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Coronavirus far more prevalent than indicated by PCR testing statistics



A seroprevalence rate of 24.5% was seen in all age groups in the CMC in the end of January 2021, a research carried by Sri Lankan and British researchers has revealed. This is a much higher number than what the PCR tests indicated.

The research was carried out in the Colombo city, which experienced the highest number of coronavirus cases until the end of January 2021, the researchers have said. Although Sri Lanka had successfully contained the pandemic until the end of September, with no locally detected cases from August to September 2020, an explosive spread began during early October, which rapidly spread across the country.

“However, as Colombo is the commercial capital of the country, and also due to extremely overcrowded living conditions, 32,346/89,817 (36.01%) locally detected cases by the end of March 2021, were from Colombo. Of the cases in the Colombo District, 14,416 (44.6%) were identified within the city. We carried out a serosurvey prior to initiation of the vaccination programme to understand the extent of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak”, they said.

The researchers added that although the seropositivity rate was highest in the 10–20 age group (34.03%), the PCR positivity rate was 9.80%. Therefore, the PCR positivity rates appear to underestimate the true extent of the outbreak and the age groups which were infected. They said that in many countries, the reported number of cases did not necessarily reflect the extent of the outbreak, age groups infected and groups at risk, as the majority of infections were asymptomatic and limitations in carrying out quantitative real-time PCR for SARS-CoV2. It has been estimated that surveillance of SARS- CoV2 with qRT-PCR alone may underestimate the true prevalence by tenfold.

“Differences in the PCR positivity rates and seropositivity rates were also seen in 60–70-year-olds (8.90 vs 30.4%) and in individuals 70 years (4.10 vs. 1.20%). The seropositivity rate of the females was 29.70% (290/976), which was significantly higher than in males 21.2% (333/1,571), the researchers said.

It is important to carry out serosurveillance studies to understand the true extent of an outbreak in order to understand the future outbreaks that may occur in a particular area and to further understand transmission dynamics and duration of immunity, the researchers have said.

“Based on the seropositivity rates of 24.46%, 138,276 individuals are likely to have been infected, compared to the reported PCR positive cases of 14,416. Therefore, infection detection rates by PCR appeared to have underestimated the actual number of infections by 9.59-fold, which is not surprising as the random PCRs were mainly carried out in the working population and less frequently in those who were confined to their houses.” They claimed that as samples for PCR were obtained on only certain days of the week when the team visited the housing complexes and residential areas, the population who underwent PCRs on most days mainly represented the working population. Blood samples were obtained from these participants at the same time when samples were taken from them for these routine random PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2. None of the participants had any symptoms at the time of obtaining blood samples and were not previously diagnosed as been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The researchers further claimed that the Colombo city was divided into six districts: namely D1, D2A, D2B, D3, D4, and D5. Although the overall seroprevalence was 24.46%, certain districts in the CMC (D2A, D2B, and D3) had higher seroprevalence rates (26.2–39%) compared to D4 which only had a seroprevalence rate of 3.33%. These overall differences between the districts reflected the population density and the housing conditions in these districts, with the districts with high seroprevalence having more overcrowded areas, with poor housing conditions. The differences in the seroprevalence rates in different districts could also be due to differences in the control measured adopted. For instance, in D1, although the seroprevalence was 14.76%, certain areas in this district had a very high infection rate as determined by PCR positivity. Due to early detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection in certain areas in this district, these areas were isolated very early, and therefore, it would have curtailed the spread to the rest of the D1 district resulting in fewer infections. Such similar differences have been observed in many states in India, where the slum areas reported seroprevalence rates between 52.6 to 58.7% compared to 12–17.9% in non-slum areas Although the overall seroprevalence rates in the CMC was less than urban areas in India, it was higher than many areas in Europe (Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany), which reported a seroprevalence between 5 to 13.6% and Iran (22.16%), which reported higher infection rates (14–17). However, the use of different antibody assays, which had a varying degree of sensitivity and specificities in these different studies could result in such differences.

Chandima Jeewandara, Dinuka Guruge, Inoka Sepali Abyrathna, Saubhagya Danasekara, Banuri Gunasekera, Pradeep Darshana Pushpakumara, Deshan Madhusanka, Deshni Jayathilaka, Thushali Ranasinghe, Gayasha Somathilake, Shyrar Tanussiya, Tibutius Tanesh Jayadas, Heshan Kuruppu, Nimasha Thashmi, Michael Harvie, Ruwan Wijayamuni, Lisa Schimanski, T. K. Tan, Pramila Rijal, Julie Xiao, Graham S. Ogg, Alain Townsend and Gathsaurie Neelika Malavige were the researchers involved.  (RK)

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Opposition threatens to move no-faith motion against Speaker over OSB



Speaker Abeywardena

By Saman Indrajith

Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premnadasa told Parliament yesterday that the Online Safety Bill had been passed in violation of the law and unless remedial action was taken, a no-faith motion would be brought against Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

Premadasa said that Article 123(4) of the Constitution says, “Where any Bill, or the provision of any Bill, has been determined, or is deemed to have been determined, to be inconsistent with the Constitution, such Bill or such provision shall not be passed except in the manner stated in the determination of the Supreme Court.”

Premadasa said: “It is illegal to pass a Bill without adhering to this constitutional provision. There were nine instances where the government overlooked the Supreme Court determination on the Bill. The Speaker allowed that to happen despite our protests. The Justice Minister, too, has admitted that there are flaws in the Act. How could that happen? Rectify them immediately, or we will bring a no-confidence motion against the Speaker.”

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that even if the Supreme Court determined that a section or clause of a draft Bill was inconsistent with the Constitution, a Bill could be passed by Parliament. It could be done with either a two-thirds majority or two-thirds majority plus people’s approval from a referendum. A case cannot be filed against the way the Speaker or an MP behaved in this House as they have immunity. Former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike, too, has given a ruling on this issue and we still consider it as a precedent to be upheld. With regard to the Online Safety Bill, the Attorney General has instructed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to incorporate some amendments as per the Supreme Court determination and to bring other recommended amendments in the form of a separate Amendment Bill. I was not a party to that discussion. This Amendment Bill was presented to the Cabinet and approval was granted and now is at the Legal Draftsman’s Department. Thereafter, it would be referred to the Cabinet again and with that approval we can have it here in this House for consideration,” the Minister said.

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Teheran expects enhancement of bilateral ties in all fields



Following Iranian FM’s visit

The Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, during high level meetings in Colombo this week, expressed hope that with this trip, the bilateral ties in all fields, including political, economic, commercial, and tourism, would be expanded.

Amirabdollahian was here at the official invitation of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC. During his meeting with Sabry, Amirabdollahian referred to the good and friendly relations between the two countries and the continuous consultations between them on bilateral, regional, and international issues.

The Iranian also considered scientific and technological issues as areas to which the two countries pay attention for cooperation.

Amirabdollahian appreciated the invitation of the President of Sri Lanka to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, to visit this country and stated: “We hope that this trip will be on the agenda at the right time.”

He also appreciated Sri Lanka’s positions in supporting the people of Palestine and Gaza in international forums, including the United Nations.

In this meeting, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry also warmly welcomed his Iranian counterpart and described his trip to Tehran last summer as memorable, stating: “During my trip to Iran, I witnessed the high morale of the Iranian people in the social arena. I observed production and life.”

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister emphasized: “The two countries have good relations with common areas and shared values.”

Referring to Sri Lanka’s transition from previous economic conditions and economic growth and prosperity in this country, Ali Sabry expressed hope that the relations between the two countries would expand even more in the new era.

Referring to the industrial and economic capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka emphasized the readiness of his country to host Iranians to implement economic projects in Sri Lanka.

The issue of developing cooperation between the two countries in the field of tourism was one of the other topics discussed by the foreign ministers of the two countries, and the parties expressed hope that Iranian and Sri Lankan tourists would mutually choose the two countries more and more as tourist destinations.

In this regard, the parties emphasized the necessity of establishing direct flights between Iran and Sri Lanka, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.

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Only 50,000 out of 7 mn buildings have rooftop solar systems



Great potential to increase solar power generation

by Rathindr5a Kuruwita

Rooftop solar power generation in Sri Lanka has exceeded 750 megawatts by the middle of February 2024, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) media spokesman Noel Priyantha said on Wednesday.

Priyantha added that Sri Lanka has great potential in solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

Sri Lanka has around seven million buildings, but only 50,000 of them have installed rooftop solar systems, and there is a great potential to increase rooftop solar power generation exponentially, he said.

The CEB now buys a unit of electricity from rooftop solar power producers for 37 rupees, and these producers can recover their initial costs in five years, Priyantha said.

The CEB is also talking to state-owned banks to introduce a concessional bank loan for those interested in installing rooftop solar power units, he said.

The Sri Lankan government has set a goal of achieving 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

The total installed capacity of the national power grid is over 5,000 megawatts, and the daily energy consumption in February 2024 is about 46 gigawatts per day, Priyantha said .

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