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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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CB Governor: Lanka now in a position to pay for essentials

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‘Inflation will not be as high as initially expected’

Inflation will not be as high as initially expected and there are signs of economy stabilising, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says.Dr. Weerasinghe said that during the past few months a number of initiatives had been made to improve the economy and they were yielding the desired results.

“During the last review, we thought the inflation would reach 70%. However, now we believe that the inflation will not be that high even with the electricity tariff hike,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the severity of the shortage of foreign currency had lessened. The country was now in a position to import fuel, gas and medicines.

“This has become possible because of the decisions we took. Imports have decreased. Export revenue has somewhat increased. Even without short-term loans we have been able to meet our basic needs. This is a positive development,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.The CB Governor said that inflation driven by demand had lessened because the expansion of loans had been curtailed.The supply side inflation too would drop with price and foreign exchange stabilisation.

“Still the inflation is about 60% and that’s why we need to maintain the current high policy rates. Once the government adjusts the fiscal policy, tax, and presents the new budget, things will improve. I think you can also see this. We are seeing positives,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe also urged exporters to bring back the foreign exchange earnings, and that the Central Bank had taken steps to ensure that exporters abided by the CB regulations.

“The irregularities due to open accounts, hawala and undial are being controlled and the black market premium is dropping. The foreign exchange liquidity in the banking sector has increased,” he said.

The Governor added that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made good progress. An IMF delegation was expected to visit Sri Lanka by the end of August to reach a staff-level agreement.After Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it had to start engaging with its creditors on debt restructuring.

“Once we reach an agreement with the IMF the situation will improve further,” he added. (RK)

(See related stories in the business section)

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CID arrests Mervyn 15 years after he forcibly entered Rupavahini

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By Norman Palihawadana

Former Minister Mervyn Silva was yesterday arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forcibly entering the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and attacking some employees there in 2007.On 27 Dec. 2007, Silva and his associates entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director for not airing a speech he had made in Matara.

SLRC employees held Silva incommunicado for hours, and the police intervened to secure his release. A few weeks later, some of the workers involved in the incident came under goon attacks.Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President at the time.

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Aeroflot affair: flights yet to resume; MP questions status of probe into detention of SU 289

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ByShamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka hadn’t been able yet to convince Russia to resume Aeroflot flights and tourists from there to Sri Lanka suspended in the wake of the detention of SU 289 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on the afternoon of June 02, authoritative sources said.

Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented foreign exchange shortage desperately needs tourists from an important destination like Russia, which earlier accounted for a sizeable share of the incoming traffic. Responding to The Island queries, sources said that relevant authorities were in the process of looking into the issue at hand.Having summoned Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage soon after the incident at the BIA, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning over the incident.

In the wake of the Russian warning, the then government took measures to lift restrictions imposed on the aircraft that was to be detained till June 16. The detained SU 289 was allowed to leave on June 06.Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (18) told The Island that no holds barred investigation was required to ascertain the truth.

Lawmaker Weerasekera said that the government should inform the Parliament of the progress of the investigation and what steps it intended to take as well as measures already taken to mend relations with Russia.

The retired Navy Chief of Staff said that those in authority should investigate whether a court ruling issued in respect of a case filed by Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Company Ltd., against Aeroflot had been manipulated by interested parties.

It transpired that no sooner High Court Judge, S. M. H. S.P. Sethunge, in the Commercial High Court of the Western Province, Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva accompanied a fiscal officer of the same Court to the BIA at lightning speed to deliver the ruling.

Lawyer de Silva appeared for the plaintiff with Avindra Rodrigo, PC, (litigation) of FJ & G.de Saram, leading law firm from the colonial times. The law firm has previously declined to comment on this matter.High Court judge Sethunga is on record as having said that he didn’t order the BIA not to permit Aeroflot SU 289 to take off on the afternoon of June 02.

Attorney-at-Law Dasun Nagasena, Coordinating Secretary to Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC yesterday (18) said that the Justice Ministry recommended action against the Attorney-at-Law to the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC. Nagasena said that the fiscal officer who served the Justice Ministry had been interdicted, pending further investigations. As regards the lawyer, it would be handled on the advice of the CJ, the official said. Responding to another query, the official said that the Justice Ministry hadn’t been informed yet of the progress of the investigations.

Ports, Shipping and Aviation Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra yesterday said that ministry officials on Wednesday (17) discussed ways and means of resuming Aeroflot flights with relevant authorities, including the Russian embassy. Ruwanchandra said they were hopeful reaching a consensus on this matter soon. The official said so in response to The Island queries.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said that they could initiate an inquiry only on the basis of a formal complaint. He said so when The Island asked him whether the BASL initiated an inquiry into the lawyer’s conduct in this regard. The President’s Counsel said that normally the BASL wouldn’t launch an investigation into a matter inquired into by the CJ.

At the time of the BIA incident, Prof. G.L. Peiris had been the minister in charge of foreign affairs. Since the change of government, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has sworn in Ali Sabry, PC, as the new minister of foreign affairs.

Russia has pointed out that action was taken against SU 289 in spite of an assurance given by Sri Lanka in respect of regular flights to Colombo.Sri Lankan Airlines in late March suspended flights to Moscow in the wake of imposition of what the airline called operational restrictions in the wake of war between Russia and Ukraine.

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