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Coronavirus: Countries shut borders over new South Africa variant

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More countries are tightening their travel restrictions after a new coronavirus variant was identified in South Africa earlier this week, said a BBC dispatch yesterday.

It said that the UK, Singapore and Japan are among those rushing in stricter quarantine measures and banning flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries.

The BBC story said: The EU is proposing to ban flights from the region across the whole bloc.

Scientists still have much to learn about the variant, but say they are very worried about it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, as scientists work to determine how transmissible it is.

The variant is very different to the others that have emerged so far. Scientists have said it is the most heavily mutated version yet, which means vaccines, which were designed using the original strain from Wuhan, may not be as effective.

The new variant is yet to be given a more memorable name, like Delta or Beta, and right now is known as B.1.1.529. The WHO is expected to name it on Friday, and announce whether it is a variant of concern or just a variant of interest.

The WHO says so far fewer than 100 sample sequences have been reported. Cases have mainly been confirmed in South Africa, but have also been detected in Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana.

The UK’s health minister, Sajid Javid, said on Friday that it is “highly likely” to have spread to other countries.

Most of the cases in South Africa have been from its most populated province, Gauteng, of which Johannesburg is the capital city.

Only about 24% of South Africa’s population is fully vaccinated, which could see a rapid spread of cases there, Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told the BBC on Friday.

In Hong Kong, the variant spread during hotel quarantine between a person who had arrived from South Africa and another hotel guest who tested positive a few days later, the Department of Health revealed. Both were fully vaccinated.

Israel’s PM Naftali Bennett said on Friday it is “on the verge of a state of emergency” regarding the new variant, and that he would “act fast, strong and now”.

One case was detected in a person who returned from Malawi, according to Israeli media reports quoting the country’s health ministry. Another two suspected infections were yet to be confirmed with test results. All three are said to have been fully vaccinated.

The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a “risk-based and scientific approach.”

Nevertheless, an increasing amount of nations including the UK, Japan and the Netherlands have temporarily halted flights from these southern African nations: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Lesotho.

Singapore, Italy, France and Israel are among those who have also placed Mozambique, on their red lists.

The Head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is proposing the whole of the EU put on the “emergency brake” and stop flights from the region.

The EU is already struggling to cope with fresh waves of the virus, and several countries have re-imposed lockdowns and restrictions.

The Czech Republic will ban anyone has has spent more than 12 hours in those nations from entering as of Saturday.

Germany, which is currently going through a fourth wave of infections because of the Delta variant, will allow only Germans to fly into Germany from South Africa as of Friday night, a health ministry source quoted by Reuters news agency said. Even if travellers are fully vaccinated, they will still have to spend 14 days in quarantine.

India has ordered more rigorous screening and testing for travellers arriving from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, local media is reporting.

The flight bans threaten to separate families over the festive season.

Ruth Daines-Slack, 70, had booked to fly from Cape Town to the UK next week for Christmas and her mother’s 100th birthday celebration. She told the BBC she is “beyond devastated” that she will no longer be able to make the trip, adding that the UK’s travel ban is a “knee-jerk reaction”.

The UK was one of the first nations to impose a flight ban, which South Africa’s foreign ministry has criticised as a “rushed decision” made before the WHO has made any announcement on the variant.



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Now, CEB plans to ‘rationalise’ tariff

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By Ifham Nizam

Plans are afoot to ‘rationalise’ the electricity tariff shortly, Ceylon Electricity Board Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando said, adding that the 52-year-old system should be changed for the betterment of the electricity consumer.

CEB Chief told The Island the CEB tariffs need to be changed to better reflect the use and the income level of the consumer. Ferdinando added that he had already briefed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on it.

Ferdinanado said that right now waste and corruption on CEB’s part had also been added to the consumers’ bill.

He said the CEB had received 1500 MT of fuel yesterday and would receive another shipment soon. However, thort-term power interruptions would continue in several areas until the operations at the Kelanitissa Power Station returns to normal.

“The power interruptions are an annoyance and we are looking for solutions. We too want to provide an uninterrupted power supply to our customers. Our hydro-power generation capacity is low as water levels in reservoirs are receding,” he said.

CEB’s Systems Control Department officials said that power outages might be experienced for one and a half hours due to problems at the Kelanitissa thermal plant complex.

CEB Media Spokesman, Additional General Manager Andrew Navamani said that the national grid had lost 282 MW due to the issues at Kelanitissa thermal plant. He said the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation had informed the CEB that necessary stocks of fuel for Kelanitissa power plant would be provided by yesterday night.

However, it would take several hours to start the generators, he said.

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Solving vexed problems: Ranil calls for fresh approach

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‘What we are witnessing is end of politics’

By Saman Indrajith

Traditional politics did not have solutions to the present-day problems, and the MPs should adopt a novel approach to them, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament yesterday.

Participating in the adjournment debate on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement, the UNP leader said: “We have come to the end of politics. If we go by the words of Francis Fukuyama, it is a question of the end of politics. But that does not mean the end of Parliament. We in Parliament must think afresh. We must discuss how to bring about long-term policies which would help us find solutions to the problems affecting the public. Thereafter, we can go for elections and ask people to decide who or which party could do better. Japan did so. Great Britain is doing so. India and Canada do the same. Why can’t we do it here? If we can arrive at a consensus, we will be able to usher in a new era.

“The President has commenced this new session while the country is facing the worst economic crisis in 34 years. In his statement, he mentioned only the foreign reserve crisis. The economic crisis we are facing is far worse. We created a middle class with open economic policies. With the collapse of the open economy, the middle class too will collapse. There are a handful of companies and individuals who could earn profits while the economy is shrinking. We must decide whether we’ll perish or unite to work out a plan to ensure our collective survival,” Wickremesinghe said.

“We have come to the end of traditional politics. We may shout at each other and go out to shout slogans. But that will not help us solve problems.”

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Chandrika says Sirisena should be thrown out of SLFP

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SLPP MP and former President Maithripala Sirisena should be thrown out of the SLFP for making the party a junior partner of the SLPP former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said on Wednesday night after appearing before the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry (SPCoI) appointed to implement the recommendations of the final report of the PCoI into alleged Political Victimisation.

Both Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had destroyed the SLFP, Kumaratunga alleged.

The former President said that she had urged Sirisena not to join the SLPP as that would be the end of the SLFP.

“I repeatedly told him this and Sirisena removed me from the party’s Central Committee and stripped me of my organiser’s post in retaliation.

“Now, Sirisena is saying the same things I said about the SLPP. Even during the war, I managed to get the economy up and running. Look at it now, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she said.

Kumaratunga was also critical of the SPCoI, stating that she had not been summoned before the PCoI on Political Victimisation for her to respond to any allegations against her.

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