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Lanka lucky to get substantial supplies of Sinopharm, but we are paying for following failed playbook of US, UK – Dr. Rannan-Eliya

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Given that Sri Lanka has access to substantial supplies of Sinopharm vaccine, Sinovac is not a good choice any longer, since Sinopharm is much better in terms of immune protection, Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya says.

Dr. Eliya said that if Sri Lanka had actually stuck to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official strategy of preventing and stopping outbreaks, then Sinovac might have had a role, since even a partially effective vaccine can help in reducing the cost of maintaining a COVID- free country. He added that “this essentially what China is doing right now”.

“China doesn’t need the best vaccines, just vaccines good enough to slow transmission enough to allow other control measures to beat the virus, without putting the whole country in lockdown. But we are not China. We have followed the failed playbook that the UK and the USA adopted. So we have widespread transmission in the community and literally thousands of deaths each month. So for us, buying and deploying Sinopharm, topped up with Moderna, Pfizer and Sputnik seems to be best strategy for now, with the exact mix depending on what is available quickly in quantity. Moreover, given that thousands are dying and will continue to die until the virus slows down by infecting enough people, speed and quantity are the biggest considerations, and no longer cost, since we have already made the decision to go for broke…and I mean that literally!,” he said.

Given below are excerpts of his statement: “I was asked the other day for my thoughts on the local approval and use of Sinovac, so just sharing my general take on this. Sinovac was given an emergency use license (EUL) by our NMRA on 16 July 2021, six weeks after WHO had given its EUL (1 Jun 2021). We have since not purchased it as far as I know and certainly not used it, so why?

“SHOULD SINOVAC BE APPROVED FOR EMERGENCY USE DURING THIS ONGOING COVID PANDEMIC?

“The answer to that is fairly simply – YES. This basically boils down to two considerations: (1) Does it work? (2) Is it safe enough for emergency use, given the limited evidence that any vaccine will have in an emergency scenario? This is the decision that WHO came to (and they are really slow when it comes to non-US/UK/EU vaccines), and the same decision that robust regulatory authorities in places like Hong Kong, Chile came to months before WHO. Given that and given the reality that we faced of tight global supplies of COVID vaccines, our local NMRA approval was in fact if anything rather slow. The second question is whether we should use or purchase it.

“SHOULD SINOVAC BE USED IN OUR SRI LANKAN COVID VACCINATION STRATEGY?

“The question of whether Sinovac should be used in our national COVID vaccination strategy is a completely separate one, and not one that NMRA should or could decide. This separate decision needs to be based on the overall public health strategy, plus COST and AVAILABILITY considerations. The bottom line here is that the answer depends on what our alternatives are, and how desperate we are to boost population immunity.

“There are three things to know about Sinovac. First, it is not as effective in stopping severe illness and also in stopping transmission as Sinopharm or Astra-Zeneca, and much less effective than the mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna. Second, it is much more available to developing countries than Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, because Sinovac is being produced in the billions of doses and most Western countries aren’t buying it. Third, although Sinopharm is a better vaccine, Sinovac was available in bulk outside China much earlier, because Sinovac, a commercial firm, was much faster in getting approvals than the more lethargic, state-run Sinopharm.

“So Sinovac has been put to use in many countries, including in Europe and also some OECD countries, such as Chile and Mexico. GAVI has also signed agreements to purchase Sinovac for global distribution through the COVAX programme. For practical reasons. Sinovac and also Sinopharm are the only vaccines that are available in sufficient bulk to allow COVAX to deliver on its commitments to developing countries, so COVAX desperately needs both Sinovac and Sinopharm. So there is a rational case for purchasing Sinovac in bulk in many countries, and even Western-dominated entities like GAVI have come to this conclusion.

“However, for us in Sri Lanka, where we appear to now have substantial supplies of mostly Sinopharm vaccines, Sinovac is not a good choice any longer, since Sinopharm is much better in terms of immune protection. This means that with continuing widespread transmission (since contrary to President’s Official COVID Strategy, our real strategy has been for months to live and die! with the virus), Sinovac will require boosters earlier, and it will thus end up being more costly.”



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No immediate hike in fuel prices – Udaya

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Finance Minister rules out bailout package for CPC

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has told Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila that the Treasury is not in a position to assist the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). However, there would not be a fuel price hike in the short term, the Minister of Energy told the media yesterday.

Minister Gammanpila said that if a fuel hike was on the cards, he would announce it publicly.

“This is what I did last time also. This time around, I have told the people that we are facing a serious problem. We incur a loss of Rs. 15 on a litre of petrol and a loss of Rs 16 on a litre of diesel. The Chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has asked for a price increase,” he said.

Gammanpila said he told the Chairman of the CPC that they should first seek assistance from the Treasury. Given that prices of all essential items had increased, a significant increase in fuel prices would cause great inconvenience to the people, he said.

“At the last Cabinet meeting, I asked the Finance Minister for assistance. He said it was hard to provide assistance and was non-committal. I will again take the matter up at the next Cabinet meeting,” he said.

The government was discussing the possibility of obtaining a 3.6 billion US dollar credit line for fuel from Oman. Sri Lanka spent around USD 300 million on oil imports per month and the credit line would allow for a year of fuel supply at concessionary rates, the Minister said.

“If we get this credit line, we should be able to weather this storm. Otherwise, I will ask the Cabinet for relief. While people are suffering, we can’t also let the CPC go bankrupt. If CPC goes bust, the People’s Bank and Bank of Ceylon will be in deep trouble too,” the Minister said.

Gammanpila added that there was no point in queuing at fuel stations because a decision to increase fuel takes a few months to be approved. For example the previous hike in June was first proposed in April. “If takes a few months for such a proposal to be approved and implemented. I was told that people were queuing at fuel stations last Monday and Wednesday.”

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JVP calls for multi-agency probe into Rs. 4 bn. Gin-Nilwala scam

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Ex Prez can assist inquiry

By Shamindra Ferdinando

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says a comprehensive multi-agency investigation is required to get to the bottom of what he called the massive Gin Nilwala scam perpetrated in 2012 and 2015.

In spite of disclosures in that regard, both in and outside Parliament, over a period of time, absolutely nothing had been done so far, lawmaker Dissanayake told The Island.

The government owed an explanation why over Rs 4 bn had been paid to a Chinese firm, in Dec 2012, and on January 7, 2015, as the project was yet to get off the ground, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that he felt the need to highlight the Gin Nilwala scam against the backdrop of the Pandora Papers exposure of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa’s husband, Thirukumar Nadesan, as the Chinese company, allegedly involved in the Gin Nilwala project had moved money to a foreign account, in Hong Kong, held by the businessman.

Asked whether the Gin Nilwala scam, too, had been dealt by Pandora Papers, MP Dissanayake said as far as he knew Pandora Papers’ disclosure didn’t include the Gin Nilwala project.

Responding to another query, lawmaker Dissanayake said that though the then President Maithripala Sirisena questioned the Gin Nilwala project, the yahapalana government never investigated the issue properly.

MP Dissanayake said it wouldn’t be a difficult task to establish the transferring to a foreign account of Rs one bn in Dec 2012 and the over Rs. 3 bn on January 7, 2015, the day before the presidential election. Since the release of Pandora Papers, the video footage of former President Sirisena, now an SLPP MP, on the Gin Nilwala project had gone viral, the MP said.

The JVP leader said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should inquire into the matter as part of the ongoing examination of matters relating to Thirukumar Nadesan in respect of Pandora Papers.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Oct. 06 instructed CIABOC to inquire into Sri Lankans mentioned in Pandora Papers. Nadesan, too, also on the same day, asked President Rajapaksa to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations by appointing a retired Appeals Court Judge for the task. The CIABOC has recorded Nadesan’s statement in this regard.

MP Dissanayake alleged that successive governments had conveniently turned a blind eye to major cases of corruption. The very basis of parliamentary control over public finance was under threat, MP Dissanayake said, urging the government to take remedial measures or face the consequences. “Billions of rupees had been moved around, misappropriated and squandered. Those responsible for ensuring the proper practices are accused of exploiting the system. What is happening now is tragic,” MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that examination of proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Finance) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) since the last general election revealed a frightening situation. The reports before the last general election were no exception, the parliamentarian said, the level of corruption in the public sector and the private-public sector joint ventures was horrifying. The national economy was being mercilessly exploited by persons holding office, the JVP leader said, the CIABOC could examine proceedings of the parliamentary watchdog committees if it was genuinely interested in stamping out corruption.

MP Dissanayake said that the national economy was in such a desperate situation thanks to decades of waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence on the part of political parties in power. “Today, we are seeking finance assistance from various countries. Recently, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris revealed he discussed ways and means to overcome financial crisis with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary,” he said.

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions extended to Oct 21

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions have been extended to October 21, the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said issuing a press release yesterday.

The PMD added that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed the security forces to strictly enforce the inter-province travel restrictions during the weekend.

The decision was taken at the COVID-19 Prevention Committee meeting held Friday (15) morning.

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