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Foreign Minister calls for enhancing of transport connectivity among BIMSTEC countries

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Lankan BIMSTEC Panel: State Minister for Regional Cooperation Tharaka Balasuriya, Foreign Secretary Admiral Professor Jayanath Colombage, Additional Secretary, Economic Affairs, PM Amza, Acting Director General, Economic Affairs, Anzul Jhan, Deputy Legal Affairs T H R Silva and Executive Assistant of Economic Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Kalani Dharmasena

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena addressing the virtual 17th Ministerial Meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Thursday, emphasized on enhancing the transport connectivity among the BIMSTEC countries.

The Foreign Minister also emphasized the need to focus on expediting the adoption of the BIMSTEC Transport Connectivity Master Plan which was finalized by the Third Working Group and the Asian Development Bank, the Foreign Ministry said.

Foreign Minister Gunawardena called for an early conclusion of the Charter of the Association of BIMSTEC Speakers and Parliamentarians, comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The Foreign Minister informed that the platform would provide Speakers and Parliamentarians space for greater understanding, trust and friendship and to exchange ideas and information on parliamentary practices and commitment on democratic principles. 

 The  Foreign Minister  was  elected  as  Chair of  the  meeting and State Minister for Regional Cooperation Tharaka  Balasuriya  led the  Sri  Lanka  delegation at the meeting.  On 31st March 2021, Foreign Secretary Admiral (ret.) Professor Jayanath Colombage led the Sri Lanka delegation at the Special Senior Officials’ meeting which preceded the Ministerial Meeting.

The Foreign Minister also emphasized the need to focus on expediting the adoption of the BIMSTEC Transport Connectivity Master Plan which was finalized by the Third Working Group and the Asian Development Bank. The Minister stated that transport connectivity which includes coastal shipping, waterways, ports and harbours used over centuries and today road connections and air cargo capable of withstanding future disruptions, is vital for the supply chains, people to people contact and development of the region.

The Foreign Minister welcomed the newly appointed Secretary General Mr. Tenzin Lekphell of Bhutan, and wished him success in leading the BIMSTEC Secretariat and pledged Sri Lanka’s support to all his endeavors.

The BIMISTEC Ministers reviewed the progress made since the fourth BIMSTEC Summit held in Kathmandu in 2018, where Sri Lanka was elected as Chair.

State Minister Balasuriya  said that  Sri Lanka fully focused its  energies  and  worked  closely  with Member States  to  finalize  the BIMSTEC Charter, building on the 1997 Bangkok Declaration. This Charter defines the long term vision and priorities for cooperation, delineates roles and responsibilities of different layers of institutional structure and decision making processes. In addition he stated that the Member States also prioritized and rationalized sectors and subsectors of the organization where Sri Lanka agreed to lead the sector on Science, Technology and Innovation with sub sectors Technology, Health and Human Resource Development. He stated that the relevant line agencies in Sri Lanka are developing a programme of action for the sector taking into consideration also the gaps exposed in the relevant areas by the pandemic.

He informed that the current pandemic has amply demonstrated the importance of technology. In  this  connection Sri Lanka  is also  getting ready to  host the Technology Transfer  Facility  in Sri Lanka upon conclusion  of the  Memorandum of Association  at the  5th BIMSTEC Summit. 

The Ministers  noted  with appreciation  the extensive  measures  taken by  member States  of  BIMSTEC  in responding  and  supporting  Member States  to face challenges  posed  by the COVID-19 pandemic and   urged  member states to mobilize  all relevant  sectors and sub sectors to take  collective  measures  to combat  the  challenges  of poverty, natural  disasters,  climate  change, pandemics and  other public  health  emergencies, terrorism and transnational  crimes, and food  and energy  security  through  partnerships and  joint actions.

While noting with appreciation  the extensive  measures  taken by  Member States of  BIMSTEC, State Minister   further noted that the   COVID-19   has   devastated  economies of member states  in various  degrees and  the BIMSTEC  region no longer  enjoys US$3 trillion economy, which accounts for 4 per cent of the global GDP and 3.7 per cent of the global trade. Therefore, he urged Member States to continue to share experiences, cluding success, challenges and lessons learnt in building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic through inclusive, resilient sustainable recovery strategies and investments.

The Sri Lanka  Delegation informed  the meeting that   the date  to  host   the 5th  BIMSTEC Summit  will be  informed   after  consultations  with   Member States   through the BIMSTEC Secretariat in the  coming  months.

The Ministers approved the finalized BIMSTEC Agreements, Conventions and MoUs and other documents and instruments including the Ministerial Joint Statement envisaged to be signed /adopted at the 5th BIMSTEC Summit.

The Member States delegations were led by Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. Tandi Dorji, Foreign Minister of Bhutan, Dr. S.Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs of India, U Ko Ko Hlaing, Union Minister, Ministry of International Cooperation Myanmar, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister for Foreign Affairs Nepal, Tharaka Balasuriya, State Minister of Regional Cooperation c of Sri Lanka and Don Paramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand.

The delegation from Sri Lanka also comprised P.M. Amza, Additional Secretary, Economic Affairs, Anzul Jhan, Acting Director General, Economic Affairs, T H R Silva, Deputy Legal Affairs and Kalani Dharmasena, Executive Assistant of Economic Affairs of the Foreign Ministry.



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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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