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Brace for fourth wave unless…



By Rathindra Kuruwita

If the Health Ministry did not expand PCR testing and gene sequencing, it was likely to lead to the emergence of a new wave of infections within four weeks, President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS,) Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday.

Kumudesh said that lab technologists had been asking the Ministry to expand testing capacity for two months and had presented a number of proposals on how to do it overnight. Kumudesh said that there was no immediate need for more PCR machines, and the ones already available could be used to conduct more tests if the Health Ministry so desired. “With the existing machines and the personnel handling them, we can easily increase PCR testing by 300% overnight”, he said.

“We have repeatedly told the government that we can address any issue in conducting PCR tests and releasing reports by deploying a few mobile PCR labs. This will help sort out many issues in regional towns especially those concerning PCR tests conducted on corpses. The government in fact had allocated money for this, but the Health Ministry is delaying the purchase of the required equipment,” Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh charged that it could only be seen as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the introduction of mobile PCR labs.

The collection of samples, even at hospitals had dropped significantly. There was no attempt to test potential hotspots and preempt any outbreaks, Kumudesh said, adding that the data issued by the Ministry did not reflect the ground realities.

“We saw similar developments in late March and early April. We will again end up making wrong decisions. It is highly likely that we will see a new outbreak in about four weeks. The only thing we have to tell people is that they should not let their guard down.”

The CMLS President said that none of the government labs had a gene sequencing machine and that only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura conducted those tests. The university only sequenced a very limited number of samples and the government had gagged academics, thus preventing the general public from knowing what the university had discovered. Kumudesh said that a gene sequencing test would cost only about Rs. 10,000.

“Again, this is not a financial problem. The University never studied samples collected countrywide. We have told the government from last year that, if the government labs are given facilities, we can do comprehensive gene sequencing within a month. We have also given a proposal on how we can increase daily PCR testing to 75,000. The government has allocated some funds, but again the Ministry is not doing the needful,” he said.

Sri Lankans had controlled three COVID-19 waves by making great sacrifices. However, those in charge dropped the ball at the tail end of each wave, Kumudesh said, flaying senior Health Ministry officials for making illogical claims that made people lose faith in the system.

“Earlier this week, a journalist asked a senior Health Ministry official whether policemen, who scuffled with protesters near Parliament, should also be placed under quarantine. The official said that policemen had been given both COVID-19 vaccines. This is ridiculous; you can get the virus even if you get both jabs. Even those who have taken both jabs have to adhere to health guidelines. If they are immune to the virus, the Health Ministry should mention this in their guidelines.”



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE



Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm



By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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