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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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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions

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Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread

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Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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