brand logo

Indian Delta variant’s community detection: CMC-led mitigation efforts underway  

2 years ago

Share on

  • Jayewardenepura scientists’ early suspicions pay off 

  • Dematagoda lockdown, large-scale random PCR testing to continue 

  • Worst fear comes true: Virologist MP Prof. Tissa Vitarana 

  • Urges set up of all party leaders parliamentary comm. 

By Aazam Ameen    The highly transmissible B.1.617.2 Delta variant of Covid-19, which was initially detected from India and is responsible for presently crippling the Indian healthcare system, was officially identified as present in Sri Lanka, outside of quarantine centres, within the community, for the first time, on Thursday (17).  Even though the official announcement of its presence came just three days ago, The Sunday Morning learnt that the Sri Jayewardenepura University’s Immunology and Molecular Medicine Department had suspected that the variant, which has been named as a variant of concern (VOC) by the World Health Organisation (WHO), was present in the country since 12 June.  Elaborating on how the suspicion of the Delta variant’s presence arose, Sri Jayewardenepura University’s Allergy, Immunology, and Cell Biology Unit Director Dr. Chandima Jeewandara noted that some of the PCR test results had showed certain anomalies.   “The PCR test kit we use has the capacity to detect what is known as the S gene, which is viewed as a proxy for the presence of the B.1.1.7 Alpha variant, initially detected in the UK and which is presently spreading in Sri Lanka. However, when we saw a surge in cases of the Alpha variant, the S gene was not detected. Then suddenly, during the past few days, we observed that the S gene began to appear in the routine PCR test results. This is what alerted us to conduct an urgent sequencing session. Therefore, we were able to detect the presence of the Delta variant early on,” he explained.  Dr. Jeewandara stressed that since the presence of the Delta variant has been confirmed, the public must ensure that they are disciplined enough to prevent further spread of the virus.   “The country is currently in a lockdown, and there is nothing else that the Government can do. If the public is not disciplined enough despite this, what else can the authorities do?” he queried.  With regard to what action had been taken after the confirmed presence of the Delta variant, Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) Regional Epidemiologist Dr. Dinu Guruge revealed to The Sunday Morning that a proactive approach has been taken, and that all measures to prevent the further spread of the variant were in place even before the presence of the variant was confirmed.   “The Sri Jayewardenepura University’s Immunology and Molecular Medicine Department warned us about the possible presence of the Delta variant about a week ago when we submitted random samples for PCR testing. The university realised that certain characteristics in our samples appeared to be peculiar, and therefore warned us about this concerning development,” Dr. Guruge added.  Following this warning, Dr. Guruge noted that the Dematagoda area in which these samples were obtained was immediately placed under lockdown the following day and that conducting random PCR tests had followed, which had in turn led to the detection of more Delta variant cases.   “Because we had already taken action no sooner than we were warned, when the university officially declared on 17 June that the anomaly in the PCR test results was due to the presence of the Delta variant, there was not much more for us to do. We had already done everything in anticipation of this,” she stressed.  Dr. Guruge further added that the lockdown imposed and large-scale random PCR testing will continue in the Dematagoda area. When queried as to whether the detection of the Delta variant signifies that community spread has in fact taken place, Dr. Guruge explained that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) have begun to perform contact tracing operations to ascertain whether such was the case, and that therefore, she could not comment on the matter further.  Meanwhile, Government MP and virologist Prof. Tissa Vitharana told The Sunday Morning that it is time to assume the worst in terms of the Covid-19 situation in the country, as he believes that the spread of the virus is no longer in clusters, as it has reached community spread.  “The Delta variant is far more transmissible and lethal in the sense that it will cause severe illness and even death. We must assume that even our neighbours have the virus so that we can play it safe,” he emphasised.  Prof. Vitharana also highlighted that since the virus is known to only reproduce within the respiratory tract, it is important that the public is reminded of the basic health rules once again.   “Basic health guidelines such as social distancing, properly wearing a facemask, and frequently washing hands with soap and water must be instilled within the public once more through intensive re-education,” he stressed.  It is also his opinion that the Government can certainly do so much more in terms of mitigating the spread of the virus. With this in mind, Prof. Vitharana revealed some of the suggestions put forward by him nearly six months ago during the period in which he was involved in the consultation process.   “The problem we face right now is that the Opposition continues to attack the Government and vice versa. To fight this virus, we must present a united front.”  “This is why I suggested to Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi that a committee composed of all party leaders be set up in Parliament. I asked for such a committee to be frequently updated so that everyone becomes a partner in this exercise which will result in people from all walks of life being informed. I believe that if this was followed, even the prohibition of the burial of Covid-19 victims could have been resolved far quicker,” he mentioned.  Prof. Vitharana also said that though he had expressed that there are clear signs of the virus spreading within the community, his concerns however had fallen on deaf ears.   “In response, the Health Minister told me point blank that she does not accept what I am saying, and stated that it is still in the cluster stage and that therefore, the Government will not change its policies in terms of dealing with the problem,” he claimed.  He also noted that the Government’s continued insistence on the virus not having entered the community spread phase is “utter nonsense”. 

You may also like