Sri Lanka probes new Covid-19 cluster after 57 cases at drug rehab center

Colombo, July 9 (efe-epa).- Sri Lankan authorities are investigating a possible new Covid-19 cluster after 57 people at a rehab center for drug addicts tested positive for the virus who had come in contact with a coronavirus infected person.

The infected person was shifted to the Welikada Prison, the country’s largest, where he tested positive on Tuesday, sparking fears that he may have infected inmates at the overcrowded jail.

It comes months after a prison inmate died during unrest prompted by the news of a possible Covid-19 spread in jail in Anuradhapura in the north-central province in March this year.

The fear of a new outbreak comes as the government had in June lifted the nation-wide lockdown across the island that saw fewer cases of Covid-19 than other countries in the region in part due to early restrictions imposed to contain the virus.

The prisoner had undergone rehabilitation for three months at the rehab facility in north-central province’s Polonnaruwa region before he was transferred to Welikada prison, the country’s largest prison, where he tested positive.

Authorities conducted tests on 450 people who were in close contact with the inmate at the rehab facility, government spokesperson Nalaka Kaluwewa said in a statement.

A female counselor, who worked at the rehabilitation center, has also tested positive.

The authorities have also tested inmates and staff at the prison and most of them have tested negative.

“So far, we have conducted 316 tests on inmates and jailors who came in close contact with the patient at the Welikada prison, and these tests came negative. We are waiting for results of 38 others,” prison spokesperson Chandana Ekanayake told EFE.

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka announced that all prisons will be closed for visitation.

Ekanayake said the wards at the Welikada prison have also been cleaned and sanitized.

The island nation has a total of 2151 Covid-19 cases and 11 virus-related deaths.

Most of the cases, so far, were either foreign returnees or sailors attached to the Sri Lanka Navy.

Senaka Perera, the president of the Committee to Protect Rights of Prisoners, said the new cluster of cases could be worse than those detected earlier.

“The Welikada prison is extremely overcrowded. There are around 4,000 prisoners in the prison that can house only about 1,500 inmates,” Perera said.

In March this year, a prison inmate died during unrest prompted by the news of a possible Covid-19 outbreak in jail in Anuradhapura, also in the north-central province.

The inmates staged a protest seeking better facilities triggering a clash between them and prison guards. At least four more were injured and hospitalized after the clash.

The island nation has also delayed reopening airports for tourists until mid-August as there are still Sri Lankans working overseas awaiting to be repatriated.

“We won’t be able to reopen the airports for tourism till at least mid-August,” G. A. Chandrasiri, chairman of Airport and Aviation Services, said.

The country is also heading for parliamentary elections to be held on Aug. 5. The voting was postponed twice earlier due to the pandemic. EFE-EPA

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