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GL: Vaccine no panacea, don’t lower guard



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (27) warned that vaccines were not the panacea for the unprecedented Covid-19 challenge. Declaring that the government was to receive the first consignment of vaccine on Thursday afternoon, Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, urged the public to follow health guidelines in spite of the launch of a high profile vaccination programme.

The acute warning was given at the opening day of a well-attended national conference, titled “COVID-19: Impact, Mitigation, Opportunities and Building Resilience” at the BMICH.

The National Science Foundation organised the event. Asserting that there had been what he called a great deal of misinformation, Prof. Peiris said that right decisions could be made on the basis of right information and right direction. Therefore, the people should keep in mind the vaccines available to the world was certainly not a panacea for the crisis. Failure to follow guidelines or in other words if the public lowered their guard there would be a calamity.

However, the availability of vaccines would definitely change the public mindset, the top academic said. The availability of what the Minister called a potent weapon would change the mood of despondency.

India and China have assured free supply of 500,000 and 300,000 doses of anti-Covid-19 vaccines, respectively. The Indian consignment is due today.

Among those present at yesterday’s event were internationally acclaimed Virologist Prof. Malik Peiris, Dr. Palitha Abeykoon, WHO representative in SE Asia and State Minister Seetha Arambepola

Over 80 papers on the issues at hand were to be presented, including presentations by internationally renowned scientists of Sri Lankan origin from Europe, Oceania, North America, Africa and Asia.

As Prof. Malik Peiris has asserted that what was needed was to respond to the continuing health emergency in a productive and meaningful manner, which was an essential prerequisite for a multi-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary approach.

Pointing out that Prof. Peiris also emphasized the unpredictability of the threat, Minister Peiris said: “None of us. No country was prepared for Corona because there was no previous experience at any level. Prof. Malik Peiris quoted a notable French philosopher as having said that nature was going to strike back at an unpredictable time in an unforeseeable manner.

The education minister said: “That is exactly what happened. Not only Sri Lanka, but the entire world has been taken unawares. The crisis is upon us. We have to respond to it swiftly and effectively. We have to innovate. We are in uncharted waters. That is the essence of the challenge.”

“We must have courage. We must have faith in ourselves, Minister Peiris said, pointing out how the Education ministry coped with an extremely dicey situation. The Education Ministry had to take some decisions in that regard, Prof. Peiris said, pointing out that there were two ways to respond to an emerging crisis. One could put off everything because things could go wrong. Otherwise, the crisis could be tackled though things could go wrong, the one-time Foreign Minister said.

The minister explained how through measures issues could be dealt with, though particular situations couldn’t be brought under control, totally.

Prof Peiris explained how Year 5 Scholarship examination and the GCE Advanced Level examinations were conducted just weeks after the second Covid-19 eruption in the first week of Oct, 2020 while interested parties warned of catastrophe. The minister said he was warned of serious consequences if he went ahead with countrywide examinations.

Declaring that a successful conclusion of examination wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of all sectors, Minister Peiris said over 362,000 sat the AL examination at 2,900 centres. Among them, nearly 60 answered question papers while in quarantine, the minister said; their results could be released in April, hopefully to pave them to enter Universities by Sept.

The minister also discussed how the ministry commenced the functioning of the school system with Grade 6-11 students except in the Western Province though schools therein were beginning to function, gradually.

Referring to the massive hit on the national economy as a result of Covid-19 disrupting garment trade, tourism and remittances from Sri Lankans working overseas, Prof. Peiris paid a glowing tribute to the public sector for facing up to the challenge. The minister explained how some major players in the garment trade, in spite of severe difficulties faced the challenge. They made significant changes to operations as major orders for Personnel Protection Equipment (PPEs) were accepted, the minister said.




Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party



By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code



by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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