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Covid-19 crisis: Factories directed to private labs as workload piles up

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…erroneous tests cause confusion

By Shamindra Ferdinando

For want of sufficient facilities at the state sector laboratories, the government has requested private sector factories, coming under the purview of the Board of Investment (BOI) to subject workers to PCR testing at private labs.

Dr. S. Sridharan, who is acting for Director General of Health Services (DGHS), in a letter dated Oct. 10, has informed BoI Chairman Susantha Ratnayake of policy decision taken by the Health Ministry to those working at what he called export oriented manufacturing industries.

Dr. Sridharan received the crucial appointment in the wake of Dr. Anil Jasinghe being appointed Secretary to the Environment Ministry.

According to the Health Ministry, Dr. Sridharan has been directed to alert the BoI Chief about a week after ‘Brandix eruption’ caused several hundred infections. The Health Ministry yesterday (14) placed the ‘Brandix cluster’ at 1590.

The government has declared an indefinite curfew in Munuwangoda and Divulapitiya and Veyangoda on Oct 4, two days after a 39-year-old employee of Brandix apparel manufacturing plant at Munuwangoda was tested positive for coronavirus at the Gampaha Hospital. Later, the government extended the curfew to several other police areas in the Gampaha administrative district.

The Health Ministry has directed BoI factories to use laboratories at Nawaloka, Durdens, Asiri and Lanka Hospitals as government laboratories found it difficult to cope up with the increasing workload.

Dr. Sridharan’s missive advised BoI top management that covid-19 monitoring guidelines had been revised consequent to the ‘Brandix eruption.’

Well informed sources pointed out that ongoing inquiries had taken an unexpected turn with the revelation that several workers had been infected before the Gampaha hospital made the chance detection.

Head of National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva told The Island that contrary to previous reports the 39-year-old employee hadn’t been the first victim.

The Health Ministry involved private hospitals in the RT PCR testing process during the first corona wave. Sources said that private hospitals charged Rs 6,500 to Rs 8,800 for a RT PCR test, in addition to transport costs depending on the location. The Health Ministry wants all BoI enterprises to carry out testing in consultation with respective MOH (Medical Officer of Health) on a regular basis to ensure safety and security of the workers and the entire population.

Meanwhile, shortcomings in the RT PCR testing process undertaken by the private sector has been brought to the notice of the Health Ministry. CEAT Kelani Holdings yesterday (14) said that the company’s administrative office had to be closed down after the management was told that two of its employees were corona-virus positive. Subsequently, the company had been told that both reports were wrong therefore action was taken to re-open the administrative offices today (15).

Health Ministry sources said that both state and private sector laboratories had to follow strict guidelines in the ongoing large scale RT-PCR testing process to ensure the credibility of the process. Sources said that recently a member of a foreign airline crew tested positive had been subsequently cleared following a second test conducted at the Hambantota hospital.

The Sri Lanka Association of Government Medical Laboratory Technologists shortly before ‘Brandix eruption’  raised the failure on the part of the Health Ministry to use available GeneXpert machines to enhance the public sector capacity. In a letter dated Oct 2, President of the Association Ravi Kumudesh, complained to Health Secretary Maj. Gen. H.S. Munasinghe over what he called an inimical agenda pursued by the DGHS.

Kumudesh alleged that instead of enhancing their capacity by promptly utilizing available GeneXpert machines, the Health Ministry pushed for accommodating the private sector in the process. The association emphasized the pivotal importance in maintaining the credibility of the entire process by ensuring the quality of their work.

The Association said that the post of DGHS shouldn’t be vacant even for a day. The Association criticized the failure on the part of the Health Ministry to make a permanent appointment several weeks after Dr. Jasinghe moved out to the Environment Ministry and the unceremonious removal of Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara, head of the MRI (Medical Research Institute)



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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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