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Mandatory vaccination: Former Human Rights Chief backs the move

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‘… status of vaccination is no longer a purely personal matter’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Dr. Deepika Udagama yesterday (18) backed calls for making vaccination mandatory to curb the rampaging pandemic.

Asked what her stand on calls for mandatory vaccination and whether she had received the vaccine, the outspoken academic told The Island: “One’s own health situation is a private matter. However, in my opinion, in a pandemic situation (public health emergency) the status of vaccination is no longer a purely personal matter. Not only are we entitled to rights, but we also have duties to society. Yes, I am fully vaccinated. I did so after consulting my physician.”

State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control Dr. Mrs. Sudarshini Fernandopulle strongly recommended making vaccination mandatory as there was no other cure.

Noting that some person has recently moved court against making vaccination mandatory, Dr. Udagama emphasized that if the vaccination was to be made mandatory it should be done in terms of the Constitution. Underscoring the importance of achieving the desired objective in a lawful manner (e.g., not via ad hoc press statements) with the State presenting a compelling reason or reasons. Dr. Udagama said that the decision should be based on medical grounds and no other. “It is also a fact that several countries have lawfully (some through statutes) mandated Covid-19 vaccination to at least those who are considered to be most vulnerable,” the academic said underscoring the importance of consensus on this matter.

Trade union activist and former UNP National List MP Saman Ratnapriya, too, told The Island that the country was in such a grave situation making vaccination mandatory seemed to be a step in the right direction. Urging the government to be mindful of the dangerous consequences in further delaying locking down the country, Ratnapriya said though he strongly opposed what he called executive actions, making vaccination mandatory looked right. With the total number of deaths now around 6,500 and climbing amidst a geometrical progression in the number of positive cases, inoculating the population was of paramount importance, the Opposition activist said.

The Island also sought the response of the HRC regarding calls for tougher vaccination policy as a senior spokesperson for the Covid-19 Task Force said that a significant number of people continued to dodge getting vaccinated. Human Rights Commissioner Harsha Kumara Navaratne said that the HRC was scheduled to meet on Aug 24 to discuss the issue at hand. Acknowledging the deterioration of the situation over past two weeks, Navaratne, Sri Lanka’s HC designated to Canada said the HRC would make its stand public after the meeting. Asked whether he had received the vaccination, the former Seva Lanka Chief said that he recognized the requirement for the robust continuation of the vaccination programme.

President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum who is also the director at the Colombo South Teaching Hospital at Kalubowila Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that tangible action should be taken to make vaccination compulsory though the immediate requirement was nothing but imposing what he called lockdown conditions. “We are at a critical stage with the health sector and the military grappling with the rapidly deteriorating situation. We are being overwhelmed by the challenging task,” Dr. Bellana said, urging the government to act now or face the consequences.

Pointing out that the government shouldn’t create an environment conducive for health sector trade unions to force a lockdown at the expense of the hapless people, Dr. Bellana said. All stakeholders, including the political leadership should respond to Covid-19 threat rationally without exploiting the situation to their benefit, Dr. Bellana said.

An irate Bellana warned all parties concerned to reach consensus on both immediate and short-term plans to meet the challenge. “Lockdown is the immediate need whereas making vaccination compulsory can be the short-term response,” the GMOF President said.

State Minister Prof. Channa Jayasumana, who is at the forefront of the government’s response to the epidemic, regretted that a section of the population was turning down free vaccination. Some campaigned against the ongoing vaccination drive for political reasons whereas a section did so due to religious beliefs, Prof. Jayasumana said. Making vaccination mandatory would be ideal and would certainly facilitate the vaccination process, the Anuradhapura district MP said.



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Inter-provincial travel ban to be lifted on Oct. 31

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Flagrant violations largely ignored during restrictions

ECONOMYNEXT – The ongoing inter-provincial travel ban will be lifted on October 31, the national COVID-19 prevention task force said, despite social media accounts – and sometimes pictures – of people openly flouting the ban.

The restriction was imposed in conjunction with an island-wide lockdown, officially known as a quarantine curfew, that the government declared on August 20 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Despite the lockdown being relaxed on October 01 as cases began to drop, the inter-province travel restriction has remained, at least on paper.

Critics, however, claim that people have been traveling – some even going on trips – around the country blatantly ignoring the ban, despite President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordering the authorities to strictly enforce it from October 21.

“After a discussion among the task force on Friday (23), with the permission of the president, it was decided to lift the travel ban from 4am October 31,” Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva told reporters on Friday.

Silva, who heads the national COVID-19 task force, said all public transportation services will also restart on October 25 and will operate according to health guidelines.

Health officials have joined the chorus of voices lamenting the apparent lax nature of the inter-provincial travel ban. The public does not seem to follow health guidelines increasing the risk of another wave of the epidemic, they have said.

“The behaviour of the public is not satisfactory,” Health Promotion Bureau Director Dr Ranjith Batuwanthudawa told the privately owned Derana network in an interview.

“The public did not follow the guidelines in the first long weekend after restrictions were relaxed. It can again increase the number of patients to a level the health sector cannot cope with,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Gen Silva said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be administered as a booster dose for frontline workers in the health, military, police and tourism sectors starting November 01.

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North, East see highest attendance of students, teachers: Dinesh

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ECONOMYNEXT – Northern and Eastern provinces saw the highest attendance of students, teachers, and principals when schools were reopened for the first time in six months, Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Friday (22).

Classes from grades 1 to 5 recommenced at 5,059 schools with fewer than 200 students on Thursday (21) amid an ongoing strike by teachers’ trade unions which is set to finally end next Monday (25).

Minister Gunawardena said the government was able to open around 98 percent of the targeted schools.

“Sixteen percent of students attended schools across the country, while 26 percent of teachers who signed their attendance,” Minister Gunawardena told parliament.

Principals showed up to work at 69 percent of schools with fewer than 200 students, in the island’s north, while 52 percent of teachers and 21 percent of students were present on Thursday, he said.

In the Eastern province, 67 percent of principals, 45 percent of teachers, and 39 percent of students went back to school on Thursday, he added.

In contrast, schools in the Southern and Western provinces saw lower levels of attendance from principals, teachers, and students, the minister said.

“We believe everyone will support the reopening of schools without any party or colour difference,” Minister Gunawardena said.

Trade unions are not fully onboard the government’s proposed solution to their long-standing grievance of salary anomalies.

The three-month-long strike, one of the longest trade union campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history, has deprived students of their only mode of distance learning in pandemic times: online education.

It is still uncertain if all principals will report to duty on Monday as some principals’ trade unions have said some of their demands including car permits and a mobile phone allowance have not been addressed yet.

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for the 99th day running on October 15 when they said they would start work from October 25.

The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued the strike, demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

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Foreign Minister to launch Lanka-UK chamber of commerce in London

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by Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Foreign Minister Prof G. L. Peiris is scheduled to be in London this week starting from tomorrow (25) for a series of events including the launching the Sri Lanka-UK Chamber of Commerce, diplomatic sources said

During his stay in London from Monday to Thursday (28), Prof Peiris is to meet his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss and Members of the Houses of Parliament and Lord Naseby.

Sources said that it would be Prof Peiris’ first visit to London after assuming the duties as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The launch of the Sri Lanka – United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to be presided over by HSBC bank. Lord Davies of Abersoch, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Sri Lanka and a host of invitees including the representatives of the London Stock Exchange and De La Rue. The new Chamber is to be registered with both British Chamber of Commerce and the UK Companies House.

Prof Peiris is expected to complete his London visit on Thursday (28) and then to proceed to Glasgow to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which is scheduled to begin next Sunday (31).

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