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Even after H’tota sellout, govt. didn’t take remedial measures – Arjuna

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga yesterday (20) told The Island that the ongoing deepening controversy over the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill underscored Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to adopt a common stand in respect of matters of national importance.

 Ranatunga compared the handing over of the Hambantota port to China, under controversial circumstances on a 99-year-lease, in July 2017, with the Colombo Port City project to be managed in terms of the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Act.

 The former lawmaker said that he gave up ports and shipping ministry as he didn’t want to endorse the disputed agreement under any circumstances.

 Ranatunga contested the Gampaha district on the UNP ticket at the last general election, but couldn’t retain his seat like all other party candidates, barring for a solitary National List seat.

 Responding to another query, Ranatunga said that the Port City Project, too, had been under the purview of the ports and shipping ministry. But the yahapalana administration following consultations with him, brought the Port City project under the then Megapolis minister Patali Champika Ranawaka’s purview.

 Ranatunga was replaced as Ports and Shipping Minister by SLFP Vice President and Kalutara District MP Mahinda Samarasinghe.

 Ranatunga emphasized that he gave up the ministry after the yahapalana government rejected a proposal prepared in consultation with the ministry and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). It was discarded by those bent on pursuing an agenda inimical to Sri Lanka, he charged.

 The then SLFPer Samarasinghe finalized the agreement on July 29, 2017. However, Samarasinghe contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket. He re-entered parliament from the Kalutara district.

 Former minister Ranatunga said that he was quite surprised by rejection of his proposal as he presented a sensible solution which addressed concerns of both countries. Ranatunga said that he didn’t want to remain as the ports and shipping minister at any cost.

 Acknowledging some support provided by the then his cabinet colleague Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse PC, as he struggled to thwart a plan inimical to the country, Ranatunga claimed that the Joint Opposition (SLPP now)  backed the agreement. Ranatunga pointed out that some tend to conveniently forget both Hambantota and Port City projects were initiated during the previous Rajapaksa administration.

 The Hambantota port project was initiated in 2007 at the height of the war, whereas the Port City got underway in late 2014.

 Appreciating the investments made by China in Sri Lanka over a period of time, Ranatunga stressed that the country couldn’t afford to enter into agreements detrimental to its interests. The former minister urged lawmakers, both opposed to the project as well as those backing it to be cautious in their approach.

 Noting that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) had been among those who petitioned the Supreme Court against the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, Ranatunga said that the handling of the Hambantota port agreement exposed him to how the country was being manipulated. “In spite of the Hambantota port coming under the purview of the Ports and Shipping Ministry, it didn’t really have a say. That is the undeniable truth,” Ranatunga said.

 The former MP questioned the rationale in reclaiming land adjacent to the Galle Face Green at such a huge cost as the project could have been set up in some other suitable location.

 Ranatunga said that he was not aware of the current status of the cases filed against the Hambantota port. Among those who filed cases was the then MP Vavudeva Nanayakkara. However, none of the 19 petitioners who moved the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, including BASL, ironically failed to figure in the legal challenge thrown against the Hambantota port deal.

 Ranatunga said due to failure on the part of the parliament to take remedial measures the country seemed to be repeating mistakes. The former minister regretted the overall failure to address contentious issues, such as major foreign investment which might threaten the country’s stability. The government and the main Opposition should bear the responsibility for both Hambantota and Port City projects as they proceeded with Hambantota and port city projects.

 Meanwhile, former National Policies and Economic Affairs State Minister Niroshan Perera yesterday (20) told The Island that some government lawmakers simply pursued a political agenda regardless of the consequences. Obviously, they ignored the possible consequences in case the government went ahead with the project, he claimed.

 



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Facilities for infected pregnant women inadequate – SLCOG

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The distribution and availability of high-flow oxygen machines to treat Covid-19 infected pregnant women were not adequate, President of the Sri Lanka College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (SLCOG,) Dr. Pradeep de Silva said yesterday.

Dr. de Silva said that while they had not yet faced any lack of oxygen in treating Covid-19 infected pregnant mothers, things could change rapidly given the limited availability of equipment. “Having an adequate supply of oxygen alone is not enough. You need high flow oxygen machines, and 50 litres of oxygen per minute is needed to operate a high flow oxygen machine. I do not know how many machines we have in this country but where I work, Castle Street Maternity Hospital has about four. We need to estimate the number of these machines we require and how much oxygen we want. From my understanding, the distribution and availability of high flow oxygen machines to treat Covid-19 infected pregnant mothers is not adequate.”

Dr de Silva said that Sri Lanka needed about 50–200 high-dependency unit (HDU) beds per district, based on the population, 10–50 high flow oxygen machines per district, four for ten ICU beds and two dedicated Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines.

“If we get this, we will be able to deal with pregnant women who develop complications from COVID-19 for the next four to five years,” he said.

Dr de Silva said that currently one pregnant woman who has been infected with COVID-19 is receiving ECMO treatment. There is also a shortage of beds at the Mulleriyawa Base Hospital, which has the largest ward dedicated to COVID-19 infected pregnant women. On Thursday, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Dr Mayuramana Dewolage, who heads the ward that treats COVID-19 infected pregnant women at the Mulleriyawa Base Hospital, said that they only had 37 beds were dedicated to pregnant women with COVID-19. They didn’t have any HDU or ICU beds dedicated for their use, he said.

“We share HDU and ICU beds with other patients at Mulleriyawa Base Hospital,” Dr Dewolage said.

The President of the SLCOG also urged all hospitals to find a separate space for pregnant women who were receiving treatment at their institutions. When COVID-19 pandemic started, the Health Ministry instructed all hospitals to do so but it was now obvious that those instructions had not been followed, he said.

“When the second wave started people got ready but later, they just stopped getting ready and now we are unprepared to meet the challenges of the third wave. We need to find a way to manage this. If the Ministry of Health has not prepared a plan, we are ready to help formulate one,” the President of the SLCOG said.

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Those who had AstraZeneca first jab, should take Sputnik V with adenovirus 26 – Specialist

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

If those who have taken the first dose of AstraZeneca are to receive a second jab of Sputnik V, they should take the first Sputnik V vaccine with adenovirus 26 (Ad26), Consultant Immunologist and head of the department of Immunology-MRI, Dr Nihan Rajiva de Silva says.

Dr. de Silva said that the first dose of Sputnik had Ad 26 and the second had adenovirus-5. “Adenovirus-5 is common. We may have been exposed to that and we may have developed antibodies. Adenovirus-26 is rarer and we will better respond to that. That is why the vaccine-maker has used adenovirus-26 in the first vaccine. So, if you had a first jab of AstraZeneca and you are to get the second dose from Sputnik-V remember to get the first jab,” Dr. de Silva said.

He added that any vaccine has the chance of reducing the severity of the virus and that the general public should get vaccinated when the opportunity is available.

Dr. de Silva said that there was a shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines because the Serum Institute of India could not deliver shipments as promised.

“However, we are now getting Sputnik V vaccines and we are looking at mixing them. There is a study in Russia about the efficiency of mixing Sputnik V with AstraZeneca and the results should be out soon. I can say that theoretically mixing the two vaccines should work,” he said.

Dr. de Silva added that the AstraZeneca vaccine should work against the new variant spreading in the country.

Consultant Cardiologist at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Dr. Gotabaya Ranasinghe said that those with heart issues, non-communicable diseases and were obese must get vaccinated to minimise the complications of Covid-19.

Dr. Ranasinghe said that those in the above-mentioned categories were at risk of contracting, getting complications and dying of COVID-19 and research had proven that vaccination would reduce the chance of such eventualities.

“If you worry about getting vaccinated, talk to your doctor. Don’t seek advice from friends and family,” he said.

Dr. Ranasinghe added that they had limited the number of heart surgeries they do due to COVID-19. ICU beds used for heart patients too were being now allocated for COVID-19 patients. “We only do the most pressing cases. But this means that the waiting list keeps on growing. Now, the waiting list is over eight months. If we limit the surgeries more and keep taking away ICU beds available for those who have had heart surgeries, the waiting list will grow further,” he said.

The Consultant Cardiologist also advised the public to eat healthy food and engage in moderate exercises, at least five days a week. This will reduce the mental stress as well as boost the immune system. ‘We recommend moderate exercises like jogging and brisk walking, for 30 minutes, five days a week. Being healthy is as important as wearing masks or adhering to physical distancing,” he said.

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STF raids narcotics distribution centre close to Bloemendhal police station

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Acting on information received from the Organised Crime Fighting Unit of the elite Special Task Force (STF), police commandos, on Thursday (6), arrested a person running a narcotic distributing network, 1.5 km away from the Bloemendhal police station.

The STF identified the suspect as Thawasidevan Pradeep Kumar, 21, a key associate of one Suresh with links to a criminal outfit run by Kimbulaele Guna, now absconding in India.

DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that the raiding party had recovered 2 kg, 22 g and 88mg of ‘ICE,’ with a street value of Rs 25 mn in addition to 4kg, 2 g and 527 mg of substance known as ‘hash,’ as well as Rs 400,000 in cash and a mobile phone.

Kimbulaele Guna is believed to have sought refuge following an LTTE attempt to assassinate President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the final PA presidential election rally at the Town Hall in December 1999.

DIG Rohana said that Guna’s brother Suresh was a major heroin distributor in Colombo. The STF later handed over the suspect, along with contraband and locally made ‘hash,’ and his phone to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB). The raid on the heroin distribution centre situated in Aluth Mawatha, Colombo 15, followed specific information received as regards the ‘operation’ conducted with impunity (SF)

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