Why One Man is Being Blamed for Half of the COVID-19 Cases in his Country

Picture yourself on an idyllic island, living in a rustic village that has been your home for over the past two decades. It is the perfect place for you to recover from a viral infection that has been plaguing the world for five months. The fresh sea breeze and the much-needed rest play their part in improving your health, and you smile as you look at the unadulterated blue sky as you pass your days. It takes about two weeks, but you begin to get better, and soon the results come back with a negative test result. You are elated at the prospect, but when you leave your home after a fortnight of solitude, you are greeted by the news coverage where you are being blamed by the government for spreading half of the coronavirus cases in your country.

This is the reality that Prasad Dinesh, a resident of the village of Ja-Ela in Sri Lanka faced when he tested positive for COVID-19.

The island nation of Sri Lanka has been successful to a large extent in containing the spread, with around 2600 cases and 11 deaths till July 2020. The government is even planning to reopen airports for tourists by August.

Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

However, for the past month, one individual, dubbed as Patient 206 has been blamed for being a super-spreader in the country. He is being held responsible for the transmission of COVID-19 that resulted in almost 1300 people getting infected.

It all started in the small town of Ja-Ela, 19 km north of the capital Colombo where Prasad Dinesh worked as an autorickshaw driver. He was a known thief and had a history of being involved in petty crimes. On 5th April, he was caught stealing coconuts in a nearby village and was handed to the police. He was running a fever and had sustained injuries to his leg during the theft, so he was admitted to the hospital where he tested positive for coronavirus.

All the people who he had come in contact with, including his neighbors, friends, and the policemen were ordered to self-quarantine themselves, but many of them objected to it.

The Sri Lankan navy had been deployed to help health workers and numerous sailors were sent to the small town to manage the chaotic situation. 16 people in that neighborhood tested positive, and after a few days, 30 of the sailors too. With many of the sailors being deployed in different parts of the country, different clusters began to be formed. There were three prominent clusters with over 900 naval sailors and 250 people testing positive for COVID-19, all linked to one person, Dinesh.

However, he vehemently denies these charges, saying that he cannot be held responsible and that he was being used as a scapegoat by the government. The reason for this was apparent too. You see, the reason Dinesh was stealing those coconuts in the first place was to sell them to get the money to buy heroin.

Sri Lanka has been cracking down on its war against drugs and even brought back the death penalty for narcotics-related crimes in June 2019, reversing an almost 43-year moratorium on death penalties in the country. There were even reports stating that hangmen were being hired for just one purpose, reducing the amount of drug trafficking. It is common practice for drug addicts to be shunned, but in Sri Lanka, the problem has been increasing to such new levels that the government has been resorting to tough measures.

This is why there is the possibility that a known drug addict like Dinesh is being made the face of a deadly viral outbreak in the nation, in the hope of also tackling a different kind of infection. He has been outspoken in his criticism of being an easy target by the government authorities and states that he does not even light a cigarette now, following the turn of events. Till then the question though does still remain on the authenticity of the claims by the government.

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