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JHS wants origin of current wave of COVID-19 revealed

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Health Secy: ‘Will announce cause once established’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) spokesperson Nishantha Warnasinghe yesterday (18) said that both the government and the Brandix apparel manufacturer owed an explanation to the public how the corona eruption took place in the Minuwangoda garment factory of the company.

 The former Western Province PC member said the Brandix eruption shouldn’t continue to be a mystery.

 Warnasinghe alleged that the government seemed reluctant to go the whole hog though Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera publicly declared that the 39-year-old Brandix supervisor tested positive at the Gampaha government hospital after she was admitted there on Sept 30 hadn’t been the cause of the crisis.

 Now it would be the responsibility of the government to inquire into the circumstances leading to the devastating corona eruption, Warnasinghe said, urging health authorities to set the record straight.

 Responding to The Island queries, Warnasinghe said that soon after the Brandix eruption, the blame was on the worker tested positive at the Gampaha hospital. However,  Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi, Lt. Gen. Silva and Dr. Samaraweera cleared the woman concerned, Warnasinghe said.

 “People have a right to know how the second wave erupted,” the JHU spokesman said, pointing out that both print and electronic media raised several pertinent questions, particularly the return of Sri Lankans attached to the Brandix facility in Andhra Pradesh and their families in three chartered flights on June 25, Aug 8 and Sept 22 and were accommodated in hotels.

 Pointing out that the Oct 14 issue of The Island in an article titled ‘Brandix eruption’ quoted the company as having revealed the hotels where the returnees had been accommodated before they underwent the14-day self-quarantine, Warnasinghe asked whether anyone of them tested positive.

 Warnasinghe said that the government should raise the issue with the company if it hadn’t done so already. The failure to establish the real cause may result in cover-up accusations directed at the government, Warnasinghe said, pointing out that the GMOA recently demanded Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera to reveal the cause of the epidemic.

 Warnasinghe also questioned the procedures followed in allowing Brandix to operate charter flights from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh to Mattala airport. In addition to Brandix, was any other Sri Lankan or foreign company allowed to bring in staff based in other countries, Warnasinghe asked.

 Responding to another query, Warnasinghe said that the possibility of negligence causing the second wave couldn’t be ruled out.

 The government delayed issuing the relevant gazette till the eruption of the second wave, Warnasinghe said. Emphasizing that the gazette should have been issued soon after the first eruption in March 2020, Warnasinghe demanded why the SLPP administration took so long to issue it. By the time, it was issued on Oct 15 (11 days after declaration of curfew in some parts of the Gampaha police division as a precautionary measure) irreversible damage was caused.

 Warnasinghe pointed out that the Sunday’s announcement that Rs 400 mn had been allocated for those affected due to corona in the Gampaha district revealed the enormity of the problem. The JHU spokesman questioned whether the country had the wherewithal to allocate such large sums against the backdrop of the severe economic slowdown. Remembering how the government was compelled to dole out Rs 5,000 each for those affected countrywide in two consecutive months earlier this year during the first phase of the pandemic when the government had to introduce a lockdown, Warnasinghe warned of dire consequences unless the situation could be brought under control soon.

 Warnasinghe noted that the number of positive cases exceeded the 2,000 mark now.

 Referring to swift action taken by Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, on behalf of the government to obtain compensation to the tune of USD 1.9 mn from the owners of the large crude carrier New Diamond, which caught fire off Sri Lanka’s east coast on September 3, Warnasinghe emphasized the pivotal importance in establishing the cause of the corona eruption. Those responsible should be asked to pay compensation, Warnasinghe said.

 Health Secretary ex-Army Officer Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe yesterday (18) told The Island that they were yet to establish the real cause of the second wave. Retired Maj. Gen. Munasinghe revealed that initially they probed three possible causes though two of them were subsequently ruled out. Dr. Munasinghe said so when The Island asked him whether the government was able to ascertain how the eruption took place. The Health Secretary suggested that The Island clarify it with Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera as the complex process was handled by the Epidemiology unit. The Chief Epidemiologist said that they were yet to reach a final conclusion though the 39-year-old woman could be cleared of causing the eruption.

 

 



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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