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Covid crisis at Kalubowila hospital exposes inordinate delay in completing new wing 

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Seven storeyed building still under construction

… Audit queries didn’t expedite construction

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The crisis at the Colombo South Teaching Hospital at Kalubowila, where the hospital administration struggled to cope up with rapid inflow of Covid-19 patients has highlighted the inordinate delay in completing a seven-storeyed building at the hospital premises under construction since 2006.

Sources told The Island that work had been seriously hindered by much delayed payments over a period of time and poor supervision on the part of successive Health Ministries. The project launched during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency was to be completed by 2008.

Although the Auditor General’s Department pointed out serious shortcomings and malpractices, successive governments hadn’t taken remedial measures, sources said.

During this period Nimal Siripala de Silva, Maithripala Sirisena, Tissa Attanayake and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne served as health ministers. The incumbent is Pavitra Wanniarachchi.

However, other sources said that State Engineering Corporation (SEC), despite several rounds of talks with Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi, hadn’t been able to complete the project.

Responding to another query, sources pointed out that the incumbent Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena had been Director of the Colombo South Teaching Hospital for several years before he succeeded Dr. Anil Jasinghe late last year.

Meanwhile, security authorities expressed concern over the public wearing worn-out masks and the danger posed by the large number of Covid-19 infected persons arriving at the vaccination centres. They stressed the need to take precautions to prevent vaccination facilities becoming centres of new Covid clusters.

State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana over the last weekend visited the Colombo South Teaching Hospital to examine the situation. Acknowledging the daunting task in meeting the growing Covid-19 threat, Prof. Jayasumana explained the vaccination drive was in full swing. The academic said that as the next three weeks would be critical, the government needed the backing of all to bring the situation under control. According to the State Minister, the recent trouble at the Colombo South Hospital had been temporary and measures were being taken to improve the situation.

Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Hemantha Herath yesterday (9) told a media briefing at the Health Promotion Bureau that some hospitals were being overwhelmed and action would be taken to remedy the situation.



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Inter-provincial travel ban to be lifted on Oct. 31

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Flagrant violations largely ignored during restrictions

ECONOMYNEXT – The ongoing inter-provincial travel ban will be lifted on October 31, the national COVID-19 prevention task force said, despite social media accounts – and sometimes pictures – of people openly flouting the ban.

The restriction was imposed in conjunction with an island-wide lockdown, officially known as a quarantine curfew, that the government declared on August 20 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Despite the lockdown being relaxed on October 01 as cases began to drop, the inter-province travel restriction has remained, at least on paper.

Critics, however, claim that people have been traveling – some even going on trips – around the country blatantly ignoring the ban, despite President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordering the authorities to strictly enforce it from October 21.

“After a discussion among the task force on Friday (23), with the permission of the president, it was decided to lift the travel ban from 4am October 31,” Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva told reporters on Friday.

Silva, who heads the national COVID-19 task force, said all public transportation services will also restart on October 25 and will operate according to health guidelines.

Health officials have joined the chorus of voices lamenting the apparent lax nature of the inter-provincial travel ban. The public does not seem to follow health guidelines increasing the risk of another wave of the epidemic, they have said.

“The behaviour of the public is not satisfactory,” Health Promotion Bureau Director Dr Ranjith Batuwanthudawa told the privately owned Derana network in an interview.

“The public did not follow the guidelines in the first long weekend after restrictions were relaxed. It can again increase the number of patients to a level the health sector cannot cope with,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Gen Silva said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be administered as a booster dose for frontline workers in the health, military, police and tourism sectors starting November 01.

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North, East see highest attendance of students, teachers: Dinesh

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ECONOMYNEXT – Northern and Eastern provinces saw the highest attendance of students, teachers, and principals when schools were reopened for the first time in six months, Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Friday (22).

Classes from grades 1 to 5 recommenced at 5,059 schools with fewer than 200 students on Thursday (21) amid an ongoing strike by teachers’ trade unions which is set to finally end next Monday (25).

Minister Gunawardena said the government was able to open around 98 percent of the targeted schools.

“Sixteen percent of students attended schools across the country, while 26 percent of teachers who signed their attendance,” Minister Gunawardena told parliament.

Principals showed up to work at 69 percent of schools with fewer than 200 students, in the island’s north, while 52 percent of teachers and 21 percent of students were present on Thursday, he said.

In the Eastern province, 67 percent of principals, 45 percent of teachers, and 39 percent of students went back to school on Thursday, he added.

In contrast, schools in the Southern and Western provinces saw lower levels of attendance from principals, teachers, and students, the minister said.

“We believe everyone will support the reopening of schools without any party or colour difference,” Minister Gunawardena said.

Trade unions are not fully onboard the government’s proposed solution to their long-standing grievance of salary anomalies.

The three-month-long strike, one of the longest trade union campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history, has deprived students of their only mode of distance learning in pandemic times: online education.

It is still uncertain if all principals will report to duty on Monday as some principals’ trade unions have said some of their demands including car permits and a mobile phone allowance have not been addressed yet.

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for the 99th day running on October 15 when they said they would start work from October 25.

The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued the strike, demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

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Foreign Minister to launch Lanka-UK chamber of commerce in London

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by Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Foreign Minister Prof G. L. Peiris is scheduled to be in London this week starting from tomorrow (25) for a series of events including the launching the Sri Lanka-UK Chamber of Commerce, diplomatic sources said

During his stay in London from Monday to Thursday (28), Prof Peiris is to meet his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss and Members of the Houses of Parliament and Lord Naseby.

Sources said that it would be Prof Peiris’ first visit to London after assuming the duties as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The launch of the Sri Lanka – United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to be presided over by HSBC bank. Lord Davies of Abersoch, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Sri Lanka and a host of invitees including the representatives of the London Stock Exchange and De La Rue. The new Chamber is to be registered with both British Chamber of Commerce and the UK Companies House.

Prof Peiris is expected to complete his London visit on Thursday (28) and then to proceed to Glasgow to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which is scheduled to begin next Sunday (31).

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