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Inclement weather snuffs out 15 lives

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By Ifham Nizam

Fifteen deaths were reported due to inclement weather in 15 districts on Monday and Tuesday. More than 28,263 people belonging to 7,529 families have been badly affected by floods and earth slips.

According to the Disaster Management Centre’s latest count, 802 houses have been damaged and 12 houses destroyed. More than 113 families are sheltered at welfare centres, and 357 families are staying with their relatives.

Five deaths were caused by drowning. Fiver persons were killed by earth slips. Two victims were electrocuted. The DMC has said that unlike on previous occasions, earth slips are reported from many parts of the country.

The Meteorology Department says a low-pressure area has formed in the south-east Bay of Bengal and is likely to intensify into a depression during next 36 hours and move West-Northwestwards towards North Tamil Nadu, closer to the North coast of Sri Lanka.

Torrential rains also disrupted electricity network countrywide affecting 240,000 families. Kurunegala and Puttalam were badly affected. Engineers at the first coal fired power plant complex at Norochcholai said that functioning with greatest of difficulties while one of its three plants were stopped for routine maintenance.

DMC’s Deputy Director Pradeep Kodippili yesterday said that 78 divisional secretariat divisions in 16 districts had been affected by the inclement weather.

The Meteorology Department warned that heavy rains above 150 mm could be expected in parts of Northern, North-western, Western and Sabaragamuwa provinces and in Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Nuwara-Eliya and Kandy districts today.

Meanwhile, the Irrigation Department issued a ‘Red’ alert for major floods in the low-lying areas of Maha Oya River Basin as the water levels had gone up extensively.

Irrigation Department (Hydrology) Director Eng. S.P.C. Sugeeshwara said the water level at Giriulla River Gauging Station has reached 8.94 metres.

Thus, people living in low-lying areas of Maha Oya Valley located in Alawwa, Divulapitiya, Mirigama, Pannala, Wennappuwa, Negombo, Katana, Narammala and Dankotuwa Divisional Secretariat Divisions were urged to be vigilant of a major flood situation.

A mother (35) and two daughters, aged 08 and 14, were reported dead. The father was admitted to Rambukkana Hospital and was later transferred to Kegalle Hospital for further treatment.

In another development, a young female died after a house was damaged in an earth slip in the area of Wennoruwa, Narammala Monday night. However, her mother and her brother escaped unharmed.

The deceased was identified as a 23-year-old nurse who was employed at a private hospital in Colombo. She was rushed to the Narammala Hospital, but she succumbed to injuries on admission to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Navy relief teams rescued 71 individuals trapped in floods following heavy downpour at Palaviya in Kalpitiya in the Puttalam district on Monday night

Navy has also deployed 10 relief teams at Paragoda in Kalutara, New Town, Ratnapura, Udamalaththa in Galle, Palaviya, Wanathawilluwa, Karambe in Puttalam, Giriulla in Kurunegala and Rajanganaya in Anuradhapura, covering the Western, Southern, North Central Northwestern and Sabaragamuwa provinces to provide relief to the people hit by adverse weather.

The Navy has kept 60 more flood relief teams ready in the Western, Southern, Northwestern, and North Central Naval Areas for deployment at short notice.

There can be very heavy showers or thundershowers, strong winds up to 60-70 kmph associated with rough seas around the Island.

Naval and fishing communities are advised not to venture the South-west Bay of Bengal sea area and deep and shallow sea areas around the Island (mentioned in the map below) until further notice.

Those who are in aforementioned sea regions are advised to return to coasts or move to safer areas as soon as possible, the Met. Department warned.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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