Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi

Pavithra Wanniarachchi makes healthy assessment on Covid-19 community transmission


…No [COVID-19] patients were reported from the community in the period of close to three weeks that elapsed, because the disease did not spread amongst the community.

Ada Derana | May 20, 2020



Fact Check

In evaluating this statement, FactCheck understood the minister as claiming that there was no “community transmission” of Covid-19, in the period 01-20 May 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines community transmission as follows:

“Countries / areas / territories experiencing larger outbreaks of local transmission defined through an assessment of factors including, but not limited to:

(1) Large numbers of cases not linkable to transmission chains,

(2) Large numbers of cases from sentinel lab surveillance, and

(3) Multiple unrelated clusters in several areas of the country / territory / area.”

Thus, community transmission is deemed to have occurred when it is not possible to trace the chain of transmission for a significant number of detected cases.

For all the Covid-19 cases reported in the reference period, the Ministry of Health (MoH) identifies two specific groups as the traceable origin: (1) repatriated citizens in quarantine centers, and (2) Sri Lanka Navy officers. This is consistent with the minister’s claim.

Note, however, that the ability to be confident about the transmission dynamics is dependent on the robustness of the testing regime that is employed. In Sri Lanka, the MoH only releases data on how many tests have been administered, and not on the scope of that testing. Consequently, it is not known whether those outside of the two identified clusters are sufficiently tested. If testing is extremely limited and carried out only on individuals that are traceable to these clusters, community transmission could exist undetected for some duration, given that many Covid-19 patients are asymptomatic for some or all of the period during which they are contagious.

Meanwhile, Gazette No. 2170/08—dated 11 April 2020—requires that the bodies of any persons suspected to have died of Covid-19 be cremated. Within the reference period, no such cremations were enforced. This is consistent with the authorities not suspecting community transmission.

In conclusion (a) based on the testing conducted, the absence of detected cases from outside the identified groups, and (b) the non-enforcement of cremations in the period, support the minister’s claim that there has been no community transmission from 01-20 May 2020.

Therefore, we classify the minister’s statement as TRUE.

*FactCheck’s verdict is based on the most recent information that is publicly accessible. As with every fact check, if new information becomes available, FactCheck will revisit the assessment.