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Politically motivated efforts to sabotage Covid-19 inoculation project alleged

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… despite shortcomings, vaccination drive on track

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister of Pharmaceutical Production, Supply and Regulation Prof. Channa Jayasumana says despicable attempts are being made to derail the ongoing Covid-19 inoculation drive.

In a wide ranging interview with Dasun Wasantha on ITN on Wednesday (16) night, Anuradhapura District lawmaker Prof. Jayasumana alleged that the recent inoculation of a group of people from Colombo at a vaccination centre in Galle was certainly part of their strategy.

When the interviewer pressed for an explanation, the medical academic turned politician said a senior Opposition politician’s younger brother was behind the moves to discredit those engaged in the vaccination programme.

Pointing out that the matter was now before courts, Prof. Jayasumana emphasised that the government could not ignore the threat posed by those who were out to prevent it from overcoming the Covid-19 challenge.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the government was also countering a threat on the political front. Answering another query, he alleged that an influential section of medical administrators and doctors, too, were trying to sabotage the vaccination programme for political reasons.

Conspiracy to derail vaccination drive

The state minister compared those who had been trying to sabotage the vaccination programme with the political groups which could not bear the eradication of terrorism. He recalled how certain influential persons had tried to thwart the combined security forces campaign on the Vanni front during eelam war IV (August 2006-May 2009).

Prof. Jayasumana said that some of those pursuing politically motivated strategy had been removed, moved out or neutralised to ensure that the vaccination programme would be conducted efficiently, but action could not be taken against some elements as they were under the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Acknowledging shortcomings and some failures on the part of the SLPP administration in the implementation of the vaccination programme, Prof. Jayasumana said he was confident that the vaccination drive could be steered to a successful conclusion.

 

Lanka refused to allow clinical trials

At the onset of the interview, Prof. Jayasumana explained why the government had refused to involve Sri Lanka in Covid-19 clinical trials. “We were given the opportunity. If agreed, we could have secured some privileges such as priority access to vaccines. Brazil and Peru were among those countries involved in clinical trials and were given priority in the distribution of vaccines.”

Prof. Jayasumana denied the interviewer’s assertion that Sri Lanka was late in launching the vaccination programme. “How could that be? We launched inoculation drive on January 29, within 24 hours after taking delivery of 500,000 free covishield doses from India.”

Prof. Jayasumana pointed out that Sri Lanka had launched the inoculation drive two weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) approved AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine aka covishield produced at Serum Institute, Pune in India for emergency use.

Sinopharm jab

Commenting on the introduction of the Sinopharm vaccine here, Prof. Jayasumana said that the Chinese product encountered serious challenges due to a highly politically motivated campaign meant to sabotage the inoculation campaign. He alleged a section of the print media contributed to that project carried out by disruptive elements, who also directed a high-profile social media campaign targeting Sinopharm.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the campaign against Sinopharm had delayed the administration of it. Referring to political influence exerted on medical specialists to discourage them from approving its use, Prof. Jayasumana acknowledged that finally a new regulatory committee had been appointed to secure approval for the Chinese jab.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the government had first used Sinopharm on May 8 though China delivered stock of 600,000 doses on March 31. “Doctors felt threatened. They believed a decision on Sinopharm could boomerang.”

Asked whether the government could have tackled Covid-19 if Sinopharm had been introduced much earlier, the State Minister said the vaccination process could have been advanced.

Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that Sri Lanka recently received sufficient Sinopharm doses to sustain the inoculation drive. He revealed that another consignment of one million vaccine doses was awaited in addition to six million doses expected in July and August.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the unexpected Covid-19 eruption in India had disrupted Sri Lanka’s inoculation project. Having received 500,000 free covishield doses from India, the government expected to buy 10 mn doses from Serum Institute, but only 500,000 could be bought. Besides, Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses through Covax facility, Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that the breaking up of the supply chain had resulted in about 575,000 being deprived of the covishield second dose. “We are quite concerned about the situation.”

Commenting on difficulties experienced in procurement efforts, Prof. Jayasumana said that there was no point in denying the fact that both the US and Russia pursued what he called vaccine diplomacy in line with their geopolitical strategy.

Prof. Jayasumana said that those who seek to discourage the use of Sinopharm had recently propagated the lie China sold Sinopharm dose at USD 15 a piece to Sri Lanka whereas Bangladesh received the same for USD 10 each. He alleged social media had been abused to mislead the public into believing that Sinopharm was unsafe and China was engaged in unfair trading practices.

 

‘200-million-rupee property’

Prof. Jayasumana said he had been accused of building a Rs 200 mn house in Etul Kotte. “Neither I nor my family members own any property in Etul Kotte or Pita Kotte,” Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that he had called for a police investigation.

Declaring that Sri Lanka had procured the Sinopharm vaccine at the lowest possible price, Prof. Jayasumana explained the procedures adopted in the procurement process.

Prof. Jayasumana insisted that no other country had received Sinopharm at lower prices.

The State Minister also discussed efforts to provide the second dose of covishield to those denied it so far. According to him, the WHO has promised to deliver 264,000 covishield doses as booster shots. “We expect to take delivery of the consignment within the first two weeks of July,” Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that Sri Lanka had also requested additional 300,000 doses for those deprived of the second dose. Those countries having additional stocks of that vaccine had said they could make available the vaccines only through the Covax programme, the state minister said.

 

Possible AZ-Pfizer mix

Prof. Jayasumana said that if their efforts to procure sufficient stock of covishield failed, the Pfizer vaccine could be used for the second dose. However, this would be subjected to approval by the regulatory body though the WHO had approved the vaccine mix.

Prof. Jayasumana said that 300,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines were expected to be delivered next month. Sri Lanka expected to take delivery of as many as 5 mn Pfizer vaccines this year, including 300,000 expected next month.

Responding to another query, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been only three cases of those who had received Sinopharm experiencing side-effects though 1.4 mn received the vaccine since May 8. The recent problem at a garment factory in Anuradhapura had not been caused by Sinopharm, but an issue caused by poor ventilation, the state minister said.



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Govt. has already spent US$ 60-65mn to procure Covid-19 vaccines – Lalith Weeratunga

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By Ifham Nizam

All persons above 30 years old will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 15, Head of the Presidential Task Force for National Deployment and Vaccination Plan, Lalith Weeratunga said.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) on Thursday at Janadhipathi Mawatha in Colombo, he said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is keen on monitoring Covid-19 hotpots and intelligence services are doing a remarkable job in this regard.

Vaccines were distributed on the basis of the vulnerability of the areas, he noted.

He said the President has urged all Sri Lankans not be misled by the false propaganda about the vaccination drive. Everybody should come forward to receive the jab and help the government to overcome the socio-economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He expressed optimism of completing the inoculation campaign by the end of December this year with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We have so far spent US$ 60 to 65 million to procure Covid-19 vaccines”, Weeratunga further said.

He said that more than 8.2 million people have so far received the first dose of the vaccines, while the second dose has already been administered to over 1.8 million.

The government aims to vaccinate 11.5 million people above 30 years by August 31, 2021 and another four million thereafter, he added.

“Moves are underway to give the vaccine to all Sri Lankans between the ages of 12 to 30”.

At present, a mobile vaccination service for those who are ill and unable to leave their homes is in operation on the instructions of the President, he said.

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Swiss team of experts due today to study SL’s agricultural landscape

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A renowned team of experts from Switzerland will arrive today (1) to study the country’s agriculture ecosystem. During the 10-day visit, they will meet with key industry stakeholders, visit various sites and facilities, and provide comprehensive training in composting and organic farming.

The team will meet with senior members of the Ministry of Agriculture and related State Ministries, Department of Agriculture, Centre of Excellence for Organic Agriculture (CEOA), National Fertilizer Secretariat, Sri Lanka Council for Agricultural Research Policy (SLCARP), Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Peradeniya, State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research & Innovation, Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Sri Lanka Tea Board, and Tea Research Institute (TRI).

They will visit and observe conventional and organic farmers in Kalpitiya, Thambuttegama, Weliweriya, Radawana, Belihuloya, and Nuwara Eliya. They will also tour markets, poultry farms, dairy farms, tea factories, tea estates and garbage collection centres, where garbage is collected from hotels to process organic manure.

This entire initiative is by A. Baur & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd (Baurs), a leading diversified business group and a name synonymous with pioneering scientific manuring in Sri Lanka, in partnership with two of the world’s leading institutions in organic agriculture based in Switzerland, a country that has the sixth highest penetration of organic farming in the world, with 16.5% of agriculture land being organic farmland.

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is one of world’s leading organic farming research and technology transfer centres dedicated towards sustainable agriculture. The School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) of Bern University of Applied Sciences offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees including continuing education programs.

HAFL uses applied research to address contemporary issues and futuristic challenges and provides tailored consultancy across Switzerland and globally.

Further, these experts will also conduct two training sessions; one to various teams at the Baurs Fertilizer Factory (CMW) in Kelaniya and the other to Baurs’ staff, agents, dealers, key farmers and compost producers at the Baurs’ site in Anuradhapura. These will be with strict adherence to prevailing Covid-19 health guidelines.

The expert team brings with them years of both academic as well as practical experience, and includes Dr. Christoph Studer, professor of natural resources management at HAFL and Dr. Gurbir S Bhullar, senior scientist in tropical agroecosystems at HAFL, Paul van den Berge, senior consultant at FiBL and Dr. Jacques G. Fuchs, senior scientist in plant pathology and soil quality at FiBL.

With Sri Lanka’s transition to organic agriculture, this is a timely initiative and a need of the hour. The expert team will put together a detailed, practical and scientific plan that will help support Sri Lanka to successfully identify issues and constraints and overcome future challenges.

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CEB engineers ask President to allow completion of coal-fired power plant extension project

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‘Before the next power shortage in the country’

By Ifham Nizam

Perturbed by reports that the government will terminate the ongoing 300MW Lakvijaya coal-fired power plant extension project, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) has appealed to the President to allow the completion of this project of national importance.

“We are certain that your Excellency will provide the Ministry of Power and the CEB the necessary directions and assistance to complete the extension project within the shortest possible time”, the Union’s President Eng. Saumya Kumarawadu, says in a letter to the President.

The President earlier decided to implement the 300MW coal power extension project considering the fact that the country is facing an imminent power shortage as a result of not constructing a single large low-cost power plant since 2014, he said.

However, officials at the plant complex said they have not been officially informed so far to halt work on the plant.

The Sri Lankan government has already saved more than USD 2 billion due to the three coal-fired power plants at the Lakvijaya Power Plant Complex in Norochcholai, officials said.

The extension project is now underway with the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) investing USD 4 million, while the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has injected USD 1 million, they said.

The proposed plant, the fourth to be built at Norochcholai will translate into an annual saving of more than Rs. 27 billion to the government, former CEB, Chairman Eng. Vijitha Herath said.

Last year, Cabinet endorsed the fourth unit should given to CMEC considering the substantial revenue already saved due to the contribution from coal-fired plants under operation.

Kumarawadu said the proposed 300MW extension project will generate nearly two billion units of electricity per year. The fuel cost per unit of the existing coal plant is Rs.10 less than the next lowest thermal option available, furnace oil power plants. Hence, the average annual saving to the country by this plant will be around Rs. 20 billion.

 The savings compared to costly emergency power will be in the range of Rs. 30 to 40 billion per year. The price of LNG is also rapidly increasing compared to coal and even LNG. The cost difference between coal and LNG will be around of Rs. 3 to 6 per unit and savings will be in the range of Rs. 6-12 billion or more annually. So, it is evident that this extension plant will immensely help to overcome the financial crisis both in CEB and CPC and will also provide immense relief to the Treasury as well, he pointed out.

 He further said the investment for the new extension unit was comparatively low. All other power projects in the pipeline, including large-scale renewables, demand enormous investments for infrastructure development with long time span for implementation.

“This should be seriously considered by the government in a situation where the country is facing severe financial hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic,” the CEBEU President stressed.

 All preliminary work related to the project such as comprehensive feasibility studies, finalizing technical requirements, comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, commercial agreements are completed now, he said.

It is just a matter of beginning construction work at site and completing the project before the next power shortage in the country, he added.

The CEBEU also said that there is a massive propaganda campaign against coal and one of the false ideologies promoted by these forces is that many countries are moving away from coal. While agreeing that coal power development is on a declining phase in wealthy developed countries, developing countries have not stopped constructing new coal plants mainly to ease the financial burden on their national economies.

 Citing examples, he said there are new coal development plans earmarked in countries like India, Bangladesh and Vietnam in the range from 22,000MW to 66,000 MW the next 10-12 years. Germany, one of the leading wealthy countries in renewable energy development, commissioned the 1100MW Datteln 4 coal power plant in May 2020. Dubai, another country with a very strong economy is constructing the 2,400MW Hassyan coal plant. The initial 600MW unit of the plant is to be commissioned in 2023, Kumarawadu explained.

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