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China rejects claims of bacteria in fertiliser, asks for intervention of world’s No 1 testing organisation

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Lanka obtains second ruling against supplier, its local agent and state bank

In the wake of Commercial High Court of Colombo judge Priyantha Fernando halting the unloading of a shipload of organic fertiliser at the Colombo harbour and stopping payments to Chinese supplier, Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd and its local agent Chelinaa Capital Corporation (Pvt) Limited, the supplier has challenged the Sri Lanka government to entrust Swiss SGS Group the world’s most authoritative and the top third-party testing organisation to re-sample the consignment rejected on grounds of being contaminated with ‘Erwinia.’

The Attorney General last Friday (22) sought the judicial intervention following growing protests against the Chinese products, spearheaded by the Opposition lawmakers. The Presidential Media Division (PMD) yesterday (26) said that Pradeep Hettiarachchi of Commercial High Court of Colombo (No2) prohibited payments to the Chinese company in response to an appeal by the Colombo Commercial Fertiliser. Yesterday’s court ruling has been issued in respect of the Chinese supplier, its local agent and the People’s Bank.

In a statement issued through the Chinese Embassy in Colombo yesterday (26), Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group asked the Sri Lankan government to accept re-sampling by the Swiss SGS group to see whether the samples had been contaminated by Erwinia. The Chinese said that both parties should unconditionally accept the test results of the third party. “If Erwinia contamination is confirmed, the supplier shall unconditionally transport the goods back to China. If there is no Erwinia contamination, the buyer shall unconditionally accept the goods and arrange payment.

The statement further said that the supplier reserved the right to investigate the legal responsibility of relevant parties for the

“untrue” or even “slanderous” reports and comments made by a section of the media.

The Chinese group emphasized that the shipping arrangement has been requested by Sri Lanka and it would be the responsibility of the buyer (Ministry of Agriculture) to obtain the Import Permit for 99,000 metric tons of organic fertilizer. The Chinese stressed that they were not responsible for securing the Import Permit. The company stated: “*The product samples have passed the test of Schutter group, a third-party international testing organization designated by the buyer and passed the export plant quarantine of China Customs before shipment.

* The detection method and conclusion of NPQS (National Plant Quarantine Service) in Sri Lanka do not comply with international animal and plant quarantine convention.

* Some officials from NPQS and the buyer, together with some local media are irresponsible when commenting on the issue with baseless derogatory words that seriously slander the image of Chinese enterprise.

* The Seller requests both parties to entrust the world’s most authoritative and the No.1 third-party testing organization (Swiss SGS group) to re-sampling as soon as possible to test whether the samples are contaminated by Erwinia. Both parties should unconditionally accept the test results and fulfill its responsibilities accordingly.”

The Chinese company has questioned the quality as well as the acceptability of NPQS’s findings in respect of the organic fertiliser consignment. The Chinese company asked how NPQS reached the conclusion that the samples contained Erwinia within three days when it would take more than six days to identify Erwinia according to International Plant Protection Convention). “The unscientific detection method and conclusion of NPQS in Sri Lanka obviously do not comply with international animal and plant quarantine convention,” the company stated.

The Chinese company stressed that the failure to obtain the import permit was caused by the buyer’s mistakes and negative inaction.

Declaring that the Chinese Customs, too, cleared the consignment following tests proved that product hadn’t been contaminated by Erwinia, the company accused Sri Lanka of resorting to unilateral measures in violation of contract agreement, international trade rules and the test result of their-own designated third-party Schutter group.

The Chinese supplier said that a section of the media questioned the quality of Chinese products, and even used “Toxic, garbage, pollution” and other derogatory words that seriously slander the image of Chinese enterprise and the Chinese government. “Such unilateral, untrue, and irresponsible remarks mislead the public and undermine the credibility of the media. The above “deliberately creating difficulties”, “unreasonable” and even “malicious” acts of NPQS, the buyer as well as some media give people reason to suspect that the buyer was creating various obstacles to obstruct the implementation of the contract, and even has bad commercial intentions.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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