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Decisions on disposal of bodies of COVID-19 victims should be based on scientific evidence – JVP

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JVP propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath addressing a press conference held at the JVP Headquarters in Pelawatte on Thursday

By Saman Indrajith

The JVP, on Thursday, urged the government to solve the issue of cremating the bodies of Muslim victims of COVID-19 pandemic without further delay to prevent the issue developing into a crisis.

Addressing the media at the JVP Headquarters in Pelawatte, party propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the government should take a decision on the burial of COVID-19 victims on the basis of scientific facts. “The government sticks to its policy of cremating the bodies of Muslim COVID-19 victims despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) approving burials. The Muslim community’s coronavirus victims are being forcefully cremated against their religious belief. The process of cremation is forbidden in Islam, which requires members of the faiths to be buried. This is an extremely sensitive issue.”

Herath said that cremations were consistent with the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, but the Islamic traditions required burial of the dead. “In April, the government made cremations compulsory for all victims of the pandemic. That decision resulted in criticism from rights groups and international organizations. It is reported that this is the only country in the world to have forced cremations during the pandemic, ignoring advice that permits burials from the WHO.”

“World renowned Sri Lankan pathologist and virologist Dr Malik Peiris has stated clearly that there is no scientific basis for the claim that the coronavirus spreads if the COVID-19 victims are buried. Former epidemiologist of the Health Ministry and WHO Regional Advisor on vaccine-preventable diseases in the South East Asia region Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, too, has confirmed this. Former Deputy Director of Health Services also holds the same view. Therefore, the government should change its unreasonable stance and look into the scientific facts and make a decision quickly. Now, the issue has got politicised.

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SL hopeful of getting first stock of Covid-19 jab within weeks

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by Suresh Perera

The first consignment of 200,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 is expected to reach Sri Lanka by the end of January or early February, a senior health official said.

The stock of the newly developed US vaccine, now being administered in many countries across the globe, will be channeled to Colombo through the World Health Organization (WHO), he noted.

The WHO has agreed to provide around 4.2 million qualified vaccines to Sri Lanka to inoculate about 20 percent of the population.

“We are optimistic that the vaccination pledged by Pfizer/BioNTech will be the first lot to arrive so that we will able to initiate the Covid-19 inoculation campaign at least by next month (February)”, the high-ranking official said.

Though March was initially looked at to kick-start the vaccination drive, the possibility of it happening earlier is on the cards with access to the jab now virtually in sight, he noted.

“The sooner the vaccinations are administered, the better”, the official remarked, referring to the surging pandemic, which has so far killed 247 patients and infected 50,901 in Sri Lanka.

Asked about the Chinese and Indian products, he opined that it will possibly take time as the accepted practice is that all drugs have to be registered with three different regulatory bodies and approved by at least five referral countries before they are used in Sri Lanka.

“We have to work according to WHO guidelines”, he commented.

“We are comfortable with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as it has already been approved by the US Food & Drugs Administration, TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) of Australia and regulators in Japan and Singapore among others”, he said.

The vaccine has been given the green light by regulators in the UK, US, EU and more than 40 other countries.

BioNTech said it had shipped almost 33m doses of the vaccine so far from six manufacturing sites in the US and Europe.

“We had originally pledged to make 1.3bn doses in 2021 but now intend to provide as many as 2bn”, BioNTech said in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government has informed the WHO that it has initiated the process of improving cold chain requirements for the storage of doses ahead of inoculation.

With the country laying the groundwork to receive the Covid-19 vaccines, infrastructure facilities are being improved to accommodate the stocks, which have to be stored at a temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius.

At hospital level, they will have to stored at minus level temperature, if the need arises.

The WHO says that at present there are more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in trials.

“We are working in collaboration with scientists, business, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries”, the world body said on its website.

“People most at risk will be prioritized. While we work towards rolling out a safe and effective vaccine fairly, we must continue the essential public health actions to suppress transmission and reduce mortality”, it stressed.

In a bid to stem the deadly Covid-19 surge, Sri Lanka is also exploring the possibility of importing the Oxford-AstraZeneca product from the United Kingdom or the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

The Sinovac vaccine manufactured in China and the Indian AztraZeneca are also being looked at, officials said.

Beijing has responded positively to a request by President Rajapaksa to Chinese President Xi Jinping for assistance in accessing the vaccine developed by China to curb the coronavirus threat.

International media reports spoke of nine million people in China already receiving the jabs. The vaccines were being used in 10 countries including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

According to Army Commander, Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Center for Prevention of Covid-19, all options on the table are being considered to procure a proven global vaccine to set in motion the inoculation initiative in Sri Lanka.

Lalith Weeratunga, senior Adviser to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who heads a committee on the procurement of the vaccines, will oversee the coordination process of importing the jabs to Sri Lanka. Medical expertise towards this end will come from Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Secretary to the Health Ministry, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, Secretary to the State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and COVID Disease Control and Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, President of the GMOA amongst others.

Meanwhile, a group of corporates headed by Brandix Lanka Limited has pledged Rs. 7 billion (US$ 50 million) to the government to procure vaccines against Covid-19.

Brandix Lanka Chairman Ashroff Omar has already discussed the modalities of the financial commitment with State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and senior health officials.

On an understanding reached, priority will be accorded to Brandix employees in administering the first doses of the vaccines procured with the funds provided by the corporate for this purpose.

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State Minister wants SD&CC to make profits and contribute towards the economy

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A discussion on streamlining the operations of the State Development and Constructions Corporation (SD&CC) and turn it around into a profit-making institution to contribute towards the country’s economy was held on Wednesday.

State Minister for Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure, Nimal Lanza, chaired the meeting at the institution in Ratmalana.

Under the President’s ‘Vision of Prosperity’ concept, the SD&CC will be entrusted with future development work. It will be tasked with the development of 100,000km of roadways and rural bridge projects aimed at replacing old bridges and vine bridges.

Established in 1971, the SD&CC has contributed towards many government development projects, including building roads, bridges, irrigation, water supply, precast concrete products, road signs and other construction activities.

The State Minister said the physical and human resources of the institution should be properly managed and action taken to make it a profitable institution by minimizing the cost of the projects implemented.

He said the company should work towards achieving high efficiency by submitting new plans based on the recommendations of its officials.

Lanza instructed the officials to pay more attention to the high priority and profitable sectors in the implementation of various projects and to submit new plans and proposals for the development of the institution and the implementation of new projects expeditiously.

R. W. R. Pemasiri, Secretary to the Ministry of Highways and D. P. M. Chandana, Chairman, State Development and Construction Corporation, were also present.

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Sri Lanka Insurance launches ‘Nagaraja’ – an exclusive medical insurance for Buddhist clergy

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Sri Lanka Insurance launched ‘Nagaraja’ an exclusive medical insurance cover to provide protection for Buddhist clergy and their family members.

The official hand over of the insurance policy took place recently at Temple Trees with the participation of the Maha Sangha, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Vidura Wickramanayaka State Minister of National heritage, Performing Arts and Rural Arts promotion, senior officials of the Prime Minister’s Office, Jagath Wellawatta, Chairman of SLIC and the corporate management.

This unique insurance scheme will be available at Sri Lanka Insurance branches island-wide for the public to purchase at Rs. 2000/- and offer as pirikara to the Sanga.

The ‘Nagaraja’ insurance scheme also falls under the ‘Insurance for All” concept of Sri Lanka Insurance to provide protection for each and every citizen of Sri Lanka.

Under the insurance scheme, Buddhist clergy will receive inpatient benefits of Rs. 1,000/- per day for hospitalization in a government or private hospital (up to 15 days), Rs. 25,000/- on expenses incurred on drugs purchased and tests, scans and X-rays as an inpatient in a government or private hospital.

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