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A daunting challenge: GL explains efforts to re-open schools

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… about 50% of 10,000 schools re-opened a few weeks ago

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (14) said that in spite of severe difficulties, the government had no other option but to explore ways and means of re-opening schools, gradually next year in line with Covid-19 health guidelines.

Minister Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, emphasized that indefinite closure of schools could be as bad as the catastrophic Covid-19.

Fielding questions at the weekly SLPP briefing at its Nelum Mawatha Office in Battaramulla Prof. Peiris said that every effort would be made to re-open schools though they realized the risks involved.

Prof. Peiris explained measures taken by the government to improve various sectors, including education as the world battled the rampaging epidemic. He appreciated the support provided by the international community while referring to an assurance received from the WHO Representative here to supply a significant number of temperature testing equipment for the benefit of the student population.

 At the onset of the briefing, the Education Minister said that the countrywide percentage of attendance of students and teachers was 51 % and 77%, respectively though turnout in some Education Zones was really impressive. The minister provided figures in respect of provinces to back his assertion. According to Prof. Peiris, the percentages referred to in yesterday’s briefing dealt with 5,100 schools out of 10,165 countrywide and that too in respect of grades 6 to 11.

Responding to questions, Minister Peiris explained current efforts to resume primary sections of those schools that were opened a couple of weeks ago, in addition to tuition classes as well as pre-schools.

The minister expressed confidence that ongoing efforts spearheaded by the health sector and earnestly backed by the armed forces and police would ultimately succeed in bringing the situation under control.

Pressed for an assurance of a corona-free environment for students, the Minister said that decisions in that regard would be taken in consultation with health authorities.

The minister noted that the government went ahead with Year 5 Scholarship and GCE AL examination regardless of repeated attempts to discourage them. Had the government succumbed to politically motivated pressure, both examinations would have been put off, the minister said.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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