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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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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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