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Covid-19 jab controversy: GMOA questions creation of new category

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Namal promises countrywide inoculation of 20-30 group soon

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has questioned the rationale behind vaccinating those between 20-30 years of age and the prioritisation of districts, contrary to a consensus reached with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Assistant Secretary, GMOA, Dr. Naveen de Zoysa, on Thursday (2), accused the Epidemiology Unit of following a politically motivated agenda inimical to the government’s overall response to the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Samitha Ginige is the Chief Epidemiologist.who replaced Dr. Sudath Samaraweera in June this year.

Dr. de Zoysa alleged that Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe has backed the Epidemiology unit strategy, thereby placing the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena and the Deputy Director General of Health Services (Public Health Services) Dr. Mahendra Arnold in an extremely difficult and embarrassing position.

Dr. de Zoysa alleged that they had lost control of the vaccination drive.

The GMOA fired a salvo in the wake of the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry announcement of the launch of vaccination drive in the Hambantota district meant to inoculate those in the 20-30 age group.

It quoted Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry Namal Rajapaksa as having said the inoculation of that particular group was now taking place in the Hambantota district and would soon be implemented countrywide.

 Having visited the vaccination centres at Ambalantota, Ranna and Tissamaharama in the Hambantota district, young Minister Rajapaksa emphasized that health sector specialists approved the vaccination of this particular category. He declared that the vaccination drive targeting 20 to 30 group was being implemented with the blessings of the President, the Prime Minister and the Health Minister.

However, GMOA spokesperson Dr de Zoysa questioned the criterion under which those districts were being chosen ahead of others for vaccination and also the particular vaccine allocated on district/age group basis. Dr. de Zoysa declared they were in the dark as regards the latest controversial decision.

The GMOA spokesperson asked why only the military was tasked with inoculating the public with Pfizer vaccine. “Why isn’t the health sector given that opportunity? If we are capable of inoculating the public with Sinopharm, Moderna and Sputnik why not Pfizer,” Dr. De Zoysa asked, urging those in authority to provide a plausible explanation.

Dr. de Zoysa said that irrational decisions had placed the entire Covid-19 fighting process in jeopardy with those responsible taking contradictory stands on the vaccination drive.

In spite of a decision taken with the participation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to release sufficient stocks of Covid-19 vaccines to the health sector, the military continued to receive ample supplies whereas hospitals and other centres managed by civilian staff were in jeopardy. The situation was so bad that civilian managed vaccination could cause quite a serious spread of the disease, Dr. de Zoysa said, pointing out the crisis caused by an ill-informed decision to ask the public to get the first dose from any vaccination centre.

The GMOA urged newly appointed health minister Keheliya Rambukwella to follow the strategy they agreed on. Rambukwella recently succeeded Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi who publicly lamented what she called her unceremonious exit from the health ministry.

Dr. De Zoysa urged the government to take a realistic view of the developing situation and implement a scientifically sound strategy meant to bring down the daily deaths under control by Oct-Nov this year.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry in a statement issued following a meeting Minister Rambukwella had with a health sector delegation led by Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda on Sept 2, stated that the vaccination of 18-30 year category got underway at district basis on Sept 2.

The former Media Minister Rambukwella said that the inoculation of those 30 and above could be completed within two – three weeks and 20 –30 category vaccinated before end of October. According to lawmaker Rambukwella, 20-30 category comprised about 3.7 mn persons.

 The minister explained that in line with the government decision to inoculate frontline health workers, those engaged in essential services as well as those in the garment trade, a substantial number who came within 20-30 category had been inoculated.

 The health ministry statement, however, didn’t refer to the launch of the vaccination programme in the Hambantota district. Subsequently, the health ministry, in another statement, revised the vaccinated category from 18-30 to 20-30.

Well informed sources said that the government should have vaccinated those in the 18-30 category as planned and then inoculate the 15-18 group. Sources pointed out that the vaccination of those in Advance Level classes as well as students sitting the 2021 AL examination had been denied the protection they deserved.

Sources said that the creation of 20-30 category should be examined against the earlier declaration made by President Rajapaksa that the health administration should recommend whether to give a third dose to those who had been vaccinated or vaccinate the category under 30. The President dealt with the issue at a recent meeting of the Covid Prevention Task Force at the Presidential Secretariat.

Sources at Export Processing Zones (EPZs) said that the government took tangible measures to have those working in manufacturing plants within the zones and outside inoculated. Sources said that the intervention made by Minister Namal Rajapaksa in that regard was quite helpful.



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Post-war reconciliation: Lanka ready to accept support of int’l partners

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UN-Prez tells UNGA

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (22) declared his readiness to engage all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of international partners and the United Nations, in the post-war reconciliation process.

Addressing the 76th UNGA, President Rajapaksa said that it was his government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. “However, history has shown that lasting results can only be achieved through home-grown institutions reflecting the aspirations of the people.

The following is the full text of President’s speech: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on humanity. I sympathise deeply with all who have lost their loved ones during the pandemic. I thank frontline healthcare and essential workers around the world for their dedication and commend the World Health Organisation for its crisis response.

I also greatly appreciate the rapid advances made by the scientific and medical communities in devising vaccines and treatment protocols to combat the virus.

At the same time, we must recognise that the challenges surrounding production, distribution, deployment and acceptance of vaccines must be overcome urgently if the spread of dangerous new virus strains is to be prevented.

Ensuring that everyone, everywhere, is vaccinated is the best way out of the pandemic.

Although still a developing nation, Sri Lanka has been very successful in its vaccination programme.

We have already fully vaccinated nearly all those above the age of 30.

Everyone over the age of 20 will be fully vaccinated by the end of October.

We will start vaccinating children over 15 years of age in the near future.

The rapid progress of vaccinations was enabled by coordinated efforts between healthcare workers, Armed Forces and Police personnel, Government servants, and elected officials.

In collaboration with the WHO, Sri Lanka is establishing a Regional Knowledge Hub to facilitate exchange of lessons learnt from COVID-19 and support countries to recover better.

Sri Lanka also benefitted greatly from financial and material support provided by bilateral and multilateral donors to manage the pandemic.

I thank these nations and institutions for their generosity.

The increased global cooperation visible during this ongoing crisis is greatly encouraging.

However, there is still more to be done.

Mr. President,

The economic impact of the pandemic has been especially severe on developing countries.

This has placed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals at considerable risk.

It is vital that more initiatives including development financing and debt relief be adopted through international mechanisms to support developing nations and help them emerge from this uncertain situation.

Sri Lanka too has suffered greatly due to the pandemic.

In addition to the tragic loss of life, our economy has been deeply affected.

The lockdowns, together with general movement restrictions, reduced international travel, and slower global growth have affected nearly all sectors of our economy.

Tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earners and a sector that supports nearly 14% of the population, has been devastated.

This industry, together with small and medium businesses in many other sectors, received Government support through interest moratoriums and other financial sector interventions.

Daily wage earners and low-income groups were also supported through grants of cash and dry rations during lockdowns, adding significantly to state expenditure.

In addition to their immediate impact, these economic repercussions of the pandemic have limited the fiscal space available to implement our development programmes.

Mr. President,

As devastating as the consequences of the pandemic have been to humanity, the world faces the even greater challenge of climate change in the decades to come.

As emphasised in the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the unprecedented effect of human activity on the health of the planet is deeply worrying.

Addressing the grave threats posed by climate change and the loss of biodiversity requires decisive and urgent multilateral action.

As a climate-vulnerable country, Sri Lanka is deeply aware of the dangers of climate change.

Sri Lanka’s philosophical heritage, deeply rooted in Lord Buddha’s teachings, also emphasises the vitality of preserving environmental integrity.

It is in these contexts that Sri Lanka is a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion and leads the Action Group on Mangrove Restoration.

Through the adoption of the Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management, which seeks to halve nitrogen waste by 2030, Sri Lanka has also contributed to global efforts to reduce environmental pollution.

Having participated virtually in the Pre-Summit held in April, I trust that the United Nations Food Summit later this month will result in actionable outcomes to promote healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems globally.

Such outcomes will be crucial to human health as well as to the health of our planet.

Sustainability is a cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s national policy framework.

Because of its impact on soil fertility, biodiversity, waterways and health, my Government completely banned the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and weedicides earlier this year.

Production and adoption of organic fertiliser, as well as investments into organic agriculture, are being incentivised.

I appreciate the encouragement received from many global institutions and nations for our efforts to create a more sustainable agriculture in Sri Lanka.

The conservation of our environment is one of our key national priorities.

We aim to increase forest cover significantly in the coming decades.

We are also working to clean and restore over 100 rivers countrywide, and to combat river and maritime pollution.

We have also banned single use plastics to support ecological conservation.

Sri Lanka recognises the urgent need to reduce use of fossil fuels and support decarbonisation.

Our energy policy seeks to increase the contribution of renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower to 70% of our national energy needs by 2030.

Mr. President,

Sri Lanka welcomes the support of the international community as it engages in the task of reviving its economy and carrying out its national development programme.

We intend to make full use of geostrategic location and our robust institutions, strong social infrastructure, and skilled workforce, to attract investment and broaden trade relationships.

My Government is focusing on extensive legal, regulatory, administrative and educational reforms to facilitate this, and to deliver prosperity to all our people.

Sri Lanka has enjoyed universal adult franchise since pre-Independence.

The democratic tradition is an integral part of our way of life.

My election in 2019 and the Parliamentary election in 2020 saw Sri Lankan voters grant an emphatic mandate to my Government to build a prosperous and stable country, and uphold national security and sovereignty.

In 2019, Sri Lanka experienced the devastation wrought by extremist religious terrorists in the Easter Sunday attacks.

Before that, until 2009, it had suffered from a separatist terrorist war for 30 years.

Terrorism is a global challenge that requires international cooperation, especially on matters such as intelligence sharing, if it is to be overcome.

Violence robbed Sri Lanka of thousands of lives and decades of prosperity in the past half century.

My Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again.

We are therefore acting to address the core issues behind it.

Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace.

So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development.

It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.

However, history has shown that lasting results can only be achieved through home-grown institutions reflecting the aspirations of the people.

Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Judiciary and its range of independent statutory bodies should have unrestricted scope to exercise their functions and responsibilities.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates.

If, in keeping with the theme of our General Debate today, we are to truly build resilience through hope, we must all strive towards the common good.

It is the role of the United Nations to facilitate this by treating all sovereign states, irrespective of size or strength, equitably, and with due respect for their institutions and their heritage.

I request the United Nations and the international community to ensure the protection of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan.

I call on the member states of this august Assembly to work together in a spirit of true cooperation, generosity, goodwill, and mutual respect to foster a better and more sustainable future for all humanity.”

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Acquisition of Yugadanavi power plant and right to build new LNG terminal: US firm says agreement finalised

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US based energy firm, New Fortress Energy Inc. on Tuesday (21) announced that it had executed a definitive agreement with the Sri Lankan government for New Fortress’ investment in West Coast Power Limited, the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Colombo, along with the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo.

Issuing a press release, New Fortress Energy Inc., said as a part of the transaction, New Fortress will have gas supply rights to the Kerawalapitya Power Complex, where 310 MW of power is operational and an additional 700 MW scheduled to be built, of which 350 MW is scheduled to be operational by 2023.

Given below is the statement: “New Fortress will acquire a 40% ownership stake in WCP and plans to build an offshore liquified natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal located off the coast of Colombo. New Fortress will initially provide the equivalent of an estimated 1.2 million gallons of LNG (~35,000 MMBtu) per day to the GOSL, with the expectation of significant growth as new power plants become operational.

“The 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant currently has a long-term power purchase agreement to provide electricity to the national grid that extends through 2035. This power plant consists of General Electric turbines and is configured to run on natural gas in a combined cycle.

“”This is a significant milestone for Sri Lanka’s transition to cleaner fuels and more reliable, affordable power,” said Wes Edens, Chairman and CEO of New Fortress Energy. “We are pleased to partner with Sri Lanka by investing in modern energy infrastructure that will support sustainable economic development and environmental gains.”

“The Kerawalapitya Power Complex is the foundation of the baseload power that serves the country’s population of 22 million people. Delivering cleaner and cheaper fuels to Sri Lanka will support the country’s growth for years to come.”

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Sri Lanka a dumping ground for toxic burnt oil from ship engines !

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By Ifham Nizam

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera has questioned some Central Environmental Authority (CEA) officials for permitting more than 20 individuals to collect waste burnt out oil from ships without having facilities to purify it.

However, it was claimed that most of those individuals were backed by some senior politicians and the Authority didn’t have any say.

The Minister has decided to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the toxic waste oil racket through the Presidential Special Investigation Division.

Amaraweera said the racket had been going on for a long time. “This racket is causing a huge amount of foreign exchange loss to the country and causing huge environmental damage,” he added.

Accordingly, steps would be taken by the Presidential Investigation Division to stop the racket and investigate the huge amount of money that has changed hands, the Minister said.

“After the President returns from his visit to New York, I will hold discussions with him and submit a factual report on the amount of money lost to the country in dollars through this racket,” Minister Amaraweera said.

The CEA has so far issued 27 permits for the disposal of waste fuel oil. However, only four companies have the facility to refine it. About 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes of burnt out waste oil are shipped into the country annually. But the country has capacity to refine only 4,800 tonnes a year by licensed companies. It is not clear what happens to the remaining 15,200 tons of waste oil.

The Minister said that issuing licences to companies and individuals who did not have fuel refining facilities was wrong.

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