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Covid-19 infections continue to soar amidst fears of Indian variant slipping into SL



By Suresh Perera

Amidst the raging Covid-19 pandemic, which has now swept across all districts of the country, medical experts have expressed concern over the possibility of the devastating variant of the virus that has killed thousands of people in India sneaking into Sri Lanka.

The strain surging in many parts of India was found to be at least 15 times more virulent than the earlier ones. This meant it spreads even faster, has a shorter incubation period and the transmission of the infection is more rapid within the human body, according to medical officials.

“There’s a risk of the highly infectious Indian variant slipping into Sri Lanka”, says Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, Director of the Epidemiology Unit of the Health Ministry.

“The viral strains are under analysis and we are awaiting a report on the outcome”, he told The Sunday Island.

In a bid to mitigate the risk, the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) decided to disallow Indian passengers from entering Sri Lanka with immediate effect.

CAASL Additional Director General P. A. Jayakantha said the temporary prohibition was put in place to prevent the Covid-19 virus entering the country from the Indian subcontinent.

He further said the restrictions were applied following guidelines by the Health Ministry until the next evaluation. “We have issued notice to all airlines to prevent passengers from India disembarking”.

Covid-19 infections have witnessed a steady escalation with numbers topping 1,000 per day since last week. By Wednesday, positive cases stood at 1,895 with Colombo district heading the list with 498 followed by 387 in the Gampaha district.

With the latest figures, the total number of Corona patients in the country as shot up to 119,424. But 810 patients recovered and were discharged from hospitals on Thursday bringing the total number of recoveries so far to 100,885.

Medical experts predicted that infections will cross the 2,000 mark per day as the third wave of the deadly contagion continued to rage despite concerted efforts by health authorities to arrest the alarming trend.

The number of Corona-related deaths have also climbed with 14 reported by mid week. The total number of deaths so far is 734.

With medical facilities overwhelmed, the Health Ministry has also drawn in 5,000 beds in Ayurveda hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients as infections surged. The Army has moved in to augment the existing bed capacity by building additional temporary quarantine facilities to house the galloping infection numbers. Many tourist hotels are also being used as temporary quarantine centres.

Health officials warned that patients with comorbidities (the presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions in a patient), young children and pregnant mothers should take all necessary safety precautions as they are more susceptible to the mutant identified as the UK B117 variant.

There could be more asymptomatic patients within the community than the numbers already diagnosed Covid-19 positive. Those who have undergone PCR screening should remain at home until the outcome is known to prevent infecting others, they noted.

It is also important to cut down unnecessary travel as the next two weeks will be critical in containing the pandemic situation before it gets out of control, they warned.

Under guidelines issued by the Director-General of Health Services (DGHS), all cinemas, restaurants and clubs have been prohibited from selling liquor until further notice. Tourist hotels and rest houses have been permitted to serve liquor to guests only until 10.00 pm while liquor stores can open at the scheduled time for retail sales.

In an interesting observation, Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut, says a virus replicates by hijacking its host’s cellular machinery to make copies of itself. But like a person making mistakes when they type out the same sentence over and over, the genetic copies accumulate small errors, or mutations.

“Many changes don’t affect the virus’ function, and some even harm SARS-CoV-2’s ability to multiply, but they keep happening. Viruses mutate; that’s what they do”, he noted.



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Strong earthquake hits south-eastern Turkey near Syria border




BBC reported that a powerful earthquake has hit Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

The quake was felt in the capital Ankara and other Turkish cities, and also across the region.

Reports are coming in that several buildings have collapsed, and a number of people may be trapped.

A BBC Turkish correspondent in Diyarbakir reports that a shopping mall in the city collapsed.

Rushdi Abualouf, a BBC producer in the Gaza Strip, said there was about 45 seconds of shaking in the house he was staying in.

Turkish seismologists estimated the strength of the quake to be 7.4 magnitude.

They said that a second tremor hit the region just minutes later.

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13 A: Political parties miss Ranil’s Feb. 04 deadline for submitting their proposals



Udaya compares constitutional threat with Indonesian crisis in late ’90s

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government hasn’t received proposals from political parties regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully.

President Wickremesinghe, on January 26, requested party leaders to furnish their suggestions, if any, by Feb. 04 as he intended to brief Parliament on Feb. 08 as regards the implementation of land and police powers.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, had not responded to President Wickremesinghe’s request so far, authoritative sources told The Island. Responding to another query, sources said that the President’s Office hadn’t received proposals in support of President Wickremesinghe’s declaration or against it.

Several political parties, including the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) spurned the President’s invitation.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Nov. 1987, during Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15th, 2023, President Wickremesinghe warned party leaders on January 26 he would go ahead with plans unless the parliament repealed it. Both declarations were made in the presence of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sources noted that though several political parties declared opposition and some issued statements supportive of the President’s move, they haven’t submitted proposals in writing.

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament, on January 27, the day after setting Feb. 04 as the deadline for political parties to submit proposals. The new session of Parliament begins on Feb. 08.Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, told The Island that the decision to fully implement the controversial amendment shouldn’t be taken hastily.

“We are certainly not opposed to the devolution of power. However, we cannot under any circumstances support an agenda that may cause chaos,” National List MP said.

The Attorney-at-Law said so when The Island asked him whether the ruling party submitted its proposals to President Wickremesinghe.The lawmaker said that there was no requirement to do so as he on behalf of the SLPP explained to the January 26 meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe why 13th Amendment shouldn’t be fully implemented without examining the ground situation.

“Seven past Presidents didn’t do that. Why didn’t they do so? We’ll have to study why they refrained from granting police and land powers in spite of them being part of that Amendment. If the reasons that compelled them not to do so no longer exist, we can consider the proposals,” lawmaker Kariyawasam said.

Declaring SLPP’s commitment to maximum possible devolution, MP Kariyawasam warned of dire consequences if decisions were made on the basis of language and religion.The SLPP that secured 145 seats at the last general election remains the largest party in parliament though over two dozen MPs quit the government group.

MP Kariyawasam emphasized that they couldn’t act recklessly on the issue at hand.Those who quit the SLPP parliamentary group, too, have strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, compared the developing crisis here with Western project that divided Indonesia in the late 90s.Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila explained how Western countries exploited the economic crisis in Indonesia to compel Jakarta to grant independence to East Timor.

Addressing a public rally at Dehiwela on Feb. 02  in support of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya contesting March 09 Local Government polls, former Power and Energy Minister said that the challenge faced by Sri Lanka owing to the continuing balance of payments and debt crises was very much similar to the circumstances leading to East Timor independence.

The 13th Amendment would split Sri Lanka on ethnic lines, the Colombo District MP warned.The MP recalled how external powers created an environment that compelled Indonesian President Suharto to resign in May 1998 to pave the way for Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri to win the next presidential election. The MP said that Sukarnoputri granted independence to East Timor.

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Gas prices up



State-owned Litro has increased the price of domestic gas with effect from midnight yesterday.

Chairman of Litro Company Muditha Peiris said the price of a 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinder would be increased by Rs 334, the price of a 5 kg gas cylinder by Rs 135 and the price of a 2.3 kg gas cylinder by Rs 61 .The 12.5 kg cylinder is Rs 4,743.

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