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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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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP



By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms



Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations



… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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