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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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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.

 

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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways

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Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:

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Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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