Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Man blamed for nearly half of Sri Lanka virus cases speaks out

Published:Wednesday | July 15, 2020 | 9:30 AM
Sri Lankan auto rickshaw driver Prasad Dinesh, linked by Sri Lankan officials to nearly half the country's more than 2,600 coronavirus cases, sits in his house in Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — For months he’s been anonymous, but now Prasad Dinesh, linked by Sri Lankan authorities to nearly half of the country’s more than 2,600 coronavirus cases, is trying to clear his name, and shed some of the stigma of a heroin addiction at the root of his ordeal.

Under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former army lieutenant colonel credited with helping end Sri Lanka’s long civil war in 2009 with a brutal military campaign against separatists, the Indian Ocean island nation has used the armed forces to combat the virus.

When Rajapaksa was elected president last year, a health unit was created in the intelligence service that sprang into action when COVID-19 first appeared, according to State Intelligence Service Assistant Director Parakrama de Silva.

Intelligence officers, health workers, police officers and military troops have worked together to identify infected people, trace their contacts and send them to military-run quarantine centres.

After Dinesh, 33, tested positive for the virus in April, navy sailors raided his village, forcing his contacts into quarantine.

But authorities have blamed a melee that ensued not on the military, but on Dinesh — and said the rumpus ended up leading to at least 1,100 additional virus infections.

These cases, they publicly declared, were all linked linked to a single patient.

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