw a funeral house with a large crowd and similarly at a liquor outlet. Most of them were without masks. They will understand the seriousness of the virus when one of their relatives die.

Q. What we see in the Minuwangoda case is that people reporting to work even with symptoms. They are scared to report their sickness fearing they’d lose their jobs. What should employers do during a time like this?

A. Employers should inform Public Health Inspectors or other heath officials and steps can be taken under quarantine laws.

Q. There is a understanding that people are told to quarantine in their homes because there is a large number of patients this time and hospitals are overcrowded. Is this true?

A. No. We had facilities only at the IDH during the second wave. It had only 150 beds. We decided to allow people to quarantine by themselves at their homes after requests were made and by observing the hardships they endured. Even if we get 10,000 patients tomorrow, we are able to handle them and face any situation in the future.

Q. It is reported that a main PCR machine is not functioning. Will it have an impact on the mitigation process?

A. We are taking steps to fix it soon. Work is not affected by it.

Q. We are told that there is no community spread as of yet. But patients are detected from over 21 districts. How do you see this?

A. I am not a doctor. Specialists give advice on this. According to what they say we also see that there is no community spread yet.

Q.What are the steps taken to control the spread?

A. Our objective is to control the virus as soon as we can. We discuss with the President daily our plans and future moves to control the spread of the virus.

Q. What is the best measure, as you see, should be taken to control Covid-19?

A. A vaccination has not been found yet. It is the people who can precent te speard until a vaccine has been found. If they follow health guidelines and limit unnecessary traveling the virus can be controlled.

We make guidelines but we need the support of people. It is up to the people whether they want to be infected or not.