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Hospitals fighting Covid-19 receive significant EU boost



WHO and EU working together to assist SL

Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with the raging Covid-19 epidemic continues to receive international help. China, India, Japan, US, Germany and Australia are among the donors of a range of medicine and equipment. In addition to bilateral assistance, the EU and WHO too provided significant support.

The following is the text of a statement issued by the EU regarding what it called critical emergency medical equipment that had been made available to 78 hospitals across the country: “Assistance was provided through a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU). These include high dependency unit (HDU) beds, finger pulse oximeters, oxygen concentrators, oxygen jumbo cylinders, and other urgent supplies.

The supplies are part of a EUR 2 million EU grant provided to WHO for support to strengthen emergency response capacities in Sri Lanka. The funding has been made available on flexible terms to allow for responsiveness to country needs as demonstrated by this EUR 480,000 procurement of urgently needed supplies for COVID-19 case management.

As a comprehensive approach to case management, the EU grant is also being used to strengthen health worker capacities. Based on the potential of e-learning as highlighted during the COVID-19 experience and with technical support from WHO, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has established a virtual learning management information system (LMIS). The LMIS has enhanced all 43 MoH training centers, already reaching more than 12,000 health workers currently undergoing training and shall reach an additional 5,000 new recruits every year. Further, WHO’s global learning networks will be used to facilitate access to resources for Sri Lankan health care workers as well as enable Sri Lankan courses to be shared worldwide.

The WHO-EU collaboration also supports key community-centred activities for resilient health systems including risk communication and, notably, mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.

Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Denis Chaibi said, “I’m very pleased that EU funding has been reallocated to address critical needs arising from the latest wave of infections in Sri Lanka. The EU and the WHO are working together to ensure that our support can rapidly assist people affected in order to help address the spread of the disease.”

Dr Alaka Singh, WHO Representative to Sri Lanka, stated that “WHO appreciates the European Union’s partnership for collaborative support to Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 effort. Particularly notable is the flexibility of EU funding that allows responsiveness to immediate country needs during this unpredictable pandemic. This has been seen with the supply of urgent life-saving equipment to hospitals across the country. At the same time, longer-term support continues, making important contributions to strengthening resilience in Sri Lanka’s health system.

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Inter-provincial travel ban to be lifted on Oct. 31



Flagrant violations largely ignored during restrictions

ECONOMYNEXT – The ongoing inter-provincial travel ban will be lifted on October 31, the national COVID-19 prevention task force said, despite social media accounts – and sometimes pictures – of people openly flouting the ban.

The restriction was imposed in conjunction with an island-wide lockdown, officially known as a quarantine curfew, that the government declared on August 20 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Despite the lockdown being relaxed on October 01 as cases began to drop, the inter-province travel restriction has remained, at least on paper.

Critics, however, claim that people have been traveling – some even going on trips – around the country blatantly ignoring the ban, despite President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordering the authorities to strictly enforce it from October 21.

“After a discussion among the task force on Friday (23), with the permission of the president, it was decided to lift the travel ban from 4am October 31,” Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva told reporters on Friday.

Silva, who heads the national COVID-19 task force, said all public transportation services will also restart on October 25 and will operate according to health guidelines.

Health officials have joined the chorus of voices lamenting the apparent lax nature of the inter-provincial travel ban. The public does not seem to follow health guidelines increasing the risk of another wave of the epidemic, they have said.

“The behaviour of the public is not satisfactory,” Health Promotion Bureau Director Dr Ranjith Batuwanthudawa told the privately owned Derana network in an interview.

“The public did not follow the guidelines in the first long weekend after restrictions were relaxed. It can again increase the number of patients to a level the health sector cannot cope with,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Gen Silva said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be administered as a booster dose for frontline workers in the health, military, police and tourism sectors starting November 01.

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North, East see highest attendance of students, teachers: Dinesh



ECONOMYNEXT – Northern and Eastern provinces saw the highest attendance of students, teachers, and principals when schools were reopened for the first time in six months, Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Friday (22).

Classes from grades 1 to 5 recommenced at 5,059 schools with fewer than 200 students on Thursday (21) amid an ongoing strike by teachers’ trade unions which is set to finally end next Monday (25).

Minister Gunawardena said the government was able to open around 98 percent of the targeted schools.

“Sixteen percent of students attended schools across the country, while 26 percent of teachers who signed their attendance,” Minister Gunawardena told parliament.

Principals showed up to work at 69 percent of schools with fewer than 200 students, in the island’s north, while 52 percent of teachers and 21 percent of students were present on Thursday, he said.

In the Eastern province, 67 percent of principals, 45 percent of teachers, and 39 percent of students went back to school on Thursday, he added.

In contrast, schools in the Southern and Western provinces saw lower levels of attendance from principals, teachers, and students, the minister said.

“We believe everyone will support the reopening of schools without any party or colour difference,” Minister Gunawardena said.

Trade unions are not fully onboard the government’s proposed solution to their long-standing grievance of salary anomalies.

The three-month-long strike, one of the longest trade union campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history, has deprived students of their only mode of distance learning in pandemic times: online education.

It is still uncertain if all principals will report to duty on Monday as some principals’ trade unions have said some of their demands including car permits and a mobile phone allowance have not been addressed yet.

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for the 99th day running on October 15 when they said they would start work from October 25.

The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued the strike, demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

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Foreign Minister to launch Lanka-UK chamber of commerce in London



by Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Foreign Minister Prof G. L. Peiris is scheduled to be in London this week starting from tomorrow (25) for a series of events including the launching the Sri Lanka-UK Chamber of Commerce, diplomatic sources said

During his stay in London from Monday to Thursday (28), Prof Peiris is to meet his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss and Members of the Houses of Parliament and Lord Naseby.

Sources said that it would be Prof Peiris’ first visit to London after assuming the duties as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The launch of the Sri Lanka – United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to be presided over by HSBC bank. Lord Davies of Abersoch, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Sri Lanka and a host of invitees including the representatives of the London Stock Exchange and De La Rue. The new Chamber is to be registered with both British Chamber of Commerce and the UK Companies House.

Prof Peiris is expected to complete his London visit on Thursday (28) and then to proceed to Glasgow to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which is scheduled to begin next Sunday (31).

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