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Lanka’s Malik Peiris shares ‘China’s Nobel Prize’ of USD 1 mn with Yuen



Hong Kong-based scientists Kwok-Yung Yuen and Sri Lanka’s Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris won the prize in life sciences in the 2021 Future Science Prize, dubbed ‘China’s Nobel Prize’ for their major discoveries of SARS-CoV-1 as the causative agent of the global SARS outbreak in 2003 with impact on combating COVID-19 and emerging infectious diseases, the award organiser announced on Sunday.

The Chines Embassy in Colombo issued the following statement: “The Future Science Prize is a privately funded science honour established by a group of renowned scientists and entrepreneurs in 2016, aiming at recognising scientific breakthroughs and innovations in China with long-term significance to the world. The prize is given in three categories with $1 million for each award, namely the Life Science Prize, Physical Science Prize and Mathematics and Computer Science Prize.

Yuen, from the University of Hong Kong, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday that “this is one of the most important prizes not just in China but also internationally. I am really honoured and grateful to get the recognition of the very eminent scientists of the selection committee for the prize.”

Wang Xiaodong, one of the reviewers of the award, said at Sunday’s press conference that “Chinese scientists were able to quickly identify the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to their contributions.”

When asked how their discoveries affect people’s understanding of the cause of COVID-19, Yuen explained that since he and his team discovered in 2005 that the horseshoe bat was the natural animal reservouir for the ancestral SARS-CoV-1, they believe that SARSCoV-2 “also went from bats to another mammal(s) before jumping into humans”.

Moreover, SARS-CoV-2 replicates very well in both bat and human intestinal organs, which further supports the bat origin of SARS-CoV-2, he said. But there are also major differences between the two diseases, Yuen noted, in terms of “disease severity, asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic rates and the ability of the virus to suppress interferon and inflammatory responses.”

As world scientists call for the second phase of the coronavirus origins study, experts from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have suggested that investigations should be carried out in countries where horseshoe bats and pangolins reside, those with virus-positive animal data and which supplied Wuhan Huanan seafood market through cold-chain logistics, as more tests and molecular viral research suggest it is possible that the early outbreak in the Huanan market may have been sparked by cold-chain imports.

Jin Dongyan, a professor at the School of Biomedical Sciences at HKU, told the Global Times the same day that Yuen and his research team, where a group of world-leading researchers are gathered, are very valuable to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. “From SARS to COVID-19, the team has been engaged in coronavirus-related basic studies while combing through clinical studies. That working mode contributes to the outstanding work of the university to the study of infectious diseases,” Jin said.

Yuen and his research team are devoting their efforts to find out how to prevent potential re-emergence of a SARS and COVID-19-like public health crisis. Studies on the types of coronaviruses that exist in bats, the potential hosts of the cross-species transmission, as well as how humans transmitted the virus to animals are part of their research, Jin said.

Yuen also told the Global Times that he is working on many areas from the pathogenesis of the coronavirus to antivirals and vaccines. “My part of the awarded prize will go back to the HKU for teaching and research purposes,” he added.

Apart from Kwok-Yung Yuen and Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris, Zhang Jie, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, won the Physical Science Prize for his development of laser-based fast electron beam technologies. Simon Sze from the “National Chiao Tung University” in the island of Taiwan won the prize in mathematics and computer science.

The science committee of the prizes, composed of 23 outstanding scientists, is at the core of the award selection. Mau-Chung Frank Chang, chairman of the committee, said that the nomination and selection of the prize was established in accordance with the Nobel Prize system, in which the committee invites international experts as nominators and then solicits evaluation letters from experts in relevant fields of the nominated work. Based on the evaluations, the committee then votes to select the final award winners.

In the previous five years, 20 winners were awarded the Future Science Prize, all of whom have been widely recognised both in scientific circles and society. The late Yuan Longping, known as “the father of hybrid rice,” was awarded the Life Science Prize in 2018 “for pioneering the use of hybrid vigor to achieve higher yield and increased stress resistance in rice.”

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Appointment of GM led to CEB chief’s resignation?



By Ifham Nizam

Amidst further deterioration of the power crisis, the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) M.M.C. Ferdinando has tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In a letter to the President, the Attorney-at-Law said that he is quitting due to personal reasons. Ferdinando will resign as Chairman/Member of the Electricity Board with effect from Feb. 1.

Sources close to Ferdinando said that the incumbent CEB Chairman did not want to be in that position following the appointment of Eng. Dr. D.C.R. Abeysekera as CEB General Manager. Abeysekera received his letter of appointment from Ferdinando on Tuesday (25).

Abeysekera received the appointment at the expense of Dr. Susantha Perera, whose designation as the GM on a temporary basis was resisted by the engineers’ union as he is a retiree.

Retired public servant Ferdinando was brought in as the CEB Chairman on July 19, last year soon after Sri Lanka entered into what was called a framework agreement with the US energy firm, New Fortress Energy. The agreement now challenged in the Supreme Court was finalised on 17 Sept, last year with Ferdinando endorsing it as an Advisor to the Finance Ministry.

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UK indicates sanctions against Lanka military



By Shamindra Ferdinnado

Close on the heels of UK Foreign Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad’s three-day visit here, the House of Commons has been told that measures were being contemplated as regards the Sri Lankan military.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Minister Amanda Milling has told Parliament that the government regularly engaged with the US and other partners on issues relating to Sri Lanka. She has further said: “The UK government keeps all evidence and potential designations under the UK Global Human Rights sanctions regime under close review, guided by the objectives of the sanctions regime. We would not normally speculate about future sanctions targets, as to do so could reduce their impact.”

The Conservative Party member was responding to Labour Party’s Siobhain McDonagh on Tuesday (25). MP Milling was responding to a query McDonagh posed to the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Elizabeth Truss, what assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the sanctions imposed by the US on General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan army.

The US in Feb 2020 imposed a travel ban on General Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Recently, the US extended its action against the Sri Lankan military by issuing travel ban on retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera.

The UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has commended the British stand.

Concerned Lankan military sources said that the UK in its capacity as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was planning further measures ahead of the next human rights sessions.

UK based sources told The Island that that type of written parliamentary question was usually answered by a government minister from the FCDO.

Sources explained as this particular question dealt with Sri Lanka, the minister responsible was Lord Tariq Ahmad, but as he represented the House of Lords he couldn’t make statements in the Commons chamber.

Sources added that it would be rare that a question on Sri Lanka would be directly responded to by the Foreign Secretary Truss

Commons member Amanda Milling is Minister of State for Asia, therefore her portfolio closely matches Tariq Ahmad’s brief.

Incidentally, the FCDO now has a British Tamil in a senior position. Maya Sivagnanam is South Asia Deputy Director for the Indian Ocean Region at the FCDO.

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JCPSM token strike cripples hospitals in Western Province



Strikers want Health Ministry to solve their problems within 10 days

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Joint Council of Professions Supplementary to Medicine (JCPSM) launched a 24-hour token strike yesterday (26) at 7 am at all hospitals in the Western Province. It consists of 16 unions.

The JCPSM has urged the government to address its members’s grievances including salary anomalies and issues related promotions. The strike had crippled hospitals in the province, Health Ministry sources said.

The JCPSM said emergency care, essential services and the treatment of COVID patients had not been affected by the strike.

President of the Government Nurses’ Association and former UNP National List MP Saman Rathnapriya said they had been urging the government to solve their problems for the past two months.

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island that they would end the token strike by 7 am today m(27) and thereafter give the government 10 days to address their demands.

“We will launch a continuous strike if the demands are not met within 10 days,” he said.

President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that most unions seemed to have lost the ability to solve disputes through negotiations.

“The unions have become too politicised, and the people are suffering as a result.”

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