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Expert advises public, private sectors invest in modern technology as in HK, Taiwan, Singapore

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Long-term solutions even after present pandemic

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The public and private sectors should invest in the latest technologies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and remotely identify those who had contracted the virus to minimise disruptions to the economy, Pharmaceutical and healthcare management consultant Dr. Sanjaya Perera told The Island yesterday.

Dr. Perera said that since 2020 three lockdowns had been imposed, but the country had not benefited.

“We have also imposed lockdowns at the wrong times. We allowed people to party in April 2021. We also relaxed too fast when experts said we have the delta variant in Colombo. Everyone agrees that closing the country almost at regular intervals is bad, we have to take steps so that this doesn’t happen,” he said.

Perera, who works as a consultant in East Asia and Europe said that investment in new technology and adhering to strict travel guidelines had helped many institutions to function without continuous disruptions. Last year, a number of institutions had introduced machines that could easily detect those with COVID-19 and protect those who worked in air conditioned environments, he said.

“For example there are new technologies like infrared thermal monitoring, which are widely used in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. High-performance infrared thermal cameras are set-up at airports or at entrances to offices to capture people’s thermal images in real time, easily identifying people with fever. There are new machines powered by artificial intelligence that can identify those who have 0.01 higher temperature. These machines can also work as an attendance register that can be accessed by HR officers from anywhere. I am glad that some top private firms have already set up these machines,” he said.

Perera said that Sri Lanka had kept its airports open for the most part of the pandemic and a number of COVID-19 infected people had come through without detection. Health sector unions had called for stricter measures but the government had cited inconveniences to passengers for not implementing tougher policies.

“Singapore Airport is now using a breath test to detect Covid-19 that gives accurate results within a minute. A person blows into a one-way valve mouthpiece, and compounds in the person’s breath – think of it as a breath signature – are compared by machine learning software against the sort of breath signature that would be expected from someone who’s Covid-positive. We can clear passengers in minutes. If the government wants to keep the airport open it should invest in these technologies,” he said.

Dr. Perera pointed out that SARS-CoV-2 could remain on various surfaces and that caused serious issues when schools, offices and factories were open. The virus could remain outside, especially in places that were not exposed to the sun and in air conditioned places.

In the past year researchers had looked at UV radiation, in particular UV-C to inactivate different viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, he added

“With machines that emit UV-C radiation you can easily disinfect surfaces. If you place such a machine near an AC machine, it can kill most of the viruses there. There are also handheld devices that people can use to disinfect documents, pens, and other things that you touch. Another technology we can use is pathogen testing. We can place this unit at the office, and it will capture pathogens that people at work emit. At the end of the day, a lab can test and find out if a person there has contracted COVID-19. This way we don’t need to check everyone at work, we can just check the people who came on that day,” he said.

Dr. Perera said that while some of those technologies were expensive, investing on the long term solutions and protocols would benefit the economy greatly in the long term. Already the government spent large amounts of money on testing, quarantining and treating people and frequent lockdowns too had cost colossal sums, he said.

“Also these investments are not only for COVID-19. Even if COVID goes away, we can still use this equipment to make the office environment safer for the workers. A healthy workforce is good for business and both the private and public sector must understand this,” he said.



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Self-Employed Traders petition SC over govt. favouring liquor dealers

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By A.J.A Abeynayake

The Supreme Court has decided take up, on 04 Oct. for hearing a petition filed by the Association of Self-Employed Traders against the opening of liquor stores during the current lockdown.

 The traders have requested the apex court to order the government to allow members of their union to engage in business activities since the liquor stores had been allowed to reopen during the lockdown.

The petition was taken up before a three-judge bench comprising justices L. T. B. Dehideniya, Shiran Gooneratne and Janak de Silva, yesterday.

 The State Counsel appearing for the respondents said he had received the relevant documents pertaining to the case only last Friday evening. Therefore, the State Counsel requested the court to give him time to seek advice from the respondents who were many.

Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva, appearing for the petitioner at the time, said about 7,000 members of his client union had lost their livelihoods due to the decision by the respondents.

Therefore, Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva requested the court to give an early date for considering the petition.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court decided to take up the petition for consideration on 04 Oct and directed the lawyers of the petitioners to take steps to send notice to the respondents before that date.

The petition was filed by the President of the United National Self-Employed Trade Association G.I. Charles, its Vice President P.G.B. Nissanka, and Secretary Krishan Marambage.

The petition names 47 respondents, including the Director General of Health Services, the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of Excise.

The petitioners allege that under the quarantine law, the Director General of Health Services, who is the competent authority, issued a notice on Aug 20 prohibiting the opening of liquor stores.

The petitioners point out that steps were taken to open liquor stores countrywide contrary to the regulations of the Health Authority.

The Director General of Health Services, the Commissioner General of Excise and the Inspector General of Police have stated that they have not allowed the reopening of liquor stores.

The petitioners have also requested the Supreme Court to issue an order to the respondents to allow the members of their association to engage in business activities as the liquor stores are allowed to remain open.

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Lankan born newly elected Norwegian MP Gunaratnam calls for investments here

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Newly elected Norwegian Labour Party MP, Lankan born Kamzy Gunaratnam says she will ask the new Norwegian government to continue engagement with the country of her birth.

 Speaking at a virtual media conference on Sunday night, Gunaratnam said that she does not believe that boycotting Sri Lanka is the way forward.

“I don’t believe in boycott. There needs to be investments. Only that will ensure employment,” she said.

Gunaratnam said that she is also prepared to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if invited, for talks.

She said that Norway must continue to assist Sri Lanka through trade, education and in other ways.

Gunaratnam said that she will also discuss with her party and the new Norwegian Foreign Minister, as well as the Norwegian Ambassador in Sri Lanka and see how best Norway can assist the country.

Gunaratnam said that Sri Lankans must also decide the best solution for Sri Lanka and not any foreign country. She said that Sri Lanka must not wait for foreign pressure to work on a solution.

The newly elected Norwegian MP also said that minority rights in Sri Lanka must be protected.

As a Norwegian MP she said that her main focus in the Norwegian Parliament will be to push for equality in Norway.

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Going to IMF best solution, says Ranil

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UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists that a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is necessary to mitigate impact of the growing debt repayment crisis; homegrown solutions are not effective.

“Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka’s debt problem has increased at a time when there is a global debt problem. This makes the situation more challenging and complex. Sri Lanka is a highly import-dependent economy,” Wickremesinghe said during a panel discussion, organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka on Saturday.

The UNP leader said that the government shouldn’t sell state assets to ease off the shortage of foreign exchange to have breakfast but reinvest those proceeds back in the economy. “Going to the IMF is the best solution,” Wickremesinghe said.

With reference to homegrown solutions, he referred to the mess caused by the government in promoting Dhammika peniya as one of the failed measures earlier on to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Prime Minister said that Sri Lanka should use the current situation to forge ahead with structural and public sector reforms which were postponed due to political considerations in the past.

The former PM suggested that the re-opening of the country be delayed till mid-October.

In responding to the issue of debt management in Sri Lanka, the UNP leader said that the most pressing concern is addressing the dwindling foreign exchange reserves of the country.

He explained that the regional foreign exchange reserves were projected to increase over the course of the year, however, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves were on a downward trend.

He also said that economic recovery based on a resurgence of the tourism industry would be uncertain, and until airline ticket prices were reduced it was unlikely that tourist arrivals would increase significantly.

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