Mahendra Balasooriya, Secretary of the Public Health Inspector’s Union of Sri Lanka, said that after the Minuwangoda incident, the first, second and third associates were found to be infected with the Covid-19 virus, which means that patients are reported from the society regardless of the meaning of the word.
He also stressed that concerned parties should study more before issuing statements.
Following is the full interview with the Mr. Balasooriya;
Q : One of the unanswered questions from the responsible parties is whether or not there are Covid-19 patients in the society. What is the truth?
A : There is a clear source here. The Minuwangoda incident has been identified as the 33rd Covid cluster in Sri Lanka. More than 1,600 people have become infected with the virus from this cluster. That is why I think relevant parties say that there is no social spread here. But as we can see, in some occasions patients are found as isolated incidents. Maybe not on the relationships of the first or second, but the third associates.
This suggests that the virus can be found anywhere. Therefore, even considering that fact alone, it should be said that more studies should be done on this before making such statements. Regardless of the use of words, patients are currently reported from society. There is a spread.
Q : There have been reports of forcible evacuation of infected or quarantined people by security forces, and protests against the situation. As a team that works more closely with the people in the field, how do public health inspectors view this situation?
A – We also have a problem with that. Prevention in particular is a subject based on a technical fact. The security forces are facing this situation with the utmost commitment as they did last time.Their commitment is not to be underestimated. But there is a problem. We remember the last time we went to work with infected people without proper procedures and there was a group of naval officers infected in Suduwella. We think that if we go to work in some kind of non-technical ways, problems can arise in this case as well.
On the other hand we have some issues with this coordination. This cluster was first reported on October 4th. We first identified the closest contacts, including those on the buses. After that the security forces also intervened on the instructions of the Army Commander. We started taking samples on the advice of the Department of Health. We saw urgent decisions being made there.
In particular, according to a statement issued by the IGP, people rallied from place to place. Our public health inspectors were shocked at this. Because those who were quarantined and those who were expecting sample results were included in these places. After the reports came in, some of them were reported to be positive. That means Covid-19 patients. Then there were the healthy ones. Together they were taken to quarantine centers. People were frightened by this.
Q : There was also talk of discrepancies in the figures presented in this regard?
A – In this case although the death toll is low, the rate of spread is very high. Therefore, what we usually do is quarantine the person at home for 14 days if the result is negative after the report is received. If there are any symptoms, necessary action will be taken.
But doing so all of a sudden, caused some problems. This created problems for the people as well as information regarding the health sector. Those who are quarantined in the information belonging to the health sector, were also called here. But the health sector was not properly informed about them. This cannot be done on anyone’s strength.
No one can do anything just to score. Because this is a serious responsibility. This is a collective responsibility. Some leaders say in front of the media that ‘we did, we do’. But people at the grassroot level know what the truth is. How problems arise. Those are situations where problems really shouldn’t be.
Q : Where did this problem start, and does it represent all parties to the Covid repression forces?
A – During the last four months, before the Minuwangoda incident, everyone acted in such a way that there was no one in Sri Lanka called Covid-19. Everyone from the top bosses should be responsible for it. When this spread like wildfire in India, we were underestimating the situation, looking at those numbers.
The Department of Health has always said that this can happen again at any time, and that health advice should be followed. We have seen political parties and their leaders go among the people and violate health instructions. People also started working under normal conditions. The people made those leaders role models. That’s where the mask in the pocket fell to the ground.
The other thing is the organizational structure. We saw in the media that the Covid-19 Committee had not met for months. We acted like nothing was a challenge to us. Whatever advice the health department gave, it went differently among the people. With different precedents. It was at a time like this that the Minuwangoda cluster emerged.
It all became a mess there. The police say one thing. The military says something else. From the Ministry of Health, former Director General of Health Services Anil Jasinghe has played a significant role in the recent past. His absence was seriously felt by the health sector.
As such, there was a lack of intervention from the health sector. In simple terms, the elephants pulling the trunks and the elephants in the procession were separated. People see elephants in procession. That’s how the relationship broke down and those problems arose.