Kandakadu cluster – A reminder of need for vigilance

By Sarah Hannan

The entire country is once again filled with uncertainty on what health crisis they would wake up to the next day. For over a week, the affiliated stakeholders of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of Covid-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), headed by Chief of Defence Staff and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, has taken steps to keep the citizens calm.

However, uncertainties remain as the cluster, which was activated on 7 July from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, accumulates more cases from people who have already socialised across the country after possibly coming into contact with an asymptomatic patient from the rehabilitation centre in Kandakadu.

Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Anil Jasinghe, in an attempt to calm the now agitated public, stated: “We have now traced most of the contacts that these patients closely associated. We are doing all that is in our control to ensure that the country would not be subjected to yet another lockdown, which will adversely affect the livelihoods of people, education of children and university undergraduates, and many in general.”

Dr. Jasinghe also pointed out that after the first two weeks since the lockdown was removed, people gradually seemed to forget to maintain physical distancing, maintain respiratory etiquette, wear masks, and wash or sanitise hands as often as possible.

While many would consider the activation of the Kandakadu cluster to be unexpected, questions have been raised on the manner in which the staff at the centre had adhered to the health guidelines.

Although the first case was reported from an inmate who had completed his three and a half-month rehabilitation programme and had returned to the Welikada Prison, after which he displayed symptoms of Covid-19 and upon testing was confirmed to have contracted the virus, it was unclear as to how he contracted it.

It is believed that the infection would have been brought there by drug addicts who had been housed at the centre by way of a court order for rehabilitation a few days ago or by 116 persons who had visited their relatives under rehabilitation on 4 July after restrictions were lifted. All of those visitors were identified and are now in self-quarantine.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union Sri Lanka (PHIUSL) President Upul Rohana, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said: “If we backtrack to when the Suduwella cluster was active in April, which cascaded to the Welisara Navy Camp cluster, it is clear that the infection could have passed on to an inmate in the rehabilitation centre through one of the positive patients who were assigned to Kandakadu for rehabilitation from the Suduwella cluster.”

However, following the discharge of the rehabilitated patients of the Suduwella cluster from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, there seems to have been a lapse in adherence to the health guidelines that were imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by the staffers and visiting consultants.

15 July

The worst affected populace unfortunately belongs to the Rajanganaya area, from where hundreds of positive cases started to mushroom. With the now identified areas, Rajanganaya Yaya 1, 3, 4, and 5 seem to have moved closely with one of the persons who tested positive, who happened to attend a funeral and an almsgiving. This has now placed at least 12,000 people under self-quarantine, with health authorities declaring the said zones isolated areas. PCR tests are being carried out for all persons in batches.

14 July noon

A grand total of 532 positive cases were reported from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre. Out of those, a total of 442 were detainees under rehabilitation, 68 were staffers, and 22 were among the associates and others, said Military Spokesman Brigadier Chandana Wickremasinghe in a statement on behalf of the NOCPCO.

Likewise, at the time of issuing the statement, 19 Covid-19 cases were reported. Among them, nine are from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, including staffers, four associates of civil lecturers, and six more Sri Lankan expatriates from Oman (4) and the UAE (2) who are undergoing quarantine procedures at tri-force managed quarantine centres.

All associates who contracted Covid-19 have been identified and directed to quarantine centres managed by tri-services. It does not necessarily mean that they are infected with the virus. This measure is adopted in order to prevent the further transmission of this virus within society.

13 July

Several families in the Homagama area were directed to self-quarantine after two officers of the Sri Lanka Army had tested positive for Covid-19 on 13 July. The two officers from Kendalanda and Godagama served at the Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre and had tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from Kandakadu.

Subsequently, the Homagama Medical Officer of Health (MOH) directed seven families to self-quarantine; a doctor, a medical assistant, and a jewellery shop employee were among those who were placed under quarantine, as one of the infected officers had visited their establishments and come into contact with them.

12 July, 4 p.m.

Ninety-four more Covid-19 cases were reported from the Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre. Accordingly, 429 detainees out of 829 inmates in the rehabilitation centre were confirmed positive that day. A total of 47 staffers out of 312 in the centre were also confirmed positive by afternoon on 12 July.

Likewise, 14 family members and associates of the infected were confirmed positive and as such, a total of 490 individuals associated with the centre were confirmed positive.

As of 12 July, a total of 6,483 individuals are still in quarantine in 50 quarantine centres islandwide. From the Navy cluster, 11 more sailors are still receiving treatment.

Quarantine centre converted

Lt. Gen. Silva, elaborating on the active Kandakadu cluster, said that the Ministry of Justice managed two rehabilitation centres for drug prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation in Kandakadu and Senapura in the Polonnaruwa District, housing a total of 1,150 persons, which included employees of different state agencies.

The President and Prime Minister had later instructed Lt. Gen. Silva to convert the nearby Army-managed Kandakadu Quarantine Centre to a field hospital where some 500 Covid-19-infected persons can be treated, anticipating a further increase in positive cases upon receipt of PCR test results.

Accordingly, as of 10 July, 283 more individuals were confirmed positive for Covid-19, thus increasing the total to 340, together with 57 confirmed cases by 9 July evening, all of whom are treated in the new temporary field hospital.

“The possibility of transmission of the virus to society is minimal but more infected persons could be found among those who were serving at both those centres in the next couple of days, after PCR tests are conducted. Similarly, eight more instructors of those same centres, currently on leave, have been identified and are being brought back for quarantine procedures,” he told The Sunday Morning.

7 July

After the prison inmate from Welikada, who had returned from the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, was tested positive for the virus on 7 July; around 700 prison detainees and prison staff were subjected to PCR tests, out of which only one had tested positive.

On the same day, all individuals inside the Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre underwent PCR tests, out of which 57 tested positive. There had been one female consultant who was on leave from the Marawila area as well.

Soon after she was diagnosed positive, her parents, family members, and associates were tested and kept under quarantine by the Army.