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Collectively strengthen pandemic response;Plan for COVID-19 vaccination: WHO

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New Delhi, 8 October 2020: 

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in most countries of WHO South-East Asia Region, World Health Organization has called for stronger collective efforts by one and all to curtail the virus transmission; while also urging countries to plan for efficient roll out of COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are available.

“Like the rest of the world, the Region continues to be at risk. To stop the spread of COVID-19 virus, we need to do it all – continued strong leadership; robust public health measures; clear communication and an engaged, empowered and enabled population – to turn the tide,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

In a communication to the Member countries, the Regional Director said, the global race for COVID-19 vaccine has gathered momentum. In anticipation of development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, countries should be prepared with an efficient and coordinated strategy and plan for roll-out of vaccination.

Vaccine availability is likely to be limited initially, hence will be important to clearly identify goals of national vaccination strategy, she said.

In the spirit of promoting fair and equitable access to the vaccines across all countries, WHO is proposing that countries prioritize at-risk population as they develop in-country vaccination strategies. Available vaccines should first be provided to priority populations and then expanded to others.

“The COVID-19 vaccination should aim at minimizing the societal and economic impact by reducing deaths caused by the disease,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Listing out nine priority areas for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and roll out, the Regional Director said, a national level coordination committee would be needed to oversee vaccination; an expedited regulatory pathway for approval of new vaccine; a technical advisory group to recommend prioritization of risk groups; protocols on infection prevention and control measures to minimize exposure during immunization sessions; training plans for vaccine introduction; and monitoring systems to measure coverage, acceptability and disease surveillance.

Countries would also need to strengthen vaccine cold chain systems; ensure trained staff perform vigilance activities for vaccine safety; and importantly, a vaccine demand generation plan to instill confidence and acceptance among people for the new vaccine.Ensuring continued WHO support, the Regional Director said, “Together we must continue to strengthen the COVID-19 response by aggressively applying the basic public health measures, and also looking ahead and ensuring that we make full use of emerging tools to control spread, save lives and minimize impact.”



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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