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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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SJB alleges Prez under SLPP pressure to give up power to dissolve Parliament

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Nalin Bandara Jayamaha yesterday alleged that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was under tremendous pressure from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to give up power to dissolve Parliament, two and a half years after the parliamentary election.

Kurunegala District MP Jayamaha said that the SLPP wanted the provision, pertaining to dissolution of Parliament in the 19A, included in the 22nd Amendment, at the committee stage.

In terms of the 19th Amendment enacted in 2015, the President couldn’t dissolve Parliament until the completion of four and a half years of the term of a government. The last parliamentary poll was conducted in August 2020.

Having overwhelmingly voted for UNP leader Wickremesinghe at the Presidential contest on July 20 to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, the SLPP was now seeking full control, lawmaker Bandara asserted.

The SJB official, however, acknowledged that their party, too, had been divided on the issue, with those who backed Dullas Alahapperuma, at the Presidential contest, opposing the move.

Wickremesinghe received 133 votes. Of the 145 SLPP votes, except for its rebel group, the rest voted for Wickremesinghe.

Responding to another question, the former UNPer said that some interested parties thwarted SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa from leaving the country, soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa abandoned the President’s House. That appeared to have backfired, MP Bandara said, alleging Basil Rajapaksa seemed to be running the show.

Asked whether more members of the SJB would soon switch their allegiance to President Wickremesinghe, MP Bandara said that he couldn’t predict what the individual members were likely to do. However, the SJB, the second largest group in Parliament wouldn’t join the government, MP Bandara said.

Of the 54 elected and appointed SJB members, so far two – Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando – have accepted ministerial portfolios. SJB National List MP Diana Gamage, earlier pledged her support to the SLPP.

Lawmaker Bandara said that the SLPP seemed to be quite confident of regaining full political authority, regardless of the recent setbacks suffered. The former Law and Order Deputy Minister said that the SLPP was bent on pursuing its strategy, though the President, elected by the party, fled the country.

The SJB MP said that the move to create an environment, conducive for crossovers for the personal benefit of lawmakers, should be condemned. The provisions, pertaining to the appointment of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, under the proposed 22 Amendment, in case the party with the largest block of seats reached a consensus with other parties, were meant to appoint a jumbo sized Cabinet, the MP said. The SJB official questioned the rationale in giving Parliament the authority to decide on the number of Cabinet ministers and non-Cabinet members, in case of a National Government.

Lawmaker Bandara said that President Wickremesinghe and the SLPP were yet to come up with tangible action plan to address political or economic issues. The MP warned, what he called the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, that the public here, and the international community, couldn’t be deceived by calling itself a National Government.

The SJB spokesperson said that they wouldn’t contribute, or facilitate, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa ploy by accepting ministerial portfolios. “We won’t legitimize the government project. How can the SLPP still be acceptable, after the public rejected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected by them,” MP Bandara said, adding the SLPP seemed to have conveniently forgotten that the public rejected the ministers, along with their highly overrated President.

The outspoken MP said that it would be a grave mistake, on the SLPP’s part, if its leadership believed the unprecedented crisis, caused by them, could be resolved by getting rid of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

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22 A: Karu J, too, makes some suggestions

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Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice, Karu Jayasuriya, said that fears expressed by members of Parliament, and others, over the provisions, pertaining to the appointment of Cabinet of Ministers, were not unfounded.

The former Speaker said that he was also concerned about allegations that the proposed 22 A could be abused and exploited to appoint a jumbo Cabinet.

Jayasuriya suggested that political parties, represented in Parliament, and other interested parties should address whatever concerns raised as regards the 22 Amendment.

The yahapalana Speaker said that the success of the whole process would depend on the readiness of all those involved in the new constitution making endeavor to address issues at hand. The accusation that a particular provision (47 [4]) could be used to violate the restriction of cabinet ministers to 30 and no-cabinet members to 40 couldn’t be ignored, Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya said that those who represented the parliament should inquire into criticism over the Speaker receiving an opportunity to nominate three civil society members to the 10-member Constitutional Council in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. The former Gampaha District MP recalled that in terms of the 19 Amendment, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader used to nominate the civil society members. Jayasuriya said that whatever knotty issues could be tackled at the committee stage (SF)

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“Govt workers, too, were involved in fuel hoarding”

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It had become obvious that some government workers, too, were involved in hoarding fuel and selling it in the black market, D.V Shantha Silva, joint Secretary the Sri Lanka Petroleum Private Tanker Owners’ Association (SLPPTOA) said yesterday, addressing the media.

He said that the introduction of the national fuel pass system is successful and the majority of fuel stations followed the system.

“Some gas stations still try to manipulate the system but it won’t be easy,” he said.

There is no congestion in gas stations and SLPPTOA members are happy with the process, he said.

“However, there is a drop in orders from gas stations. In the last few months, before the QR system, one tanker load was only enough for a few hours. But now gas stations pump fuel for days with one shipment,” he said.

Silva said that many people tried to blame three-wheeler drivers for hoarding fuel. However, there were other actors involved in the racket, among them were government officials.

“Before the QR system we saw a large number of people at gas stations each morning accessing fuel using various passes. Now that doesn’t happen and there is no congestion,” he said. (RK)

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