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.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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