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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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Foreign force behind Easter Sunday attacks – Sirisena

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A powerful foreign country or an agency was behind the Easter Sunday bombings and the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zaharan Hashim, former President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday told the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

“I also do not believe that Zaharan was the leader of that organisation. Because a leader would never have initiated a suicide attack and died during the first wave,” Sirisena said.

The former President also said that Islamic extremism had spread rapidly in the country due to the support extremists received from Muslim politicians.

Sirisena also said that the military and intelligence officials had been demoralised by harassment they suffered during the yahaalanaya administration. This was the reason why local institutions failed to uncover NTJ’s plans. “But this incident is a conspiracy because it appeared that Zaharan was being manipulated by some foreign hand,” the former President said.

The President further said that during the previous administration, UNPers had headed the Ministry of Law and Order for several years that they had significantly weakened the intelligence services. Although he had taken the Ministry of law and Order in the last stages of the yahapalana government, he had not been able to undo the damage the UNP had done in four years, the witness said.

Commissioner: “Did you know that during your tenure as President, Muslim MPs and ministers were forcible acquiring land in Vanni and Batticaloa and they were constructing Muslim villages and mosques there?”

Sirisena: “Some ministers used their political power to clear forests and cultivate lands. Some ministers were angry with me when I tried to stop them. I tried hard to control those actions. But it was difficult for me to deal with that situation. Fundamentalism rose due to the protection given by Muslim political leaders. Certain political parties are based on religion, race and language. This is disastrous. I tried to stop these people but my decisions were not implemented.”

 

 

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Bathiudeen granted bail

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Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen was released on bail by the Fort Magistrate’s Court yesterday. Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage released Bathiudeen on cash bail of Rs. 100,000 with two sureties of one million rupees each.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on Bathiudeen and said that the guarantors should be his close relatives.

The Magistrate granted bail to the MP considering the risk of him contracting COVID-19 as two inmates in cells next to his had recently tested positive for coronavirus.

Bathiudeen was remanded in connection with alleged misappropriation of public funds during the last presidential election to transport voters.

The former minister has been accused of misusing 222 buses owned by the SLTB for transporting internally displaced persons from Puttalam to polling stations in Silavathurai, Mannar during the 2019 Presidential Election. Two others, Mohamed Yaseen Samsudeen and Alagarathnam Manoranjan face the same charges.

They have allegedly violated Article 82(1) of Presidential Elections Act, No. 15 of 1981 by misappropriating public funds amounting to Rs. 9.5 million.

Bathiudeen was arrested at an apartment complex at Ebenezer Place in Dehiwala in the early hours of October 19. He was then produced before the court and placed under remand custody. His bail application was also rejected by the magistrate’s court on several occasions

 

 

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Zahran supported Sirisena and SLMC at 2015 elections, Hizbullah tells PCoI

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim supported Former President Maithripala Sirisena and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) at the 2015 elections, former Eastern Province Governor M.L.A.M Hizbullah, on Tuesday night, told the PCoI probing the Easter Sunday attacks.

Hizbullah was giving evidence before the PCoI for the second day.

“Zahran supported the SLMC at the 2015 general election. After the UNP-led coalition won the election, NTJ members fought with our supporters. Several people were injured during the clash, including Zahran’s brother. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem visited Zahran’s brother at the hospital.”

The witness also submitted a footage of a demonstration opposite NTJ Headquarters in Kattankudy. It contained a speech by Zahran, who expressed his dismay after Sirisena appointed Hizbullah as a national list MP.

“In this video, Zahran clearly says he supported Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential election. Zahran also says he sent a fax to the former President, urging him not to appoint me to Parliament.”

However, it was earlier revealed that in 2015, representatives of five recognised political parties, including the UPFA and the UNP, had signed agreements with Zahran in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Representatives of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG), too, had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for NTJ support, the Commission was told.

Hizbullah, on Monday, admitted that his party had also signed an agreement with the NTJ.

“Zahran told social media that he would support any politician who agreed to his proposals. All the parties joined him. I also went along.”

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