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Dr. Jasinghe accommodated in Covid-19 consultative process as infections spike

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Amidst an overwhelmed health system

by SURESH PERERA

In the backdrop of the alarming spike in the dreaded Covid-19 contagion across the country, the move by the government to bring back to the fold Consultant Surgeon, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, was termed a “step in the right direction” by medical officials, as an overwhelmed health system struggles to tackle the raging pandemic.

Even at this late stage, it was a wise decision to seek the expertise of Dr. Jasinghe, widely credited for spearheading the thrust to control the transmission of the life-threatening virus when it first erupted in Sri Lanka in March this year, health officials said.

The move to accommodate the senior medical administrator in the government’s coronavirus preventive process was announced by Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi in Parliament on Wednesday.

The exit of Dr. Jasinghe as Director-General of Health Services (DGHS), ostensibly on a “promotion” as Secretary to the Environment Ministry, drew heavy flak, with questions being raised over the irrelevancy of his medical knowledge and expertise in an alien institution, particularly at a time the country was facing the worst health emergency in its history.

With the outbreak of the Covid-19 cluster in Minuwangoda, it was simple logic that the virus – described as a new virulent strain with a bigger viral load – could spread to the Peliyagoda fish market situated within the same (Gampaha) district, health officials said.

With hundreds of consumers, wholesalers and retailers from Colombo and its suburbs thronging the complex, in addition to scores of lorries transporting loads of fish from many parts of the country calling over there on a daily basis, the Peliyagoda fish market was a virtual ticking time bomb waiting to explode, they asserted.

 

It was a sitting duck, they opined, but those in the health sector could not foresee the potential threat and warn the government that the highly contagious virus could have literally “come walking to the crowded Peliyagoda fish market” resulting in a country-wide spread with disastrous consequences.

“The country is now paying a heavy price for lack of foresight or rather common sense to adopt basic precautionary measures in a bid to avert a full-blown crisis leading to a devastating fallout”, they remarked.

Right people in the right places is the answer to serious efforts to stem the potent Covid-19 tide, the officials suggested, adding that tail-waggers should be kept at bay at least until the country overcomes the critical threat, which has disrupted lives and ruined the national economy.

Welcoming Dr. Jasinghe’s return to the Covid-19 control mechanism, they said the folly of edging out medical experts with proven track records has left the country tottering under the grave threat of a pandemic which has swept across many districts in the country.

The Gampaha district, where the second wave of the virus erupted with the Minuwangoda cluster, saw a relative dip in the number of infections over the past week, but the discovery of 111 asymptomatic patients on Wednesday has caused fresh concern over a possible resurgence, medical sources said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rosy Senanayake called for more PCR testing of people living in areas still under lockdown within Colombo municipal limits.

There’s no purpose in keeping these people confined if there are no tests done as the whole idea is to ensure they are not carriers of the virus, she told The Sunday Island.



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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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