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New health guidelines for festive period: CMLS questions govt. claims

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena told the media yesterday that a new set of guidelines had been formulated for people to follow during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Dr. Gunawardena said that there was a possibility that a third wave of COVID-19 happening unless precautions were taken.

“The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is around the corner. During the last few weeks we saw a lot of people shopping. Shops are packed and most are not following the health guidelines.”

Dr. Gunawardena said that while it was impossible for the government to control such gatherings; it would issue guidelines and health officials would enforce them.

“These guidelines will brief people on what to do if they want to have an event to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, what kind of games could be played, etc.”, he said.

President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday that the Health Ministry was taking decisions without proper data. Moreover, a number of senior health officers had been compelled to leave the campaign against COVID-19 and they had been replaced with some junior officers.

Kumudesh said the exodus of capable and experienced professionals would jeopardise the campaign against the spread of the coronavirus.

“Ultimately, the President has to be consulted on every decision. The state labs can do 25,000 PCR tests a day, but fewer than 4,000 are done now. We have been asking the government to provide 10 buses so that we can start mobile PCR testing units, but even after a year the government has not heeded our request. We have the best PCR lab at the BIA, with equipment worth over Rs. 100 million but not a single tourist is tested there. All the samples are sent to private labs, which make a killing.”

Kumudesh said while the campaign against COVID-19 was crumbling; the general public was given the wrong impression that the pandemic was under control and that the number of infections was decreasing naturally.

“People think they are safe. They have also been nudged to celebrate the New Year. The government has been telling us that there is a significant drop in new cases and now people think that the virus is going away. However, when we look at the world, we see that the virus is mutating.”

The CMLS chief said that the variant that originated in England was prevalent in Sri Lanka and that there was a possibility that even the South African variant had arrived in the country.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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premanath-c-Dolawatta

SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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