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Highly contagious UK Covid-19 variant trigger spike in Covid-19 cases in SL

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by Suresh Perera

The alarming spike in Covid-19 positive cases in Sri Lanka over the past few days could be associated with the widespread transmissibility of the highly contagious, mutant viral strain first identified in the United Kingdom, a senior medical official said.

There is every possibility that the virulent variant of the contagion may have sneaked into Sri Lanka before flights from Britain were suspended on December 23, 2020, says Prof. Neelika Malavige of the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Sri Jayewardenepura University.

“The British Coronavirus variant has a higher transmissibility level, and that may be the reason for the surge, with positive cases peaking to almost one thousand in Sri Lanka on Thursday”, she noted.

When dealing with a highly contagious virus, numbers are bound to spiral as it spreads faster within the community. That’s why there should be a collective effort to ward off the threat”, she stressed.

The Sri Jayewardenepura University announced last week that the latest variant of B.1.1.7 lineage was found in Colombo, Avissawella, Biyagama and Vavuniya.

The Covid-19 British variant has already been found in 90 countries, Prof. Malavige said. “I believe the strain would have found its way to Sri Lanka around mid December last year before the British health authorities discovered it and alerted the world”.

The biggest threat of transmission of the virus is not so much on an individual-to-individual basis but through social and public gatherings, which leads to ‘super spreading’, she explained. “This kicks the balance”.

People should be mindful and avoid gatherings to help prevent community spread of the pandemic, the microbiologist remarked.

As the jab is efficient against the new British variant, the only answer to the raging virus is vaccinating more and more people as early as possible, she suggested.

There is a big demand for the jab but the limiting factor is the supply. It is true that the government has ordered more consignments of the vaccine to meet the demand, but it does not mean that stocks will arrive tomorrow,

The strategy should be to intensify the inoculation drive against the pandemic, which has impacted adversely on the country in economic, social and psychological terms, the Professor further said. “The temporary closure of schools have disrupted the education of children”.

Prof. Malavige said that Sri Lanka has done far better in managing the pandemic than Europe and other western countries, where thousands of people have succumbed to the contagion. Patients with co-morbidity such as diabetes and kidney diseases face a bigger risk in terms of mortality.

Describing Covid-19 as an “unseen enemy”, the expert on microbiology recalled that the virus was initially detected in Sri Lanka around January 2020. However, within a year, a jab was accessed to inoculate the people. This was done at super speed.

She said the health sector has gone that extra mile to control the transmission of the virus. However, without a collective effort, there’s no way of overcoming the challenge. Therefore, public support through adherence to specific health guidelines should be an integral part of the thrust to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

With the new viral strain raising concern and forcing a new national lockdown in the UK, experts have warned it may be up to 70 percent more infectious and about 30 percent more lethal than other variants.

This has led to global panic, the international media reported in the backdrop of Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, cautioning that “having ripped through the UK and rippled outwards, the Kent variant was now on course to sweep the world, in all probability”.

In Sri Lanka, Covid-19 related deaths shot up to 383, with 74,049 infections as of last Friday. The Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit reported that 66,778 patients had recovered from the virus so far.



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Lord Naseby asks why Adele not prosecuted in UK for child recruitment

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Lord Naseby President of the UK all party British-Sri Lanka Parliamentary group has questioned the failure on the part of the UK to prosecute senior LTTE leader Adela Balasingham, wife of the outfit’s late theoretician Anton Balasingham. Lord Naseby said that Adele, who had been involved with the LTTE for several decades, was responsible for recruitment and deployment of child soldiers.

The following is the text of the statement issued by Lord Naseby in response to the UK statement at the Human Rights Council by Lord Tariq Ahmad on Feb 25:

“I am astounded how the UK or any other Member of the Core Group can possibly welcome the High Commissioner’s so called ‘detailed and most comprehensive report on Sri Lanka’ when it is riddled with totally unsubstantiated allegations and statements completely ignoring the huge effort to restore infrastructure and rehouse displaced Tamils and Muslims, who lost their homes due to the Tamil Tigers.

“Furthermore, I question how the UK Government knowingly and apparently consciously withheld vital evidence from the despatches of the UK military attaché Col. Gash. Evidence I obtained from a Freedom of Information request, resisted by the Foreign Office at every stage for over 2 years. These dispatches from an experienced and dedicated senior British officer in the field makes it clear that the Sri Lankan armed forces at every level acted and behaved appropriately, trying hard not to harm any Tamil civilians who were held by the Tamil Tigers as hostages in a human shield.

“This conscious decision totally undermines the UK‘s standing as an objective Leader of the Core Group; made even worse by the impunity for not prosecuting the LTTE leader living in the UK, largely responsible for recruiting, training and deploying over 5,000 Child Soldiers – a real War Crime. It is time that the UK Government acknowledges and respects the recommendations of the Paranagama Commission, which involved several international expert advisers, including from the UK – Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dixon QC and Major General John Holmes. Sri Lanka and the UK should be honouring the recommendations of the Paranagama Commission, which provides real evidence over all the years of the conflict, rather than just focussing on uncorroborated claims during a few months in 2009, only when the war concluded.

“Furthermore, the criticism of the way Covid has been handled with no burials for anyone based entirely on scientific advice at a time when there was no advice from WHO shows no understanding. Following the scientific advice from WHO and Sri Lanka’s scientists, burials are now permitted. The UN ignores the fact that only about 400 people on a population of 22m have sadly died in Sri Lanka, whereas no less than 120,000+ have died in the UK with a population of 66 million. By any yardstick Sri Lanka has been more successful at saving lives than any member of the Core Group.

“It seems to me that the Core Group needs to have more faith in the reconciliation structures already on the ground such as the Office of Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations. If the UN Core Group really wants to help, then why cannot the UK, Canada and Germany release to Sri Lanka the names of all asylum seekers since the war so that they can be checked against the list of Missing Persons and be removed from the master list?

“During the period of the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe government, draft legislation for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission was prepared and the current government should be given the time and space, whilst also handling the pandemic, to introduce its own TRC mechanism. Britain should stand in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka as a unique TRC is developed and is implemented. Reconciliation cannot be externally forced on to the people of Sri Lanka. It must come from within and I would also urge the diaspora communities living in the Core Group countries to also trust, engage with and contribute towards Sri Lanka’s reconciliation processes.

It is for Sri Lanka to decide how much help they seek from outside but for me I doubt the need or the efficacy of the UNHRC being able to help in an enhanced monitoring role as proposed.”

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SJB finds fault with recommendations of political victimisation PCoI

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB yesterday found fault with the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that investigated incidents of political victimization for arrogating to itself the powers of the judiciary.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella said: “The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the incidents of political victimisation has usurped the powers of courts.

MP Kiriella said that PCoI or any one including the Executive should not encroach on the powers of the judiciary. The MPs had a right to stand against it. “We have a constitutional right to prevent this. As per the provisions of the Article 4 of the Constitution people have given their sovereign powers of exercising judicial power to Parliament. It is by parliament through the courts or any other tribunal accepted by the law the judicial powers are exercised. A presidential commission of inquiry has not been given powers of courts. The PCoI headed by retired Justice Upali Abeyratne arrogated to itself the powers of courts as per the recommendations the commission made in its report,” Kiriella said.

He said that the PCoI had recommended that cases pending before in the Magistrate and High Courts be stopped. “Victims have been turned into complainants and complainants into offenders. The PCoI has made recommendations to acquit those implicated in numerous offences. The commission has recommended that some of those who violated the laws be acquitted and compensated. A PCoI has no such powers. We have expressed our opposition to this. We actually have submitted a petition to the Chief Justice on Tuesday against the PCoI hijacking the powers of the court.”

The MP said that PCoI’s usurping of court powers was a serious matter that should be rectified immediately. “We have utmost faith in the judiciary of this country. Courts have maintained their independence very bravely in the face of many challenges. You may recall that when there was a constitutional coup in 2018 October, the court did not succumb to political pressure

and declared the ouster of our government unconstitutional. If the PCoIs are allowed to usurp the powers of judiciary then the public would lose their faith in courts.”

SJB MPs J.C. Alawathuwala and Harin Fernando also addressed the press.

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NMRA approves emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine here

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Laboratory technologists welcome the move

By Rathindra Kuruwita

State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana yesterday announced that the National Medical Regulatory Authority of Sri Lanka had approved the Emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

Earlier this month leading British medical publication, The Lancet, stated that the interim results from a phase 3 trial of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine had shown a consistent strong protective effect across all participant age groups.

Lancet said: “The vaccine uses a heterologous recombinant adenovirus approach using adenovirus 26 (Ad26) and adenovirus 5 (Ad5) as vectors for the expression of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein. The use of two varying serotypes, which are given 21 days apart, is intended to overcome any pre-existing adenovirus immunity in the population. Among the major COVID vaccines in development to date, only Gam-COVID-Vac uses this approach; others, such as the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine, use the same material for both doses. The earlier vaccine for Ebola virus also developed at Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology (Moscow, Russia), was similar, with Ad5 and vesicular stomatitis virus as the carrier viruses, and the general principle of prime boost with two different vectors has been widely used experimentally.”

President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science, Ravi Kumudesh yesterday said that they were happy about the decision as the country needed an mRNA vaccine.

“Sputnik-V is an mRNA vaccine and we have so far ignored mRNA vaccines. Covidshield vaccine is a more traditional vaccine and it will not be effective against coronavirus variants. This is what reports from France and South Africa suggests. That’s why we have insisted on an mRNA vaccine from the start. Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines need to be stored in extremely cold temperatures and thus not feasible here. But Sputnik-V doesn’t have that problem. I am not saying bring Sputnik-V and start injecting people from next week. But our dependence on covidshield is more dangerous.”

Kumudesh said that the SPC had said it was willing to work with Russians to produce Sputnik-V here and that it was a commendable decision. Sri Lanka had the expertise to produce vaccines and that if such an initiative came about it would also be an opportunity to take in talented scientists into the Ministry of Health.

 

 

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