No new Covid-19 variants in SL 

  • Only UK Alpha and Indian Delta going viral 
  • Delta in WP, 7 districts in North, South, and Central 
  • Majority patients young and vaccinated 
  • Proportionate no. of Colombo deaths likely due to Delta: Dr. Herath 

BY Aazam Ameen 

Despite concerns about the presence of a newly mutated variant of Covid-19 in Sri Lanka in addition to the presently spreading B.1.1.7 Alpha variant of UK origin and the B.1.617.2 Delta variant of Indian origin, The Sunday Morning learnt that there is no truth to such rumours. 

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Sri Jayewardenepura University’s Allergy, Immunology, and Cell Biology Unit Director Dr. Chandima Jeewandara dismissed such statements, as no confirmation of such a detection has been issued by the university yet. 

However, Dr. Jeewandara explained that all viruses – Covid-19 included – may display minor mutations which are detected during sequencing runs of PCR test results. He noted, however, that mutations of this nature do not have any significance. 

When queried as to whether the Peruvian origin C.37 Lambda variant of Covid-19 has been detected in the country, Dr. Jeewandara noted that as far as the laboratory of the Unit is concerned, it has not been detected yet. 

The Sunday Morning contacted Health Ministry Communications Director and Public Health Services Deputy Director General Dr. Hemantha Herath, who was able to confirm that the Delta variant has been detected across 10 locales in Sri Lanka.

“So far, the Delta variant has been detected in the Districts of Colombo, Gampaha, and Kalutara of the Western Province; Matale in the Central Province; Galle and Matara of the Southern Province; and Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, and Vavuniya of the Northern Province,” he said. 

Dr. Herath also highlighted that most of the patients detected with Delta variant infections are of a relatively young age and have been inoculated with Covid-19 vaccines, and that the risk of severe morbidity and mortality is minimal.

However, he mentioned that the health authorities are unable to say what would have unfolded if the patients were from a different age demographic or if they had not been administered vaccines. 

In terms of any reported deaths in association with the Delta variant, Dr. Herath was unable to confirm an exact number.  

However, he explained that the potential for the occurrence of deaths due to the said variant is present. “Results from gene sequencing obtained from samples which have been drawn from bodies of Covid-19 victims are not reported to me. However, we cannot rule out that any deaths have been caused by the Delta variant, as current evidence is good enough to suggest that deaths due to Delta variant infections have occurred. At least 20% of cases reported in Colombo are due to the Delta variant. Therefore, a proportionate number of deaths in the Colombo area could be due to the same variant,” he observed. 

He reiterated that at this juncture, the presence of the Delta variant has been acknowledged, and that therefore, maximum control actions must be taken.  

Dr. Herath stressed that the public must understand their civic responsibilities in controlling the further spread of the virus. “The public should not evade or try to outsmart the health guidelines. Instead of pointing out one sentence in the guidelines and using it to act in an irresponsible manner, everyone should adhere to the guidelines,” he emphasised. 

If the public does not follow the guidelines in a disciplined manner, Dr. Herath further stressed that the inevitable result would be an increase in caseloads, deaths, and additional spending to set up treatment centres and other elements required for treating infected patients.

He also mentioned that if such a situation is to arise, the authorities will be left with no choice but to reimpose stricter restrictions, inclusive of travel restrictions which were enforced in the past. 

When questioned as to whether the recent Delta variant infections translate to community transmission, Dr. Herath claimed that this is not the case. “I can categorically say that out of the average cases that we are detecting on a daily basis, a majority can be linked to another case. Very few are still coming from different and unknown sources. However, upon further investigations, they too can be linked to a known case. That is why there is no community transmission and instead it is still in clusters. If we say that there is community transmission, it is useless to conduct contact tracing. Up to now, we don’t have any reason to go to that level,” he explained. 

On the subject of the Lambda variant, Dr. Herath warned that the potential for it to enter Sri Lanka is present with the arrival of international travellers, and that it is extremely difficult therefore to prevent it from entering.  

However, he assured that the country is prepared to face such a situation.