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Covishield second round: Shortfall of over 600,000 doses remains knotty problem

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 Prof. Jayasumana explains efforts to sustain inoculation drive

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) has been authorized to explore ways and means of procuring a sufficient stock of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine aka Covishield required to provide the second dose to over 600,000 persons from a ‘third party.’

 State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana yesterday (18) told The Island that the cabinet of ministers authorized the move on Monday.

 Prof. Jayasumana said that the SPC would try to locate available stocks whereas the administration also continued its efforts at government-to- government level to procure the required covishield stock. 

 “We are looking for one mn doses,” Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that in case a ‘third party’ offered a stock, the purchase would be subjected to authentication by the relevant producer”, he said. The academic said that in case an authenticated stock could be found, the price would be determined by a Cabinet Appointed Negotiating Committee.

 Prof. Jayasumana acknowledged that they hadn’t been so far successful in reaching an agreement with a foreign government or a ‘third party’ as regards an available Covishield stock.

 Responding to another query, Prof. Jayasumana emphasized that India never officially informed Sri Lanka of discontinuation of Covishield vaccines in spite of massive eruption of Covid-19 cases. However, due to the obvious disruption of supplies from Serum Institute based at Pune, India, the government adopted a two-pronged strategy to obtain a stock sufficient for the required second dose, the State Minister said.

 Prof. Jayasumana said that there was no point in denying the fact covishield vaccines were in short supply due to serious disruption of the supply chain. The State Minister acknowledged the concerns of those who had received the first Covishield dose but not sure whether they would be able to get the second. 

The government launched the inoculation drive on Feb 29, the day after receiving half a million covishield doses, a donation courtesy the government of India. Sri Lanka received the second stock on Feb 25 – also half a million doses procured by the SPC from Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. In addition to them, Sri Lanka took delivery of 264,000 doses provided by global vaccine initiative COVAX on March 7.

 The government concluded the first inoculation drive on April 15.

 Prof. Jayasumana said that until then Sri Lanka used only Covishield in the vaccination programme though the country received 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines as a donation from China on March 30. Having received the first stock of Russian Sputnik V vaccine (15,000 doses) on May 4, the government started using it on May 6. Sri Lanka commenced using Sinopharm on May 8 five weeks after taking delivery of the free consignment.

 State Minister Jayasumana said that though the government received information pertaining to the availability of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in Canada, Australia, the US and some EU countries, inquiries didn’t yield the desired results.

 Prof. Jayasumana said that if their efforts succeeded there wouldn’t have been a need to authorize the SPC to seek supplies from a ‘third party.’ Responding to another query, Prof. Jayasumana underscored the need to be extremely careful in procuring vaccines as initial inquiries revealed that those engaged in plywood business, shipping lines and container transport were among those who offered to provide Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. The State Minister referred to exposure of recent attempts in the Eastern Europe to supply water as vaccines.

 Prof. Jayasumana acknowledged the need to carry out the second round of inoculation of those who had received the Oxford-AstraZeneca between 12 to 16 weeks after the first dose.

 Asked what would happen if sufficient stock couldn’t be procured in time, Prof. Jayasumana said the government was doing everything possible to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca on time. The State Minister said that in Germany and France against the backdrop of the Oxford-AstraZeneca supply chain disruption, those willing to take a different vaccine as the booster were inoculated with either Sputnik V or Pfizer. 

 Prof. Jayasumana said that the government received confirmation regarding the supply of 185,000 doses of Sputnik V next Tuesday (25). In the wake of the disruption of Oxford-AstraZeneca supply chain, the government finalized arrangements to procure altogether 14 mn doses of Sinopharm and 13 mn Sputnik V, Prof. Jayasumana said, underscoring the financial commitment.

 Commenting on the Chinese donation, Prof. Jayasumana said that of the 600,000 doses received, 2,865 Chinese nationals engaged in development work in Sri Lanka were given the first dose whereas 2,435 received the second dose, too, by May 16, 2021.

 According to the Office of Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, by May 16, 2021,  the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had been given to 925,242 persons (first dose) and 267,077 (second dose) out of 1,264,000 received from India in three stocks on January 28, Feb 25 and March 7.

 Prof. Jayasumana said that the ongoing vaccination programme was being implemented in the Western Province comprising the administrative districts of Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara.  

The inoculation was carried out under extremely difficult situations with over 2000 new cases being reported on a daily basis over the past week, Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that the increasing number of deaths as well as growing number of the total positive cases were a matter of grave concern.



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Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi premises becomes a net zero carbon emission zone

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced plans to implement a program aimed at transforming Anuradhapura, once a major trade and economic center, into a globally renowned city. He emphasized the need to highlight Anuradhapura’s cultural, educational, commercial, and economic values and to initiate archaeological research to bring its significance to the world stage. While cities like Tanjore, Madras, and Sanchipuram receive global attention, Anuradhapura has yet to be developed to the same extent.

The President mentioned that he would discuss these plans with the Director General of UNESCO, who is visiting Sri Lanka this week. Several universities worldwide have already expressed interest in supporting these initiatives.

President Wickremesinghe made these remarks during the ceremony to commission the 150-kilowatt solar power system installed by the LTL Group at the historic Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya premises in Anuradhapura on Saturday (13) morning . He also stated that the government would support powering the Atamasthana and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi premises.

During his visit to the Anuradhapura shrine, the President met with the Chief Incumbent of the Atamasthana in Anuradhapura and Chief Sanghanayake Thera of Nuwara Kalaviya Most Ven. Dr. Pallegama Hemarathana Nayake Thera and engaged in a brief discussion. After paying obeisance to the historic Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and receiving blessings, he participated in the commissioning of the  solar power system.

Additionally, President Wickremesinghe interacted with the public gathered at the Anuradhapura sacred grounds, engaging in friendly conversations and gathering their input.

In a significant move towards the government’s national policy of reducing carbon emissions and achieving a zero-emission target, LTL Holdings has dedicated a 150-kilowatt solar power system to Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. This marks the first phase of its net zero carbon emission plan.

This solar power system meets the entire power requirement of the Sri Maha Bodhiya precinct, making the premises of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi a net zero carbon emission zone for the first time in history.

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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka

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Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour

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Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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