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Origin of second corona wave remains a mystery

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SLAF clears Ukrainians here to inspect AN 32s

Ramada Hotel responds to allegations

Probe not taken out of CCD in spite of AG’s intervention

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Contrary to various claims as regards the origin of the Minuwangoda covid cluster that could have resulted in a catastrophic coronavirus eruption at the Peliyagoda Central Fish Market, the Health Ministry is yet to announce its conclusive findings.

Well informed sources said that the top health administration remained silent when Health Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi recently inquired whether they were able to ascertain the origins of the second wave now into its fifth week.

Gampaha hospital made the first chance detection on Oct 2 when a 39-year-old Brandix worker was tested positive during a random test.

Minister Wanniarachchi has raised the issue at a top level meeting held at the ministry to discuss ways and means of countering the threat. Senior representatives of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), too, were present at the meeting.

Authoritative sources said that the government probed primarily two possibilities, namely repatriation of 341 Brandix workers and their families from India in three separate batches and a Ukrainian air crew causing the unprecedented crisis. Sources described the Ukrainians as an eight member crew of a civilian cargo plane that arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Sept 11 and a five-member Ukrainian technical crew here on May 9 on the invitation of the SLAF.

The Island sought an explanation from Asoka Jayamanne, Manager of Ramada Seeduwa where the Ukrainians stayed as regards accusations pertaining to the second wave. Declaring that hotels allowed to accommodate foreign airline crew were under government supervision,

Jayamanne said that the five-man Ukrainian technical crew never stayed at Ramada. “However, we accommodated the eight-member Ukrainian crew in terms of specific health guidelines issued,” Jayamanne said, adding that the crew arrived at the hotel on Sept. 11 after being subjected to PCR tests at the BIA. “We were informed on the morning of Sept. 13 of one of them being tested positive. Those responsible for evacuation of covid patients swiftly moved in, and the Ukrainian was taken to Infections Diseases Hospital, Angoda,” Jayamanne said.

Responding to another query, Jayamanne said that two days later (Sept. 15) the Captain of the crew sought their assistance as another member was in pain. Fearing the worst, the Captain sought immediate medical attention and once the situation was brought to the notice of relevant authorities, the second Ukrainian received immediate medical attention, Jayamanne said. “They moved him to the government hospital at Negombo where PCR tests cleared him.”

Jayamanne said that both Ukrainians after being discharged from hospitals were given accommodation at Ramada before they left the country. Six remaining members of the crew who stayed at Ramada during the 14-day quarantine period left the country on Sept 25, the hotelier said.

Jayamanne said that as part of the overall measures in place to curb spreading of coronavirus, they had set up a six-man special team to serve foreigners arriving in the country. “Of them, three were assigned to look after the Ukrainians. None of them were affected,” Jayamanne said, appreciating efforts made by health and military authorities to sustain hotel services in an extremely difficult situation.

Declaring that they were continuing services, Jayamanne emphasized that wouldn’t have been the case if Ukrainians caused the second wave.

 Asked again whether the Ukrainian technical team had at least visited Ramada hotel, Jayamanne alleged that deliberate attempts were being made to divert attention. “All visitors regardless of nationality are accommodated under government supervision. We follow a set of tough rules and regulations, including uninterrupted CCTV monitoring,” Jayamanne said.

The hotelier said that five out of a group of 15 hotel employees were tested positive in the second week of Oct. All of them were quarantined at the government facility for two weeks and subsequently directed to undergo home quarantine for two more weeks, Jayamanne said.

SLAF spokesperson Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe yesterday told The Island that the five-member Ukrainian technical team was here to inspect three AN 32 transport aircraft before they were flown to Ukraine for overhauling. “They arrived at the BIA on May 5 and left on July 5 having completed their task,” GC Wijesinghe said, emphasizing that the group never stayed at Ramada or used private transport throughout this period.

According to the SLAF spokesperson, the Ukrainian team were subjected to three PCR tests, first on arrival at the BIA on May 9, the second at the Jetwing Hotel, Pitipana where the group was quarantined (May 9-22) and the third at the Katunayake air base on July 2, three days before their departure. Group Captain Wijesinghe said that during the period (May 22-July 5), the foreign team inspected the aircraft, the group stayed within the base till their departure. Responding to another query, the senior Air Force officer said that the SLAF flew the three aircraft to Ukraine, underwent stipulated quarantine there before returning home. The SLAF team assigned to work with the visitors, too, underwent quarantine in terms of health guidelines, GC Wijesinghe said.

The SLAF officer said that a high priority project was undertaken having obtained necessary approvals from relevant ministries and they followed stipulated guidelines. The official emphasized that the visitors were accommodated at the Jetwing hotel as per the relevant directives and the whole process completed without jeopardizing measures in place to counter corona.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday (4) told The Island that the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) was inquiring into the second eruption. Asked whether police headquarters appointed a new team following the directive of Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, to appoint a new team as the CCD was crippled by many officers being tested positive for the virus, attorney-at-law Rohana said the CCD remained in charge of the inquiry.

DIG Rohana said the CCD would conduct the investigation. AG de Livera directed Acting IGP C.D. Wickremaratne on Oct 27 to submit a progress report on an inquiry into alleged negligence on the part of Brandix management and government officers resulting in the crisis.

Well informed sources said that there had been lapses on the part of MoH, Dompe who had been asked to look after Minuwangoda area following the transfer of the MoH there. However, the failure on the part of the medical facility within Brandix premises, Minuwangoda as well as the BoI to detect large numbers of workers reporting sick should be inquired into, sources said. Sources explained that against the backdrop of the first wave, factories couldn’t have afforded to ignore basic precautions.

Against the backdrop of hospitals and quarantine facilities overflowing, the government recently decided to quarantine first and second/third level contacts of corona positive persons at their own homes. DIG Rohana yesterday placed the number of home quarantined persons in the Western Province at 5,715 and 6,199, respectively. The police spokesperson said that 14 ASPs had been tasked to constantly monitor the home quarantine process.

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There’s nothing prescribed as Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court — Sumanthiran

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TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran, in an intervention in Parliament, said he was privileged to appear for Ranjan Ramanayake, a clean, honest politician in the Supreme Court and he was proud of that.

Nevertheless, Ranjan Ramanayake was convicted and sentenced. The sentence of four years’ rigorous imprisonment was unprecedented and exceptionally severe, and Parliament has a responsibility in this regard because we have not enacted a law for contempt of court, the MP noted.

At the outset, he said, “I want to flag one or two issues concerning the responsibility of the Parliament in this regard. But before I do that I am bound by law and tradition to disclose my interest in the matter. I am the counsel who appeared for Hon. Ranjan Ramanayake in the Supreme Court”.

This has an implication to the article in the constitution that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition just mentioned because it says for an offense for which the prescribed punishment is two years or more. But there’s nothing prescribed, nothing prescribed in the law because for long Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court, the TNA MP said.

Although there had been in the public as well, a lot of instances where drafts have been made, we have not done that – that is one. And by failing to do that, it has been like the freedom of the wild ass; anything can be given as a sentence and that is not a good thing.  I don’t want to go into the merits of the case or anything like that, but in this case Parliament has to take steps, to enact a law, he further said.

English law is supposed to be the substantive law because we don’t have a statute law now, and in English law itself scandalizing the court is no longer an offence of contempt of court. But unfortunately the court disregarded that, and has misdirected itself – that’s my position, Sumanthiran continued.

“But I want to bring to your notice a serious lacuna in the law with regard to a statue for contempt of court that has resulted in this unprecedented injustice to an honest Member of Parliament”, he added.

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Colombo share market gallops to all time highs

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The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) galloped last week with the benchmark All Share Price Index (ASPI) hitting an all time high on Monday and improving on that performance on subsequent trading days to close the week at 8,463 points on Friday. The more liquid S&P Index that normally trails the ASPI also gained sharply though less so than the benchmark index.

Brokers and analysts attributed the surge to prevailing low interest rates and said that people holding funds in fixed interest instruments have seen greater potential in the stock market and have so far not been proved wrong.

“Take the case of vehicle importers,” said one businessman. “With imports disallowed, cash that would have been once used to replenish inventory becomes available for investment elsewhere. The stock market is a magnet for such funds.”

Also, many companies have resorted to a share split strategy to make their shares both more liquid and more affordable on the market.

“Take the example of a fifty-rupee share split into two. Theoretically, it should then trade at Rs. 25 a share after the split. But often it does better than that at no cost to the company that had split the share because its stated capital remains what it was,” explained and analyst.

“It’s different in the case of bonus shares or scrip issues as they are called where reserves are capitalized to pay for the new shares priced at realistic values.”

Last week the Hayleys conglomerate announced share splits in over a dozen group companies. These ranged from each share being split into ten in the parent company (Hayleys) and thriving subsidiaries like Haycarb and Dipped Products while other companies like Kingsbury split a share into two.

Brokers and analysts said that the current market surge was largely driven by the Dhammika Perera controlled Hayleys and the Ishara Nanayakkara controlled LOLC groups.

Last week Hayleys announced over a dozen share splits including in its recently acquired Singer Group companies. The majority of these involved dividing each share into two though at Singer Sri Lanka each share will be split into three.

The biggest share split ever proposed is one that is pending at EB Creasy (EBC) where each share is to be split into 100. The seldom traded EBC share is quoted at the top end of the CSE sharelist. Analysts said the massive split is intended to pump liquidity into the share and make it more affordable.

“There’s a lot of retail play in the market right now with new investors who recently took some risk doing very nicely in this bull run,” a broker said.

The CSE hit rock bottom after a seven-week closure in March last year.

 

 

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Covid-19 has now spread geographically across SL

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In small numbers to an extensive region

Pandemic situation in Western Province improves

by Suresh Perera

Though there are no big Covid-19 clusters at present, the dreaded virus has spread geographically across the country due to the unrestricted movement of people, a senior medical official said.

“The transmission of the contagion in small numbers to an extensive region was inevitable in a society which remains ‘open’ with inter-provincial travel happening on a daily basis”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.

He said the spillover from the Western province was expected as there was an outflow of people to other districts particularly during the festive season.

“I am not blaming anybody, but a lockdown was not viable when taking into account the economic consequences and the livelihoods of the people. We could have imposed a curfew to restrict travel during the New Year, but we have to consider the fallout of such a measure”, he noted.

It true that geographically numbers have increased within a wide area, but the numbers are small and there are no big clusters as seen at Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda, the senior medical official explained.

Asked whether the pandemic has translated into a community spread as considerable positive cases continue to emerge on a daily basis, Dr. Herath replied, “no, that has not happened. If the Covid-19 situation was beyond control, we would have made a social and community transmission declaration”.

He said the pandemic situation in the Western province has improved with a dip in positive cases. However, the spillover is evident by the jump in figures at provincial level.

“We knew there was a risk, but we had to take it as locking down the country was not the solution

For example, if a Covid-19 patient infects two persons per day, there will be 200 positive cases within 100 days and one can imagine the critical situation that will emerge if the trend is allowed to continue, Dr. Herath continued.

“We are now managing under 1,000 cases per day”, he said, while assuring that the right mechanism is in place to identify positive cases through PCR and rapid antigen screening and place them under medical treatment, isolate and quarantine first contacts of patients”, he further said.

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