Covid-19: ‘Not reached community spread level’ Dr. Hemantha Herath  

By Yoshitha Perera  


A surge of Covid-19 cases will endure for another couple of weeks and the downward trend can be expected subsequently, Deputy Director General of Health Services Dr. Hemantha Herath informed The Sunday Morning. Speaking in an interview Dr. Herath shared the importance of the current lockdown and explained the community transmission of the virus.  

Following are excerpts from the interview:  


What is the current Covid-19 situation in the country?  

The total number of cases have already passed the 200,000 mark. By last Wednesday (9), the total number of cases reported was 213,396. Around 182,238 people have recovered and the total deaths have gone up to 1910. This was the situation by last Wednesday.  


Has the lockdown helped control the spread of the virus?  

Theoretically, it is helping; thus, the Government imposed it. However, we are yet to see the results. The reason is, once we impose this kind of lockdown, it will take at least two or three incubation periods to see the real and actual results. At this moment, we are observing the initial phase of the downward trend and it will take at least another two weeks to see the actual results of the control of the spread of the virus. 


Has the virus spread in the community?  

The virus is in the community but it has not developed as a community cluster transmission. Community spread is a technical term, which means the majority are in the community, not the contacts. We are already finding the contacts and try to treat or quarantine them to continue the controlling activities.  

We have not reached the so-called community spread. If we are having a community spread, it is not at all helpful to trace the contacts and quarantine them. At a community spread stage, we have to stop everything, and let the patients come to the hospitals. Currently, we are observing cases from the community. 


Deputy Director General of Health Services Dr. Hemantha Herath  

How can the curve be flattened?  

Immunisation is one of the most important things when it comes to flattening the curve. We would have done it successfully if we had enough stocks. Unfortunately, it is totally beyond our control. The suppliers betrayed us; thus, we are not able to get a sufficient quantity of vaccines even up to now. Even though we are receiving small consignments, we have a continuous supply and we hope it will continue to cover almost all the districts.  

However, the most important thing is, without any specific financial involvement, we can practice social distancing. Even by this current lockdown, we are trying to achieve proper social distancing to control the spread of the virus. If we can maintain social distancing to the maximum, that will be the most effective practice to flatten the curve. When the virus first evolved in China, it spread across the world due to travelling. That is why we have restricted international travelling also to a great extent.  


How important is it to administer the second doses to ensure immunity?  

Administering a second dose is important because it is the only way to get the maximum protection that can be offered by a vaccine. In most vaccines, you need a second dose and it is extremely important when it comes to Covid-19 vaccines.  


Is vaccine mix-and-match advisable?  

We have not yet accepted the vaccine mix-and-match. Certain studies proved that vaccine mix-and-match can be done successfully, but the Government and the Ministry of Health have not yet advised or initiated such mix-and-match strategies at this moment.  

Especially in Sri Lanka, we cannot do research related to vaccine mix-and-match. It is hard to do that kind of research in our country and we have to observe what other countries are doing. To give good results on vaccine mix-and-match, it has to be given to at least some 100,000-200,000 people. So, I don’t think, as a country, we should take such a risk with our people. 


Some countries are going for a third dose vaccination to boost immunity. What will Sri Lanka do?  

Sri Lanka will also have to do it. Some countries have already completed the vaccination of the second dose as well, because they had started the immunisation programme earlier than us. Now those countries are reaching a stage where they may require the third dose or the booster dose. The third dose is something we have to think about in the future, but now, we have to complete the first and second doses.  


There are allegations that some people had not received the first dose of the vaccine in the areas where the vaccination programmes were conducted. How are these things being monitored?  

Yes, there may be a huge number of people who still didn’t receive even the first dose of the vaccine. So far, we have only given the vaccine to 10% of the population, even the first dose. We have already given a card for those who got the vaccine and all others who have not received the card can come and get the vaccine whenever the vaccines are available again in that particular area. What we have to understand is, currently, there are insufficient stocks of vaccines in the country.  


If there are people who missed the first dose, are there any programmes to administer the vaccine again for them?  

Yes. Even in Colombo, people who had not received the first dose of the vaccine can go to the place where the vaccination is being administered and get it. We don’t need to have a special programme for that. Still, we are giving the first dose of the vaccines and the programme is continuing.  


How many vaccinated people have been infected so far? Is that being monitored?  

It is being monitored, but I don’t have figures at this moment. That’s a separate study because we have to obtain that data by observing case by case. We have to go into details of 213,396 (number of cases reported last Wednesday) cases to check whether they have been vaccinated or not. It is a bit of a difficult task and it will take time to see the actual results. At the present moment, we are only observing samples to monitor this figure.  


Is it effective to change the priority list? Who is on the priority list as of now?  

Changing the priority list is effective and we have observed that. What is required is to provide the essential coverage. If the majority of the population is immunised, it is easy to control the spread of the virus. Otherwise, it will take more time to get things under control.