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Have we got our economic and Covid-19 priorities right?



Sri Lanka has over 50% living below the poverty line, and the malnutrition rate is estimated to be 18%. It is obvious that first priority should be given to relief of hunger. Then to fighting the COVID 19 epidemic, a health care problem. It is after relieving these that money should be devoted to infrastructure like highways. But in Sri Lanka it appears to be the other way round.

Health care is a priority, but even on this aspect, are we acting sensibly? In the Daily News of 15.07.21, the Director of the Health Promotion Bureau is quoted as saying that the number of COVID 19 cases has dropped to 6.2% on the basis of random PCR tests, from an earlier figure of 10%.

The Epidemiology Unit has carried out about 7,000 random PCR tests daily covering all MOH divisions in the country. The best public health measure is the observance of the three health rules – wearing masks, observing social distancing and washing the hands with soap and water after touching anything touched by others. This has been going on from the outset and is being successful at little or no cost.

As nearly 80% of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic or extremely mild, they develop immunity and do not need any vaccination. Vaccination is only indicated to the vulnerable group – elderly (over 60 years), those with serious underlying diseases e.g. respiratory, cardiac, diabetes mellitus, cancers etc. This group of about 20% of the population should be vaccinated, commencing with the oldest age group, as they are prone to develop and some of them can die. The occasional occurrence of a case in a child fits into the pattern associated with several virus diseases called Kawasaki syndrome. As such, there is no need to immunize children, taken as a group.

An intensive program is now underway to vaccinate all those above 30 years in every district in Sri Lanka. 36% of this target population has received the first dose already and 21% both doses. A large mass of expensive vaccines from different countries are being rushed into the country as if we are faced with a life or death struggle.

By the end of June, Sri Lanka had only 277,519 cases with 3,574 deaths (1.4%). A social scientist visited Kanatte cemetery a few days ago and inquired whether there had been an increase in deaths since the COVID outbreak began and she was able to confirm that no such spike had occurred. Why then this great hurry to vaccinate? Even in the USA, no doctors and other health care workers have died of COVID- 19.

The vaccine industry which is in decline has seen a golden opportunity to expand and profit. An intensive campaign was carried out in the USA to frighten the people and to compel them to take the vaccine, which had already been mass produced. It also provided a good opportunity to test new varieties of vaccines e.g. the mRNA vaccines (like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID 19 vaccines from the USA), which are really the introduction of genetic material to get our body cells to produce the spike protein alone of the virus, not the whole virus.

As we all know, the introduction of foreign genetic material is considered to be unsafe and future outcomes are uncertain. That is why the European Union refused to import genetically modified (GM) foods from South America. There were campaigns in the USA questioning the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccines. Sales in the USA and West have not been great, as questions have been raised by scientists.

In North America and Europe, it was because of the big spike of cases, specially approaching winter that the COVID-19 phobia gained ground, and “emergency use” was resorted to. There is no such emergency situation in Sri Lanka. Further, Asian and African countries that have used BCG as a protection against TB have been shown to have benefited from it and have little COVID 19.

The vaccine is also expensive and many people in the USA refused to buy it, specially the poor blacks and browns. The vaccine industry had to find a market for this massive unsold surplus. What better than to look abroad for markets among those already mentally conditioned to accept the vaccine as a necessity? It is not difficult to buy over officials and decision- makers and get the local private sector to come in with suitable inducements. This is what we are seeing in many countries world-wide, and here in Sri Lanka too.

Governments tend to fall in line in the face of such intensive campaigning.. The COVID phobia is there among the people to be exploited and the environment and the partners are also in place, so why not exploit it?

The vaccine producers themselves admit that the optimal time for boosters is still being worked out to get full protection. The side effects are also being looked for and are not fully known. This particularly applies to the long term effects. The protection will be short term and in all probability annual boosters will be required. This is going to be a considerable cost.

On the political side, the lockdown policy practiced in Sri Lanka has no real benefit from a medical point of view, and is only increasing poverty and disrupting the economy, leading to job losses. We need more informed debate on this whole issue and then come out with what really needs to be done. Protests against vaccination should be allowed, as much as for vaccination.

Prof. Tissa Vitarana


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Police detain Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect over domestic aide’s death



Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect have been detained for interrogation in connection with the death of the 16-year old domestic aide.

“They are being held for 72 hours for further questioning”, police said.

The suspects taken into custody were identified by police as that 46-year old Sheyabdeen Ayesha, her father  70-year-old Mohammed Sheyabdeen and the broker who brought the girl to work as a domestic aide in Bathiudeen’s house.

The victim, a resident of Dayagama Estate off Talawakelle, was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital on July 3 with severe burn injuries. She died on July 15.

Police have already recorded the statements of more than 20 persons in connection with the girl’s death.

Police have also questioned two women aged 22 and 32 from the Dayagama area, who earlier served as domestic workers at the former Minister’s house.

One of the women had claimed she was sexually harassed by Bathiudeen’s brother-in-law from 2015 to 2019 at the former Minister’s residence in Colombo.

Subsequently, police also arrested the 44-year old Sheyabdeen Ismadeen, brother-in-law of the former Minister.

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Contamination fears propel Lanka Sathosa to recall Chinese-made canned fish stocks



After procurement from Colombo port for Rs. 50mn

by Suresh Perera

A substantial stock of “confiscated” canned fish Lanka Sathosa procured from the Colombo port at a cost of around Rs. 50 million has been recalled from the market following public complaints that the Chinese-manufactured products were unfit for human consumption.

The five 20-foot container loads of 425g ‘Kitchen King’ Mackerel canned fish of the Scomber japonicus species, which were lying in the Colombo port as “abandoned cargo” after forfeiture by the Customs in October last year, was purchased by Lanka Sathosa recently to be sold at a concessionary price through its chain of supermarkets.

“We have now withdrawn the whole stock from our supermarket shelves as there were customer complaints that the canned fish was not fit for consumption”, says Lanka Sathosa Chairman, Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris.

The products were injected into the market after clearance by the Food Control Unit of the Health Ministry following quality testing by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), he said.

“As there’s a shortage of canned fish in the marketplace, we promptly distributed the stocks to our supermarkets island-wide to be sold at Rs. 290 each. We have now asked the outlets not to sell them to customers because of the quality issue that has emerged”, the Chairman noted.

“We have no option now other than to return the consignment and seek a refund from the Ports Authority”, he said.

Onions, potatoes, lentils and other food commodities, which are either confiscated by the Customs or remain uncleared by importers, are generally procured by Lanka Sathosa to be sold at concessionary prices to customers, Peiris explained.

“In terms of a Cabinet decision, the consignments are auctioned only if we don’t procure them”.

The stock of canned fish had been forfeited as the owner had not cleared it for three months, he said.

“Lanka Sathosa appears to have opened a can of worms as the 9,200 packs of canned fish had arrived aboard a vessel, which sailed into Colombo on October 29 last year, a source knowledgeable of the operation, said.

Listing out the relevant reference and batch numbers of the consignments, the source said the Chinese products were manufactured on 09/10/2020 with a 09/10/2023 ‘expiry date’.

This means the stocks had been in the Colombo port for the past nine months, and had turned rancid despite a 2023 ‘expiry date’, the source asserted.

Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) officers had raided the Lanka Sathosa outlet at Moneragala following complaints that canned fish was being hoarded.

“We found stocks in storage, but was told by officers there that instructions were received to withhold the sale of the ‘Kitchen King’ products until they were re-labeled”, CAA’s Executive Director, Thushan Gunawardena said.

As the importer was not in favor of Lanka Sathosa marketing the products under its original brand name, a sticker was affixed to obscure it, Peiris clarified.

Under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act, re-labeling a product constitutes an offence, Gunawardena pointed out.

Acting on a complaint, public health inspectors have taken a sample of the canned fish from the Mawanella outlet for testing, the Lanka Sathosa chief further said.

Responding to questions raised by the CAA, the SLSI said its officers had collected samples from the five containers following requests by the Ports Authority and Lanka Sathosa.

As the original importer had not submitted any documents to the SLSI so far, the need for sample collection didn’t arise, it said.

The CAA has further queried whether the SLSI was aware of the purpose the test results were required at the time samples were received.

The SLSI has clamped down on the import of substandard canned fish with an intolerable level of arsenic, particularly from manufacturers in China.

In a news report headlined “SLSI cracks the whip on substandard Chinese canned fish imports”, The Sunday Island of March 21, 2021 quoted the institution’s Director-General, Dr. Siddhika Senaratne as saying that fish harvested for canning has a high arsenic content as the sea in China is heavily polluted and dirty due to lax environmental laws.

“It is true that there is a scarcity of canned fish in the market because supply cannot meet the demand. However, this does not mean we should allow our people to be poisoned through arsenic-laden imports”, she was quoted saying in the news report.

With the SLSI stipulating a maximum arsenic tolerance standard of 1.0 milligram per kilogram of fish, a filtering mechanism is now in place to shut out substandard imports, she assured at the time.

Asked whether the consignment of Chinese canned fish procured by Lanka Sathosa was earlier detained due to its high arsenic content, Dr. Senaratne declined comment saying she’s “not allowed to talk to the media”.

“The DG wouldn’t want to be dragged into another controversy”, an official remarked, referring to the furore over her claim of toxins in foodstuffs, which she, however, declined to identify at the time.

At a time canned fish imports from China have been off the shelves since SLSI’s rigid monitoring of tolerable arsenic levels began, industry players expressed consternation on how a stock, which had been lying in the Colombo port for months, was suddenly given the nod for procurement by Lanka Sathosa.

With the scarcity of canned fish products in the market pushing up demand, will an importer abandon his consignments unless there was something rotten somewhere?, they asked.

“It is too far-fetched to imagine that they got the documentation wrong as these importers are seasoned campaigners in the game”.

It is apparent that Lanka Sathosa had not done its homework before jumping at the idea of procuring the consignment because Chinese-made canned fish had remained virtually out of bounds for many months because of fears of contamination, they said.

Importers didn’t want to risk their investments as a high arsenic level meant the consignments were either destroyed or ordered to be re-exported, they added.

“That’s why local products now dominate the market with a brand from Thailand also no longer available”.



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United States gives Sri Lanka 500,000 coronavirus rapid tests



The United States had donated 500,000 Rapid diagnostic tests to Sri Lanka worth Rs. 300 million to help the country fight Coronavirus, the US Agency for International Development said.

“By enabling rapid detection of the virus, these tests donated by the American people will save lives and protect public health in Sri Lanka,” USAID Mission Director to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Reed Aeschliman said in a statement.

“This donation builds on previous U.S. support to the Sri Lankan government’s pandemic response and reflects our strong, long-standing partnership.”

US has also given 1.5 million moderna vaccines to Sri Lanka.

The tests are simple to use and enable fast, decentralized access to direct testing. They do not require additional equipment or specialized laboratory access, which helps achieve high testing coverage.

The United States has also given of 200 ventilators to Sri Lanka’s health system.

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