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.
Current wave of COVID-19:
AG asks police to probe alleged negligence of Brandix, others
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has called for an immediate investigation into circumstances that led to the coronavirus eruption at the Brandix apparel manufacturing facility at Minuwangoda early this month.
AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne told The Island that a progress report had been called by or before Nov 13.
The AG stepped in amidst Opposition political parties, both in and outside Parliament questioning the failure on the part of health authorities to establish how the eruption had taken place.
Instructions were issued yesterday (27) when the AG summoned DIG Ajith Rohana, a senior officer in charge of the police Legal Division. The State Counsel said that the AG wanted the Brandix management, its agents and government servants probed as regards their negligence and carelessness.
Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera recently told The Island that they were yet to ascertain the cause of the current wave. Health Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Sujeewa Munasinghe said they had probed several leads and were now close to bringing the inquiry into successful conclusion.
Both Dr. Samaraweera and Head of the National COVID-19 Task Force Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva have said the 39-year-old Brandix employee who was the first to be tested positive is not the patient zero as regards the garment cluster.
The AG intervened in the absence of a police investigation into various accusations regarding the second wave with the number of positive cases rapidly nearing 9,000.
Brandix, in response to The Island queries, has assured that it followed health guidelines when 341 workers attached to its facility in India and their families were repatriated in three batches. The company said that it would fully cooperate with government authorities inquiring into the outbreak.
The Opposition lambasted the government for the deteriorating situation during last Friday’s debate on the epidemic now threatening to overwhelm the health facilities.
JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe yesterday said that a comprehensive inquiry was needed to establish the truth. (SF)
An Open Letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:
Don’t try to sign agreements in secret
Issued by the Sri Lanka
We, the members of the Sri Lanka Study Circle in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement – the largest organised grouping of Nations after the UN – that initiated a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1971 which was unanimously adopted by the entire World to make forever the Indian Ocean a zone of peace within which area no Nuclear weapons whatsoever would be permitted are a bit confused about the status of your visit to Sri Lanka due to a lack of transparency.
Initially, your embassy in Colombo, when questioned about rumours of a possible visit by you to our country, denied those rumours. Several days later, the embassy made an announcement that you would be visiting our country for a day.
We surmise therefore that you are visiting our country, not at our invitation but at your request, at a time when the ugly head of COVID is raising its head once again due to, what appears to be, the criminal negligence of a Company funded and mentored by your Government.
We must express our dismay and protest that the forerunners to your visit have dampened the spirit and purpose of your visit by flagrantly violating the basic health guidelines, required to be followed by all entering our country, to bring under control the pandemic which has caused thus far the deaths of 218000 people in your country.
We trust that you and your entourage would subject yourself to the mandatory health checks, especially travelling from India which ranks number two, next to your country, in the number of COVID related deaths.
We note that your visit has been preceded by many communiques appearing in the media.
To comment on some of them: You seem to harbour an illusion that your country and ours has a common vision. No, we do not have a common vision; your country is a Capitalist country where the engine of growth is the private sector. Ours, Mr. Pompeo, as per our Constitution and the thinking of our people, is a Socialist State where, in perfect harmony with Buddhist principles, public interest prevails over private interest.
The factors of production like Land are held by the State and not private individuals. That is why MCC goes against the very grain of Sri Lankan thinking, Buddhism and culture and does not have the people’s mandate.
You have ‘advised’ our Government to take necessary and difficult decisions to secure her economic independence. Mr. Chairman MCC, we request you to keep your unsolicited advice to yourself. We are indeed sorry if some members of our country had portrayed themselves to you, as imbeciles. The majority of them are not capable of sagacious and independent thought.
You seem to suggest that some of our donors’ conditions are not transparent and our discriminatory. In fact this is the very criticism the people have levelled against the MCC ; it is very discriminatory and the least transparent. The people of this country have yet to see the draft MCC document in the language they understand, Sinhala and Tamil.
‘US officials warned the Sri Lankan Government who they team up with for their economic partnership’. Mr. Pompeo, if that is a threat you can go to Mars; you could spend your time more profitably over there. We are aware that you were refused an audience with the Pope and we are acutely aware that you have endorsed the torture going on in Guantanamo Bay and that you hold a view that the hell-hole you forcibly occupy there should not be shut down.
It is laughable that you allude to debt diplomacy of some other countries. Does it not make you laugh that the US offers a gift horse – as your acolytes would say- worth 480 Million USD when the US has a sovereign debt of 26 Trillion USD. Amidst this debt from where did you get this pottage and why not use this amount to reduce your own debt?
‘Secretary Pompeo will travel to Colombo to underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.’
Hitherto, your military reach in the Pacific was limited to the South-east Asian Countries because the Pacific ended there. The Indian Ocean was untouched and the littoral states in the Indian Ocean declared the Indian Ocean, a Zone of Peace.
What you are now attempting to do is extend the Pacific Ocean to include the Indian Ocean.
As a first step, you have artificially made two Oceans one, by calling it the Indo-Pacific Ocean. And the second step is to extend the militarisation of the Pacific Ocean to cover the ‘Indian Ocean’ portion of the Indo -Pacific Ocean.
This is where the MCC, the ACSA, the SOFA and the QUAD fit in. This is how, in our opinion, the US would militarily ‘Pivot-to-Asia’
You have the gumption to say ‘free and open’ Indo Pacific Ocean when in the seas around the American Continents you restrict naval activity by applying unilaterally a doctrine, the Monroe doctrine.
Make no bones about it, the Indian Ocean, Mr. Secretary, is a nuclear Free Ocean, and an Ocean of Peace. Sri Lanka is a committed Non-Aligned State and not a Neutral state. Some novices are confused about this.
If you wish to speak with Sri Lanka come in Peace and we shall talk. We shall talk openly and transparently. Do not attempt to sign Agreements in Secret because they do not have the mandate of the People.
CEJ warns of danger to health from lead in paints
By Ifham Nizam
The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) yesterday urged the public to be vigilant about the lead content in consumer items. Dilena Pathragoda, CEJ Managing Director said that most old buildings still had old paint with high lead levels.
Addressing the media at an event to mark the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action he said that some Sri Lankan companies dump lead contaminated liquid waste into our water ways without following the proper procedures.
CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said: “In Sri Lanka, lead concentration in paint has been limited by the Consumer Affairs Authority as a result of a case filed by the CEJ in 2011. Accordingly, enamel and floor paints can have only 600ppm of lead while the limit is 90 ppm for emulsion and paints used on children’s products. This law came into effect from January 1, 2013. It is also mandatory to declare on the label if the paint is lead safe.”
Withanage added that it was the consumer’s duty to check for the lead level before purchasing paint. He added that many countries in the region had now reduced the maximum permissible lead level to 90 ppm in all types of paints. It was time to introduce more stringent standards for Sri Lankan paints, he said.
Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage in children, resulting in reduced Intelligence quotient (IQ), reduced attention span, impaired learning ability and increased risk of behavioral problems.
In adults it can affect reproduction, endocrine or the hormone system and the cardiovascular system. Research shows that the main source of lead poisoning is paint. The oil-based paints that are commonly known as enamel paint, floor paint, anti corrosive and lacquer contain high lead levels. These paints are commonly found on walls of preschools and childcare facilities, children play areas, furniture, baby cots and some toys.
In addition, researchers have revealed that lead is found in some imported plastic and rubber toys, stationery, paints on porcelain, cosmetics and artificial jewelry. People working in; e-waste recycling plants, lead-acid battery/ car battery recycling plants, metal smelting, construction and demolition work are highly vulnerable to lead exposure.
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