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Crisis won’t derail Covid-19 second jab:

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Vaccination drive begins today

… first round halted on 6 April

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Senior Presidential Advisor and head of Covid-19 vaccination project, Lalith Weeratunga said yesterday (27) that in spite of the fresh outbreak of a more virulent variant of the coronavirus  in the country, the government was confident of carrying out the second round of immunisation using the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine as scheduled.

Weeratunga, who also represents the Covid-19 Task Force said so when The Island sought an explanation as regards the growing Opposition accusations regarding the near collapse of the battle against the epidemic. Army Chief Gen. Shavendra Silva heads the Covid Task Force.

 “Let us refrain from playing politics with unprecedented health emergency or seeking political advantage at the expense of overall national effort,” Weeratunga said, assuring the government’s unwavering commitment to bringing the situation under control.

Weeratunga said that the second round of the vaccination programme would begin on Wednesday (28).

Responding to another query, Weeratunga said that at the time Sri Lanka launched the vaccination programme on January 29, 2021 after receiving the first consignment from India on the previous day, the manufacturer-Serum Institute of Pune, Maharashtra advised that the second jab should be administered after four weeks. Subsequently, the manufacturer asserted that the second job should be administered between 12 to 16 weeks, Weeratunga said.

 Admitting the severe difficulties caused by the spike in Covid-19 cases in the immediate aftermath of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Weeratunga emphasized the government wouldn’t try to justify the disruption of the vaccination programme under any circumstances.

 Of course, the ongoing crisis in India prompted Sri Lanka to explore ways and means of securing the required doses from other sources, Weeratunga said, adding that the second round gets underway with the country having six weeks supply in its hands.

 State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday told The Island that the current challenge was two-fold with the government having to undertake the second vaccination round while trying to contain the fresh outbreak.

Acknowledging a rapid increase in the numbers affected, Dr. Fernandopulle said now younger people had been infected with complications needing high flow oxygen.

 Emphasizing the heavy responsibility on all stakeholders, Dr. Fernandopulle said the public support was required to reduce what she called patient load.

 The State Minister said that the country was paying a price for lowering the guard during the festive reason.

 According to Dr. Fernandopulle, the government stopped the first round on April 6 in the wake of the total number of recipients reaching 927,000.

 Commenting on the AstraZeneca received in three separate consignments since the arrival of the first lot on January 28, Dr. Fernandopulle said altogether Sri Lanka received 1,264,000. Of them, India donated 500,000 doses, Sri Lanka purchased 500,000 and bought another 264,000 through high profile Covax project-the global mechanism for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

 In terms of the Covax initiative, AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and the Serum Institute of India have so far supplied vaccines to over 100 countries funded through the ‘Gavi Covax Advance Market Commitment.’

 Dr. Fernandopulle said that the current crisis was believed to have been caused by a new variant. Both State Minister Fernandopulle and Vaccination Chief Weeratunga said that as in the first round the health workers and armed forces would receive priority.

 Indian diplomatic sources told The Island that as far as the supply of AstraZeneca to Sri Lanka was concerned the situation remained the same with the last delivery in March in line with the Covax facility. Sources said that Sri Lanka was able to advance the first phase of the vaccination programme due to the early delivery made by the Serum Institute, sources said.

Senior Presidential Advisor Weeratunga also explained the government decision to acquire a substantial stock of Russia Sputnik V vaccine as part of the overall vaccination programme. According to him, the Russian deliveries would commence next week with Sri Lanka receiving 200,000 doses. Weeratunga said that altogether, the government would purchase 13 mn doses of Sputnik V.

 The Russian diplomatic sources told The Island yesterday that the Russian Direct Investment Fund was handling the transaction.

Sri Lanka on March 31 received 600,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine jointly developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products. Sri Lanka awaits WHO approval for the Chinese Vaccine to give it to locals, though Chinese nationals working in Sri Lanka were inoculated with it on a voluntary basis no sooner it was airlifted to the country by the national carrier SriLankan.

Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, the Chief Epidemiologist and Director General Health Services Dr Asela Gunawardena couldn’t be reached yesterday for comments as regards the developing situation.



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More heavy rain ahead for New Zealand’s largest city

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Auckland experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall on Friday (picture BBC)

BBC reported that residents in flood-hit northern New Zealand are bracing for more heavy rains as officials issued severe weather alerts.

At least four people have died and a state of emergency was declared in Auckland, which on Friday experienced its worst downpour on record.

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Information Dept. media release: EC Chief asks public not to be misled

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by Priyan de Silva

Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, Nimal Punchihewa, asked to comment on a special news release, purportedly issued by the Director General of the Department of Government Information, on Sunday (29), told  The Island  that preparations for the 09 March local government elections were going ahead, as planned, and that the media statement at issue was misleading.

The media statement says: “The gazette notice with signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission required for the commencement of the Local Government election process has not been sent to the Government Press for printing.”

Punchihewa requested the public not to be misled by any misinformation being spread in an attempt to create doubts in their minds.He also  reiterated that the EC would not be deterred by any acts of intimidation.

Three of the EC members have been threatened with death by an unidentified caller to resign from their posts. They are S. B. Divaratne, M. M. Mohamed and K. P. P. Pathirana. The Opposition has accused the government of trying to sabotage the LG polls.

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Cardinal urges Catholics to fight for justice

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 By Norman Palihawadane

Today’s Church does not need ‘sacristy Catholics’ but a laity who fight for justice, says Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

Addressing a gathering at a ceremony to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Deva Dharma Nikethanaya, at Archbishop’s House auditorium, at Borella, last week, the Cardinal said that turning every layperson into a mature Christian, fit for leadership, should be the foremost duty of the Catholic Church. “Once the Catholic Church functioned as a Bishop-priest centered church and did only what the Bishop of the priest would say. We have to change the outlook of the Church. Today, we no longer need such sacristy Catholics. We need a laity who are ready to get down to the streets and fight for justice and do what is right for society,” the Cardinal said.

“The Church needs Christians who will commit themselves for Christ and follow his example. We do not need spoon-fed babies,” he said.

He said that the Bishops and Priests should not be afraid of handing over the responsibilities to the laity. “We should share our responsibilities with joy. The Church cannot continue otherwise. Understanding this situation, Pope Francis wants to change the priest-centres position that has become a theoretical doctrine in the church and to study how the church should change in a way that suits the present world.”

Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka Rev Dr Brian Udaigwe and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference President Rt Rev Dr Harold Anthony Perera also addressed the gathering.

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