Sri Lanka faces new COVID-19 challenge as main testing machine breaks down amid surge in cases

The breakdown of the PCR testing machine at the Base Hospital in Mulleriyawa resulted in backlog of 20,000 PCR tests till Thursday, with a delay of about five days in releasing results

Sri Lanka faces new COVID-19 challenge as main testing machine breaks down amid surge in cases

File photo of Sri Lanka prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. AP

Colombo: Sri Lanka is facing a challenging time due to the delay in receiving COVID-19 test results, following the breakdown of a key testing machine amid a surge in the coronavirus cases, officials said.

The island nation has so far recorded 10,663 COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths due to the disease.

Health Ministry spokesman Dr Jayaruwan Bandara on Saturday said the main PCR testing machine at the Base Hospital in Mulleriyawa that can test 500-1,000 samples daily broke down earlier this week. Foreign technical experts are rectifying the fault of the malfunctioning machine and it would resume operation soon.

Sri Lanka possesses 25 PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) test machines, which can test 8,000 samples daily.

However, the breakdown of the PCR machine at the Base Hospital has hindered the detection of COVID-19 patients. Over 26,000 tests have been carried out so far in this laboratory.

The laboratory, dedicated for COVID-19 testing, was built at a cost Rs 246 million with assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The breakdown has resulted in the backlog of 20,000 PCR tests by Thursday, with a delay of about five days to release test results. “There is a delay in test reports, but it does not mean that the process has come to a halt,” Bandara said.

He said the country lacks a fully automated testing system.

“All tests are being done manually, virus separation takes about three hours and it takes another two hours to analyse the report. Then the printing — all these take time,” he said, explaining the reason for the delay.

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy here said on Saturday that technical experts, who were rushed to Lanka from China, have identified the technical fault of the malfunctioning PCR testing machine after a 10-hour operation. The experts concluded that the machine would able to resume operation on Monday.

Bandara said the nationwide coronavirus tally crossing the 10,000-mark is an indicator that public needs to be more aware to practice health safety measures to avoid the pandemic being spread further.

Two big clusters, detected last month, have reported over 7,000 cases so far, he said.

Bandara ruled out a nationwide lockdown again and said the public must help themselves and others by restricting their movements.

The 72-hour quarantine curfew imposed on Western province — which is also home to the capital, Colombo — will also end on Monday, he said.

Sri Lanka imposed a three-month lockdown until the end of June, with authorities lifting the restrictions after declaring that there was no community transmission of the virus.

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