A Sri Lankan Airport Official, wearing a facemask, monitors screens of a thermal scanner to check body temperature of arriving passengers, at Bandaranaike International airport in Katunayake on January 24, 2020, following the novel coronavirus outbreak in China. (AFP / Lakruwan Wanniarachchi)

Sri Lankan health experts refute misleading online claim that country has eradicated novel coronavirus

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An image has been shared hundreds of times in multiple posts on Facebook that claim Sri Lanka has become the world’s first country to completely eradicate the novel coronavirus, after its one confirmed coronavirus patient made a full recovery. The claim is misleading; Sri Lankan health experts say the patient's recovery is insufficient evidence that the country has eradicated the virus, as the “possibility for other infected patients” remains; they also urged the public to continue following government recommendations for prevention.

The image was shared here on Facebook on February 2, 2020.

The Sinhala-language text superimposed on the image translates to English as: “Sri Lanka becomes the first country in the world to completely eradicate the coronavirus! 

“Doctors inform the virus has been completely removed from the Chinese woman who was infected. / Our gratitude to the doctors and nurses who were dedicated to this.”

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 425 and infected more than 20,000 people in China as of February 4, 2020, as stated in this AFP report. Scientists believe it originated at a wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan in early December 2019, and has since spread to at least 24 countries worldwide. 

Below is a screenshot of the misleading Facebook post: 

Screenshot of the Facebook post

Sri Lanka confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus on January 27, 2020 -- a Chinese woman from Hubei province. According to this latest situation report by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, dated February 3, 2020, one confirmed novel coronavirus patient had "now fully recovered" but remained under the care of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and twenty other suspected cases were "under surveillance". 

A similar misleading claim was shared on Facebook here, here, here and here

The claim is misleading; Sri Lankan health experts say the coronavirus patient's recovery is insufficient evidence that Sri Lanka has eradicated the virus as the “possibility for other infected patients” remains due to the incubation period. Experts urged the public to continue to follow government recommendations for prevention. 

A registrar at Sri Lanka’s Health Promotion Bureau, Dr. Ashan Pathirana told AFP during a telephone conversation on January 3, 2020 that it would be a “a grave misrepresentation of facts” to claim Sri Lanka has become the world’s first country to eradicate the novel coronavirus. 

“We are unable to say with certainty that Sri Lanka has eradicated novel coronavirus because there is a possibility for other infected patients to be reported in the coming days, considering the natural history of this infection,” he said.

He also said that symptoms of the novel coronavirus may appear as long as eight days after exposure.

“Therefore we urge the public to refrain from taking the situation lightly and ensure they follow all precautions issued by the Ministry of Health to minimize the risk of 2019-nCoV transmission, until otherwise told,” he added. 

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health has issued this fact sheet of guidelines following the outbreak of novel coronavirus in the country.

Below is a screenshot of the government release:

Screenshot of the government release.