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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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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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