Indian variant in community but source unknown
5 samples from Dematagoda test positive for B.1.617.2 Delta
Health Ministry clueless as to the origin, probe underway
50% more transmissible than current UK Alpha strain
Immunologist advises two vaccine doses for protection
By Buddhika Samaraweera
The highly transmissible B.1.617.2 Delta variant of Covid-19 was detected from a community sample for the first time in Sri Lanka yesterday (17), with the authorities clueless as to how the virus, which was first detected in India, entered the island.
According to University of Sri Jayewardenepura Allergy, Immunology, and Cell Biology Unit Director Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, the said variant had been detected among five community samples obtained from the Dematagoda area in Colombo.
Better known as the Indian variant, the B.1.617.2 Delta is said to be 50% more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 Alpha variant currently spreading in Sri Lanka, which was first detected in the UK and is referred to as the UK variant.
When The Morning inquired whether the Health Ministry had any idea as to how this variant entered Sri Lanka, we were told that the matter is currently being investigated.
“This can happen since there were arrivals of Indians in the recent past. However, it is not possible to express an accurate opinion about it as the relevant investigations are currently underway,” Health Ministry Communications Director, Public Health Services Deputy Director General, and Disaster Preparedness and Response Division Head Dr. Hemantha Herath told The Morning.
Sri Lankan health authorities detected the Delta variant in early May in a traveller who had returned from India and was in quarantine. However, the authorities said that the individual had undergone quarantine for 14 days and had been released from the centre after a further seven days under watch and therefore, there was no possibility of community transmission of the Delta variant.
Furthermore, in late last May, during the height of the devastating Covid-19 second wave in India, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement that any passenger with a travel history to India, including transit in the past 14 days, would not be permitted to enter Sri Lanka.
When Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi was contacted by The Morning to inquire as to whether Indian nationals had recently arrived in the country despite this arrivals ban, he reiterated that Indian nationals had been barred from entering the country since last month.
However, he added that although no Indian nationals have arrived in the country since then, a total of 1,015 Indians had arrived in the country in the six months to May.
The official death toll in India’s second wave of Covid-19, which began in early March, crossed 200,000 last week.
When contacted by The Morning, University of Sri Jayewardenepura Faculty of Medical Sciences Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine Head Prof. Neelika Malavige said that the preliminary data from the UK shows that this variant is likely to cause more severe disease than the currently spreading UK variant of Covid-19.
However, she assured that all current Covid-19 vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. Studies in the UK have shown that a single dose of Covid-19 vaccines has reduced efficacy against this variant and that it is therefore important for individuals to get both doses of such vaccines for greater protection, she added.
Given the fact that the Delta variant is known to be 50% more transmissible than the currently circulating Alpha variant, Prof. Malavige said that it is likely to spread much faster as seen in other countries currently experiencing outbreaks due to the Delta variant. However, even though there is a higher possibility that some fully vaccinated individuals will get infected, that infection is unlikely to result in severe disease, she elaborated.
Meanwhile, elaborating on the reports that five patients have been found to be infected with this variant, Dr. Herath explained: “That is something dynamic. Maybe five samples were obtained and all of them are positive. But that does not mean that the number of patients is five. Because others who were there may also have been infected.”
He further noted that the Health Ministry had, as of yesterday, not been informed of the number of patients who had been infected with this variant.
Meanwhile, Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) Regional Epidemiologist Dinu Guruge yesterday stated that the CMC had locked down the Dematagoda area in which the Delta variant was detected yesterday since last Saturday (12), in order to conduct PCR testing after they were notified of the suspected presence of the variant.
These statements were made through her official Twitter handle.
Accordingly, Guruge mentioned that random PCR tests will continue to be conducted in Borella and in other areas of Colombo, adding that results will be produced within eight to 10 hours of sample collection.
She urged Colombo residents who display symptoms of Covid-19 to visit CMC sites for testing, adding that the CMC will communicate the locations of active PCR testing sites on a daily basis.