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Fresh clusters could erupt despite slide in Covid-19 spread outside WP

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Senior medical official warns:

bY SURESH PERERA

Many districts outside the volatile Western province witnessed a slow-down in the transmission of Covid-19 over the past week, but the slide does not mean the worst is over as there’s every possibility of a fresh cluster erupting anywhere at any time, a senior medical official warned.

“Apart from the Western province, other districts in the country, which reported significantly high numbers earlier, have now seen an overall drop in the spread of the virus”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.

The overall coronavirus situation in these districts has improved with relatively lower positive cases emerging, he noted, while cautioning the public that dropping their guard could translate into a regression with the explosion of new clusters.

The Gampaha district, which earlier remained under lockdown as positive cases of the deadly virus hit a new high following the outbreak of the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda fish market clusters, has seen a gradual de-escalation with some areas deemed ‘high risk’ at one time witnessing a decline in terms of numbers, he explained.

It is encouraging that there have been no fresh cases reported from Minuwangoda, where the initial cluster within the Gampaha district erupted and spread to the free trade zone, Peliyagoda and Wattala in Colombo North, Dr. Herath stressed. “There was zero new patients from Katunayake as well”.

“With 500 plus Covid-19 patients reported from the Gampaha district in the Western province on Wednesday, I wouldn’t say there’s an overall significant big improvement as such, but some areas, where numbers were relatively high, have seen a decline with the virus in Minuwangoda and Katunayake dying down with zero new patients”, he outlined.

Some areas within the district still remain isolated with 28 Covid-19 patients discovered from Wattala and about seven to eight others from Biyagama and Negombo.

It cannot be said that “everything is going very nicely” in the Western province in relation to the spread of the contagion as many areas still remain ‘high risk’ amidst concerted efforts to tackle the threat, he said.

In addition, small clusters have also been identified in the Colombo district, including one at the Colombo port and another at a steel factory at Kotahena, he elaborated.

Asked about a possible time-frame to contain the raging pandemic in the Western province, Dr. Herath replied, “it’s difficult to predict, but the virus could die down within two to three weeks if no new clusters emerge. If the public adhere to preventive guidelines, an overall improvement in the situation can be expected. Otherwise, a new cluster could explode anywhere”

For example, if a Covid-19 patient visits a boutique and those who patronize it later fail to wear a face mask and touch surfaces and ignore the guidelines to wash their hands, a new cluster will emerge and spread to others they associate with, he said.

The public should also avoid visiting crowded places as the risk of infection is high. Without public support, it’s impossible to curb the threat. If people do what’s expected of them for their own safety and that of others, the virus will die down, he continued.

Asked about the relatively high number of infections from the Peliyagoda cluster, he said it could have happened due to droplets spreading out as the fish market is generally noisy.

On PCR testing, Dr. Herath said 10,000 per day capacity has already been reached with long-term plans to double the number, which means a bigger investment. Just as much as more random sampling in selected areas is called for, as the whole population cannot be screened, improving the efficiency of laboratories and reducing the operating time are also imperative to identify positive cases.

“We cannot unnecessarily spend funds on test kits without proper direction. There are asymptomatic patients who need to be identified through enhanced testing as the diagnosis cannot be done clinically”, he emphasized.

On the possibility of reopening the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), he said that it’s not practical to keep it closed indefinitely. It has to be reopened at some point though there are associated risks with a virus that is virulent.

If the risk factor is placed at 1%, of 1,000 people coming to the country, 50 could be infected and if 50,000 were to arrive, at least 500 could be carriers of the virus, he warned.

However, there’s no option but to take the risk as the country cannot afford to keep its gateway to world closed forever, Dr. Herath said.



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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