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Crisis over fuel price hike: SLPP constituents crank up pressure on party General Secretary

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Eight lawmakers representing political parties affiliated to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to take action against SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, for challenging the government decision to increase fuel prices.

The group consists of National List MP Ven. Athureliye Rathana (Our Power of People Party), Wimal Weerawansa (National Freedom Front), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Democratic Left Front), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (LSSP), A.L.M. Athaulla (National Congress), G. Weerasinghe (Communist Party), Tiran Alles (United People’s Party) and Asanka Nawaratne (Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya) in a joint letter, dated June 14, have appealed for the immediate intervention of the President and the Premier in this regard.

Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Alles are among 17 appointed to Parliament on the SLPP National List.

They warned that failure to take tangible measures against such actions would result in the deterioration of public confidence in the government. The SLPP parliamentary group comprises 145 MPs.

The group of lawmakers was responding to SLPP National List MP Kariyawasam’s controversial call for the immediate resignation of Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over the sharp increase of fuel prices at midnight on June 11.

They issued the statement consequent to a hasty  meeting called at Minister Weerawansa’s official residence on Sunday.

Noting that the Presidential Secretariat, too, on Sunday confirmed that the decision to increase fuel prices had been taken on June 09 at a meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and attended by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, the group of MPs accused the SLPP General Secretary of causing a wholly unnecessary problem. The group alleged that MP Kariyawasam’s actions had caused suspicion among the electorate whether a clique was in operation in the SLPP.

Minister Gammanpila, embroiled in simmering controversy has refrained from signing the petition though he called another press conference today (15) to explain the developments.

 The group said that in view of the financial crisis that had been caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic the government was forced to increase fuel prices in spite of it being an unpopular measure.

Political sources pointed out that in February this year MP Sagara Kariyawasam caused a media furore when he asked Minister Weerawansa to apologise for suggesting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be accommodated in the SLPP decision-making body. The group that has thrown its weight  behind Minister Gammanpila also clashed with a section of the SLPP lawmakers over the government bid to allow Indian investment at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port.

MP Kariyawasam did not answer his mobile phone.

In addition to MP Kariyawasam, MP Jagath Kumara (Colombo District) too strongly condemned the fuel price hike.

The SLPP MPs demanding action against Kariyawasam assured that they would soon submit a comprehensive proposal to President Rajapaksa to provide support to low income groups.

The Presidential Secretariat said that the price increase was necessitated by the financial crisis caused by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) being heavily indebted  to the Bank of Ceylon  and the People’s Bank to the tune of Rs 737 bn. Of that sum, CPC owed Rs 652 bn, the biggest single amount in any of the state sector enterprises.

The Samagi Jana Balavegagaya MP Mujibur Rahman said that Minister Gammanpila owed an explanation why he made the announcement as regards the fuel price hike as the matter came under the purview of the Finance Ministry.  Rahman pointed out that Minister Gammanpila himself subsequently admitted that only the Finance Ministry could decide on this matter. The former UNP MP said that the government’s much touted claim that the decision to increase fuel prices had been finalized on June 09 at the Cost of Living Committee was nothing but a joke. “We thought the Cost of Living Committee was meant to provide relief to the people not to increase their burden,” MP Rahman said.

The SJB spokesperson ridiculed the statement issued by a group of eight MPs. He alleged that the SLPP was staging a drama to divert the attention of the public. Their parliamentary group should take up responsibility for the current crisis having promised to transform the country overnight. Those who had voted for the 20th Amendment in October last year as well as the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill last month were engaged in a futile campaign to save the government, the SJB MP said.



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Even four months after first jab antibodies generated by Covishield vaccine remain active – expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A significant amount of antibodies created by the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine remained even 16 weeks after receiving the first jab, Dr. Chandima Jeewandara of the Allergy, Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, Department of Immunology Molecular and Molecular Medicine of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura said yesterday.

“We studied this because it was a serious issue due to hundreds of thousands of people have not received the booster doses yet. Our research shows that a significant amount of antibodies remains in those who received the first dose. This is good news and I think we can give them the second dose. But we have to conduct tests.”

Dr. Jeewandara said they would soon release a report on antibodies that developed due to the Sputnik-V vaccine, and a similar report on the Moderna vaccine too would be released in a month or two.

Dr. Jeewandara said that 500 Sputnik-V recipients and 600 Moderna recipients were being studied.

Commenting on a recent study by the department on the development of antibodies by those given the Sinopharm vaccine where it was found that vaccine induced antibody responses in over 95% of individuals, similar to levels seen following natural COVID-19 illness, Dr. Jeewandara said that the study had addressed a key concern people had about Sinopharm.

“One of the biggest problems is that we have little data on Sinopharm. This study tries to fill that,” he said.

Dr. Jeewandara said that the university had started measuring efficacy and antibodies from vaccines since Sri Lanka started administering them. The first vaccine they started studying was Covishield, he said.

“Let me explain the process. We take a blood sample before vaccination. We do that to identify antibody levels before vaccination. In Sri Lanka most people who contract COVID19 don’t develop symptoms. So we do this as a baseline blood test. Then we get a second sample before the second jab is given and a third sample at a time the manufacturer recommends as the best time to check antibodies.”

In the case of Sinopharm, the third sample was taken two weeks after the second jab. The researchers look at the level of antibodies and T-cell response because they are the two main tools to fight or prevent the virus or prevent serious illness, he said. A person can either get antibodies from contracting the virus or through vaccination, Dr. Jeewandara said.

“These are not efficacy tests. Efficacy is measured in a controlled clinical trial and is based on how many people who got vaccinated developed the ‘outcome of interest’ (usually the disease) compared with how many people who got the placebo (dummy vaccine) developed the same outcome. What we did was to test antibodies but this hints at vaccine efficacy too. Immunity and protection tend to be similar in both tests.”

Dr. Jeewandara said that Sri Lanka was an interesting case study because most Sri Lankans were genetically similar and that one variant usually dominates the country. However, Sri Lanka used several vaccines, giving the country an excellent opportunity to find out what vaccine was best.

“We also studied Covishield and over 90% of people vaccinated with it had developed antibodies,” he said.

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Natural disasters affected 1,512,344 persons last year

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

During 2020, 1,512,344 persons belonging to 412,520 families were affected by natural disasters and out of them 19,872 families were placed in 202 shelters, the Annual Performance Report of the State Ministry of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management for the year 2020 has said.

The State Ministry added that 62 deaths were reported in 2020 due to natural disasters, 393 houses were completely destroyed, 30,317 houses were partially damaged, and 2,911 small and medium scale businesses were damaged.

The government spent Rs. 12.7 million to provide them with cooked meals, Rs. 18.6 million for dry rations, Rs. 5.5 million to compensate the dead, Rs. 130 million to provide them with drinking water. In total Rs. 166.8 million were spent on those affected by natural disasters in 2020.

“Based on estimates of the assessment of damages made by an assessment committee, compensation of up to a maximum of Rs. 2.5 million was paid to home appliances, and to buildings and equipment of small and medium scale business that do not exceed an annual income of Rs. 10.0 million and that are not benefited under any other insurance coverage. Further, an advance of Rs. 10,000 was also given to the victims to quickly repair the damaged houses due to natural disasters until the damage assessment is done. This money was paid through National Insurance Trust Fund and Provisions from the Treasury. Rs. 287.9 million and Rs. 320.7 million were paid from those two sources between April 2019 and December 2020,” the report said.

The report highlighted that a large number of people are being affected by dry weather and that many people suffer being unable to meet their daily drinking water needs. In 2017, 1,113,858 families were affected by dry weather, in 2018, 567,987 families were affected, and in 2019, 312,383 families were affected.

“In 2020, 364 tractor bowsers, 133 lorry bowsers and 11,936 water tanks were provided to all Districts to provide water to 310,742 affected families from drought,” the report said.

The relevant District Secretaries were also provided with Rs. 143 million in 2020 to supply drinking water to affected families.

 

 

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New guidelines for weddings soon – Health Ministry

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Health Ministry will soon amend health guidelines on weddings after hundreds of complaints had been received on behaviour that could lead to superspreader events, a ministry spokesman said.

“We have allowed weddings to take place with 25% seating capacity or a maximum of 150 people but drinking and dancing are not permitted. We have received many complaints of drunk people and other guests dancing on fully packed dance floors. Covid-19 guidelines are not followed” he said.

Given this development the Ministry would soon amend the guidelines so certain activities can’t be carried out, he said.

Earlier yesterday General Shavendra Silva, Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID 19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) said wedding guests were behaving irresponsibly and there was a high possibility wedding clusters emerging.

“We have set the maximum number of people who can attend a wedding at 150 but in some areas many more people attend wedding receptions. We have allowed these weddings to take place on humanitarian grounds but if people abuse freedom given to them we will all be in trouble. Over 1,500 Covid-19 cases are still reported daily.”

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