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Detection of first community spread Covid-19 case in two months ignites alarm

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Lockdown in Divulapitiya, Minuwangoda areas

Daughter also tests positive

By Rathindra Kuruwita and Norman Palihawadana

Head of the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, yesterday, urged the public to avoid crowded areas as much as possible and adhere to the health guidelines because it had not yet been established how the COVID-19 patient, detected in the Gampaha District, had got infected.

Lt. Gen. Silva said that the 39-year-old patient, an apparel worker, had received medical treatment at a private dispensary on September 28 and been later admitted to Gampaha Hospital due to a respiratory tract infection. She had undergone a PCR test and tested positive for COVID-19, he added.

“She has been sent to the IDH. Her family members, too, have been quarantined. Members of several families who closely associated the patient have been sent to a quarantine centre. The patient is a supervisor at a garment factory and all those who worked in the same building as she and those who travelled with her in an office vehicle have been undergoing self-quarantine since Saturday. All others who had come into contact with her have been quarantined. All of them have undergone PCR testing.”

“As the security forces and health officials have not been able to trace her contact, a curfew has been declared in Divulapitiya and Minuwangoda Police areas until further notice, Lt. Gen. Silva said.

“Those who traveled to these areas too must be careful because we don’t know the source of the virus in this instance yet. At least half of those who work in the factory are residential but others come into contact with society. We are taking steps.”

The army commander reminded the people that they needed to adhere to health guidelines and should not lower their guard.

Head of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told The Island that it was the first COVID-19 patient found at the community level in two months. Samaraweera warned the community spread of the virus was possible at any time.

“It is important for people to stay at home as much as possible. We have been lucky to identify her due to random testing. I think we must continuously remind people that they should avoid crowded areas, continue physical distancing, wear masks and wash their hands in the prescribed manner regularly. It is also important for workplaces to follow guidelines and keep an eye on their workers.”

The daughter of the 39-year-old woman too had tested positive by yesterday evening, according to hospital sources.



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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