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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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Lift restrictions on 21 June, and be prepared for dire consequences – Medical Specialists

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) President Dr. Lakkumar Fernando yesterday urged the government to reconsider its decision to lift the travel restrictions on 21 June on account of the detection of the Indian or Delta variant of COVID-19 in the country.

Speaking to The Island yesterday, Dr. Fernando said: “The Ex-Co and COVID committee of the AMS met on Thursday before it was announced that the Indian variant had been found in the community, and we decided to ask the government to continue the travel restrictions until 28 June.”

The AMS President added that the detection of the Indian variant from Dematagoda was an alarming development as the Indian variant was more transmissible than the UK variant.

“Reopening the country even after this detection is a very bad idea. We detected the UK variant on 08 April 2021 but we allowed people to celebrate the New Year. I feel that the government is repeating the same mistake,” he said.

Dr. Fernando urged the government to have discussions with a broad section of experts in the coming two days and take a more informed decision as we are likely lose more valuable lives if we are not careful enough in our decision making. “I don’t think the government has sought advice from experts,” he said.

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SLPP will not let disputes with Gammanpila undermine govt.

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…will vote against SJB’s no-faith motion

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (18) said that whatever the differences the party had with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, it would not undermine President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government. A senior SLPP spokesperson said so when The Island sought their response to Samagi Jana Balavegaya planning to move a no-faith motion against attorney-at-law Gammanpila over the recent increase in prices of fuel.

The SJB early this week declared its intention to hand over a no-faith motion against Gammanpila to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. Already, the JVP and the UNP have questioned the SJB’s exercise.

The SLPP stood solidly with the stand taken by its General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, in respect of Minister Gammanpila, the official said. According to him, SJB’s certain defeat at the forthcoming vote should not be considered an endorsement of the energy minister.

However, the SJB would not be allowed to exploit the dispute between the party and Minister Gammanpila, under any circumstances, party sources said. The SLPP has been in touch with SLPP strategist Basil Rajapaksa, currently in the US, throughout the conflict, sources said.

The SJB’s no-faith motion would be easily defeated, sources said, pointing out that the SLPP group in the government parliamentary group accounted for 115 excluding the Speaker. The SJB parliamentary group comprised 54 members, including seven National List appointees. One of the NL members, Diana Gamage has switched her allegiance to the SLPP.

Sources revealed that on behalf of the SLPP group, the General Secretary of the party, lawmaker Kariyawasam discussed the developments with SLPP leader Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The SLPP group is expected to meet coming Monday (21) to reach consensus on a settlement. Sources said that a no holds barred discussion was with MP Kariyawasam getting an opportunity to explain his stand.

Referring to a statement dated June 12 issued by MP Kariyawasam demanding Minister Gammanpila’s resignation, SLPP underscored the need to set the record straight.

The SLPP General Secretary did not challenge the fuel increase announced by Minister Gammanpila as the party realized the government had no other option, sources said. However, there was no change in the SLPP’s stand in respect of Minister Gammanpila as he did nothing to improve the energy sector coming under his purview, sources said. The SLPP alleged that Minister Gammanpila had done nothing except taking advantage of gullible media.

Responding to another query, sources questioned the rationale in a recent statement issued by eight political parties, affiliated to the SLPP, in support of Minister Gammanpila. Except one political party therein, other parties comprised just one lawmaker each. There were two National List members, too among that eight-member group, sources said, adding that PHU, was represented in parliament by just one MP (Gammanpila.)

Sources said that the SLPP felt that there should be a consensus among the main party and its constituents on major policy decisions. Sources questioned the National Freedom Front (NFF) and the PHU pursuing an agenda inimical to the government. How could they take a different stand on some contentious issues publicly having been members of the cabinet of ministers, sources asked, accusing them of sabotaging key policy decisions.

The SLPP emphasized that the ruling coalition would have to reach a consensus on a common agenda or face catastrophic consequences.

Sources alleged that Weerawansa-Gammanpila led group sabotaged an agreement the incumbent administration worked out with India on the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Harbour.

Asked to explain, sources said that the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe had finalized agreements in respect of Mattala airport, ECT, remaining tanks at the Trincomnalee oil tank farm and LNG plant at Sampur with India. Following the last presidential election, the incumbent government decided to go ahead with only the ECT project in the Colombo South Harbour.

The SLPP said that the agreement on ECT was certainly not a popular one though it could have helped efforts to revive the national economy. But, Weerawansa-Gammanpila group as usual played politics with the issue at hand and took credit for stopping the project.

Sources said that the country would have faced eternal blackouts if the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave into pressure meant to stop Norochcholai coal-fired power plant.

 

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1,390 more lockdown violators arrested

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The police had arrested 1,390 persons who violated lockdown regulations on Thursday (17), Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said. The bulk of the arrests numbering 172 were made by the Kuliyapitiya Police, 133 by Matale Police and 121 by Kandy Police.

The police have arrested 38,311 people so far for violating quarantine regulations since 30 October 2020.

About 6,797 people were questioned at checkpoints set up at 14 entry and exit points in the Western Province on Thursday and 108 of them were warned and sent back for attempting to cross provincial borders in violation of the current travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Police are planning to carry out a special operation during this weekend to arrest those who violate health regulations by increasing mobile patrols, roadblocks and motorcycle patrols, DIG Rohana added.

Drone operations too will be conducted in Colombo and suburban areas to identify individuals who violate lockdown rules and regulations.

 

 

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