Medical experts demand more tests to fight possible upsurge

Medical experts have warned that Sri Lanka needs to expand the availability of more COVID-19 tests to battle a possible upsurge in the coming weeks.

Senior medical practitioners and academics have stated that tests and more tests were the only way to sustain measures such as curfews taken to control the pandemic. They urged that facilities for more tests be increased using labs at various universities and private hospitals where testing facilities are already available.

“There is a dire need to rapidly increase and expand testing if we want to have a positive impact. The strongest point of our response to the pandemic from a healthcare perspective should be how we improve our weakest point which at the moment is testing for COVID-19,” said Dr. Ruvaiz Haniffa, head of the Family Medicine Department at the Colombo University Medical Faculty and former President of Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA).

He warned that studying the international figures and how it was spread, Sri Lanka could expect an upsurge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.

“This might aggravate during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year period during which mass internal migration could take place. The period is also the sixth week of the pandemic here. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 transmits in clusters in Stage-3; that is where Sri Lanka is now. However, Stage-4 is when people who are not connected to these foreign arrivals start spreading the virus. In order to stop that, we should know who has the virus and therefore we need to test anybody suspected of COVID-19. That is where the United States and Italy went wrong. But Shanghai got it right,” he said.

Meanwhile, medical experts said every available facility for Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT PCR) in Sri Lanka should be used to carry out tests rather than waiting to build new labs which cost millions of rupees and take time.

Prof. Vajira H.W. Dissanayake, Senior Professor, Head of the Anatomy Department and Director of the Human Genetics Unit at Colombo University, said labs in universities like Colombo, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya, Peradeniya and Kotalawela Defence University in addition to private hospitals that have already functioning labs with RT PCR machines should be used for tests.

Prof. Dissanayake also warned people freely mingling in markets during curfew breaks would have expedited the spread. “If we are not detecting cases, the reason is we are not testing,” he said.

Meanwhile, medical experts said that for the country to return to normalcy and prevent a second outbreak, an expanded testing capacity was essential.

“The only solution that allows us to keep our airport open and allows businesses and schools to stay open is to vastly expand our testing capacity,” Dr Ravi P. Rannan-Eliya said. “More extensive testing means increasing our testing capacity by at least ten-fold so we can test up to 10,000 people a day in an emergency. This capacity will also allow us to adopt Singapore’s policy of testing arrivals to further protect the country. This is probably the safest approach if we want to open the airport,” he said.

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