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Holidays hold up virus mapping in Sri Lanka



Sri Lanka failed to carry out vital genome sequencing to identify current Covid-19 strains spreading in the island in December because of intervening holidays, the head of microbiology at the Sri Jayewardenapura University Neelika Malavige said.

She said, however, there was no evidence yet of a new and more transmissible variant found in Britain and South Africa entering Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka carried out genome sequencing till the end of November, but any mutation in the December viruses could not be identified because of holidays, she said during a webinar organised by the Sri Lanka College of Community Physicians this week.

Genome sequencing is important to identify the mutations as well as track the spread of the virus. It also helps health authorities in containing the virus. She said they carried out sequencing once month but hoped to increase the sequence to fortnightly from this month with the help of WHO.

Australia funded the WHO initiative to help the Jayewardenepura University to carry out the crucial genome sequencing that is also shared with other countries in a global effort to battle the virus.

Her studies have shown that the Brandix cluster and the Peliyagoda fish-market cluster had the same origin and could technically be considered one cluster. It developed probably due to shortcomings in the quarantine procedures, she said adding that the Brandix variant spreading since late September was not linked to the variant that spread in the first wave which started earlier last year.


Dead don’t spread

Participating in the same webinar on December 30, world authority on viruses, Professor Malik Peiris, of the Hong Kong University debunked theories of those who die of Covid-19 spreading the disease by contaminating ground water if they are buried.

Peiris said the virus could be spread through droplets from the respiratory system, saliva and faecal matter of Covid-19 patients, but the virus degrades on a dead body and lasts only a few hours. A person who is not breathing cannot spread Covid-19, he said.

He also trashed the theories expounded by Professor Meththika Vithanage, a senior lecturer in geology at the Sri Jayewardenepura University, who has militantly argued against burials of the Covid dead.

Professor Peiris made it clear that he had no issue with the credentials of geologists who probably knew soil science very well, but when it comes to virology and microbiology, they must leave it in the hands of the experts in the field.

Vithanage, in a recent public statement, pointed to the burial of millions of culled minks in Denmark and claimed that Danish authorities had later exhumed the carcasses and cremated them to prevent the spread of the virus through the contamination of ground water.

Prof. Peiris said this claim was blatantly false. Danish authorities have not exhumed the mink carcasses, but had fenced the burial area as bloating carcasses were considered an eye sore. The Danish authorities have made it clear that dead mink cannot transmit the Covid-19 virus.

Vithanage’s claim that the exhumed mink were immediately incinerated is also false. Any incineration is due to take place in May 2021. (AFP)

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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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