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Health officials warn of possible spike in COVID-19 cases



ECONOMYNEXT – The recent drop in COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka has come to a halt and an increase in cases  have been reported in several parts of the island, health officials said, warning of a possible rise in patient numbers in the near future.

“We have seen caseload increases in Colombo excluding the Colombo Municipal Council area, Gampaha, Anuradhapura, Galle and Matara districts as well,” Sri Lanka Public Health Inspectors Union (PHI) Chairman Upul Rohana told EconomyNext.

Numbers are also increasing in the North Western and Southern provinces, he said, though no significant changes have been detected in the hill country or in the Northern Province yet.

Rohana said the numbers being reported are of cases that got positive due to public gatherings and travels right after the restrictions were lifted without adhering to the health guidelines.

“Even if we impose restrictions, the virus is inside the province. Travelling is fine if people follow the guidelines, but the problem is that they don’t,” he said.”

“We don’t expect a rise in the death toll by December because of vaccination, but there may be a rise in cases.”

The current increase is not high, but it can be considered the start of a major increase, said Rohana, noting that the present numbers are of those who got infected around the time restrictions were lifted.

“The result of the past two long weekends will come in another two weeks. It can increaseto an unexpected number,” he said.

Deputy Director of Health Services Dr Hemantha Herath said people coming from different areas for gatherings and then returning to their respective areas must be avoided.

“We had a similar situation last May and April. After the second wave was contained, public movement increased and the situation turned. Then came the Delta variant and that accelerated the spreading,” Herath told  reporters on Friday (05).

At a meeting held at the Ministry of Health Friday morning, Herath had called for increasing Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).

“This programme has been under way for a long time now. The RAT test is being done for suspected patients coming to hospital. Random RAT tests also will continue,” Herath said.

Meanwhile, PCR testing in Sri Lanka has seen a drop over the past few weeks. Explaining this, Chief Epidemiologist Dr Samitha Ginige said conducting more PCR tests covering the population is not productive.

“When we do a PCR test of a patient, even after four to six months, it can come back positive. But that doesn’t mean that person poses any threat, to close contacts or society at large because the virus does not spread from them,” he said.

Ginige said after taking all the facts in to consideration, the advisory committee has changed the testing policy to meet the requirements of the current situation in identifying patients.

He said apart from doing RAT tests island wide, any person suspected to have symptoms should visit the nearest hospital or Medical Officer of Health (MOH) office and do an RAT test.

“We ask anyone who has symptoms to go to a hospital for a check-up. All MoH offices also do RAT tests on a daily basis. If anyone gets positive, then they will be directed to a treatment centre. If there are people that do have symptoms but doesn’t get positive from RAT test, t hey will be subjected to PCR tests to understand their condition,” said Ginige.

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SJB MP slams police double standards



“Why one law for Ponnambalam and another for Gamage?”

The police have failed to display the same efficiency they displayed in arresting Jaffna District MP Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam with regard to arresting State Minister Diana Gamage, who should have been spending her time at the Mirihana Immigration Detention Centre, Kurunegala District SJB MP Nalin Bandara Jayamaha told Parliament on Friday.

“If the police had displayed the same efficacy, Diana Gamage should have been at the Mirihana Detention Centre at this time. Instead she comes to parliament and issues threats to other MPs. The courts have clearly stated that the CID could take her into custody because she had been using two passports.

“The Immigration Controller himself has reported to the courts that she had been a UK citizen since 2004 and using a UK passport since then. She has not revoked her UK citizenship. In addition she has obtained anther passport through the Secretary General of Parliament. The Speaker too should have a responsibility to prevent a foreign citizen sitting unlawfully in the House,” he said.

Jayamaha said that Gamage had no right to sit in parliament. “The case against her regarding her having forged passports is postponed again and again. The law is not implemented. My colleague Mujibur Rahuman tabled a document in this House that the Defence Secretary had been informed of the illegality of Gamage’s presence in Parliament. I tabled the same again today.

“She recently told a TV talk-show that she had applied for the revocation of her UK citizenship. We do not know whether she has two tongues,” the MP said.

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Sarath Weerasekera opposes SLT share sale on security grounds



Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), which owns a fixed and mobile telecom group, which is partly foreign owned and listed should not be privatized, the head of a parliamentary committee on national security has said.

Government MP, Retd. Admiral Sarath Weerasekara who chairs the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security told parliament Friday that divestment of the 49.5 percent stake in SLT held by the government could “expose the country’s strategic communication infrastructure and sensitive information to private companies that are motivated by profit, which could pose a threat to national security”.

Weerasekara also said that any individual or organization proscribed or otherwise that “aided terrorists or extremists” must not be allowed to purchase shares or control Sri Lanka’s national assets.

The claim comes despite satellite links and international cables connecting the country being built and managed by foreign conglomerates in which many connected countries are also shareholders. SLT is also a shareholder in some global cable companies.

Weerasekara suggested that the government retain the right to repurchase shares held by the majority shareholder of SLT.SLT’s second biggest shareholder, behind the Sri Lanka government, is Malaysia-based Usaha Tegas Sdn Bhd with a 44.9 percents take in the company.

Most Sri Lanka’s mobile firms were also built and owned not just by private firm but foreign ones. SLT’s own mobile network, Mobitel was a build operate transfer project by Australia’s Telstra.

Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers in March 2023 listed Sri Lanka Telecom among several state companies to be re-structured.SLT currently enjoys market leadership in fixed-line services and is the second-largest operator in mobile. It also owns an extensive optical fibre network.The company was placed on watch for a possible rating upgrade by Fitch Ratings in March 2023 after the government announced the restructuring. (EconomyNext)

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Cardinal hits out at government demanding local elections



By Norman Palihawadane

Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has urged the government to hold local elections to secure the democratic rights of the people.

“Voting is a right of the people that we must all enjoy. It is a right that every person over 18 -years of age is entitled to to determine the future of the country,” he said on Thursday.

“Today justice as been turned into injustice, governance to dictatorship and law into lawlessness,” the 75-year-old cardinal told a gathering of hundreds of people at a function at St. Anthony’s College in Kochchikade.

Local polls to elect 340 councils were slated for April 25 but the election commission postponed it, citing a lack of funds.

“The government said earlier that it doesn’t have money to hold an election, now it’s saying that it has money. If the government has the money, please give an opportunity to the people to vote and let the people express their wishes. How much of what came from the IMF was used for agriculture? How much for the fishing industry? And what about education?” the cardinal queried.

Rather than improving the lives of people, “politicians import goods, and bring in what we need and what we don’t need, destroying our economic independence, leading us to depend on foreign countries,” he said.

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