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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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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE



Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm



By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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