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Johnston offers technological solution to expressway tollgate delays



Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday said that action would be taken to introduce electronic toll collection (ETC) at expressways to help alleviate traffic congestion, reduce delays, fuel consumption, and vehicle emissions.

Fernando said that a cashier at manual toll collection (MTC) centres in expressways takes around 12 to 15 seconds to collect the toll from a single vehicle and hand back the receipt. The ETC could reduce this to around six seconds and help the vehicles leave the expressways faster. This would be very helpful during rush-hours where we usually see lines of vehicles at the toll collection centres, the Minister said.

Minister Fernando said that ETCs are currently installed at the Colombo-Katunayake expressway and they would be introduced to other toll collection centres and inter-changes soon.

He said that it has been found by many studies that highway vehicle emissions could result in adverse health problems to nearby residents and workers, especially during traffic congestion. In response, the policy to promote ETC could help alleviate traffic congestion, as compared to MTC. That could also help reduce air pollution and improve public health. “Expressway users too can help promote this by starting to use pre-paid ETC cards. If we promote the ETC pre-paid card system it could help reduce traffic congestion at inter-changes by allowing drivers to move in and out of toll systems without delay.  The ETCs can improve the speed and efficiency of traffic flow and save drivers’ time. According to foreign studies, the MTCs can handle only about 350 vehicles per hour while an ETC counter could process around 1,200 vehicles per hour. As a result of better flow, congestion is reduced, fuel economy is improved, and pollution is reduced. It could help increase revenue because of time savings, faster throughput, and better service to attract more customers. It has been observed that ETCs could reduce accident rates and improve safety because of less slow-and-go driving. This will increase efficiency of roads because of better distribution between toll and non-toll routes,” the Minister said.

“In short, ETCs mean reduced delay, reduced fuel consumption, and reduced emissions,” the Minister said.

He said that while he had been travelling recently in expressways, it was noticed that some cashier counters at MTCs were shut down. “When I made inquiries from Ministry officials, I was told that there was a shortage of cashiers to serve in toll collection centres. Some of those who had obtained appointments as cashiers in the expressways have been deployed as management assistants at regional offices, citing service requirements. I instructed officials to redeploy them to counters so that it could help speed up the MTC process till we introduce ETCs to all roads.”

The Minister issued those instructions during a meeting held at the Highways Ministry to review the progress of Expressways Operational Management Unit and its future course of action.

Among those present were Secretary to the Ministry of Highways RWR Pemasiri, Director General of the Road Development Authority Sardha Weerakoon and other officials including, the director of the Expressways Operational Management Unit.

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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare



Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions



Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread



Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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