Over 9 mn PCR and Antigen tests since March 2020
DG, Laboratory Services denies manipulating Covid-19 testing strategy
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Dr. Sudath Dharmaratne, Deputy DG, Laboratory Services, says contrary to accusations by various interested parties, PCR and Rapid Antigen testing were being carried out according to a plan in line with the country’s response to the Covid-19 challenge.
Dr. Dharmaratne said so when The Island sought his response to allegations that the Health Ministry restricted PCR testing in a bid to artificially bring down the number of positive cases.
The top health ministry official said that currently priority was given to Rapid Antigen testing as they battled the rapid spread of the epidemic, particularly the Delta variant. In spite of initial difficulties experienced in the wake of Covid-19 eruption, the state laboratory services with the support of private labs were able to meet the challenging task, Dr. Dharmaratne said.
The assurance was given in the wake of the GMOA meeting new health minister Keheliya Rambukwella to discuss ways and means of strengthening the government’s response to the Covid-19 challenge.
Dr. Dharmaratne said that overall nearly 5 mn PCR tests had been conducted since March 2020 with the state sector undertaking the majority of tests. The private sector operated nine labs whereas the government managed 31 facilities. According to Dr. Dharmaratne state-owned facilities consisted of 22 with the health ministry, seven with higher education ministry and two with the Defence sector.
Responding to another query, Dr. Dharmaratne said that the health ministry enhanced the capacity of the existing state-owned facilities in addition to setting up several new labs a few months ago. “We are in the process of establishing four new labs at Ampara, Vavuniya, Polonnaruwa and Vathupitiwela,” Dr. Dharmaratne said, assuring the public of uninterrupted services regardless of the developing crisis.
Asked to explain, Dr. Dharmaratne pointed out that the sudden explosion in the epidemic prompted a review of the testing strategy. It wouldn’t be fair under any circumstances to reach unsubstantiated conclusion the health ministry had drastically reduced the number of PCR tests in a bid to give false sense of security to the public. “The current requirement is to identify those who had been affected as quickly as possible hence the increase in much faster Rapid Antigen tests,” Dr. Dharmaratne said.
The senior official said that still substantial number of PCR tests had been carried out on a monthly basis though compared to 700,000 done in May the figure could be less. Commenting on Rapid Antigen testing lunched in last Nov, Dr. Dharmaratne said that the Medical Supplies Division had so far issued approximately 5 mn kits whereas one mn stock remained. According to him, more stocks were in the pipe line and the health ministry didn’t anticipate shortage of required materials.
Dr. Dharmaratne emphasized that the challenge faced by the health sector was enormous. “We didn’t anticipate a scenario here similar to a global pandemic. The detection of Covid-19 patients is as important as the vaccination drive,” Dr. Dharmaratne said, urging the public not to rush for PCR and Antigen tests unless advised by health authorities.
Acknowledging that the steady rise in the number deaths and positive cases was a cause for serious concern, Dr. Dharmaratne requested the public to have faith in the public health system. The official pointed out that far bigger countries with much stronger economies too faced unbearable pressure. Dr. Dharmaratne said that Sri Lanka with the support received from various countries, organizations as well as individuals sustained the campaign against Covid-19.
Declining to name any party that had hindered their efforts, Dr. Dharmaratne urged the health sector to unite whatever the existing differences to defeat the life threatening epidemic.
Third DNA test on Sarah: SJB questions veracity of police claim, asks Prez to dig deep
Easter Sunday carnage
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday (30) questioned the veracity of a police headquarters declaration that one of the Easter Sunday bombers Achchi Muhammadu Mohamed Hasthun’s wife Pulasthini Mahendran alias Sarah Jasmin had been killed on the night of April 26, 2019 at Sainthamaruthu.
The media was told at the Opposition Leader’s Office at No 30 Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha that the SJB was quite disturbed and surprised by the police headquarters statement issued on the basis of the Government Analyst’s findings.
Top SJB Spokesperson Mujibur Rahuman said that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government owed an explanation as to how a third DNA test proved Sarah Jasmin’s death when the two previous DNA tests failed. The former MP said that the two previous tests had been conducted during the tenures of President Maithripala Sirisena and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Sarah Jasmin’s husband Hasthun is believed to be one of the bomb makers of the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) blamed for the series of near simultaneous blasts. Explosions caused by suicide bombers claimed the lives of about 270 persons including dozens of foreigners.
Rahuman told The Island that he would like to remind President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Defence Minister that Easter Sunday carnage was meant to undermine the yahapalana government in which Wickremesinghe served as the Prime Minister. “We expect the President to look into this matter. The possibility of a conspiracy cannot be ruled out,” the former lawmaker said.
Authoritative sources said that the likes of ex-MP Rahuman was seeking political advantage from the Easter Sunday fallout. The Colombo District politician repeatedly questioned the investigation for reasons best known to him, sources said, alleging interested parties were working overtime to substantiate conspiracy theories.
Rahuman challenged the government to reveal the status of the investigation into the arrest of a police officer under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for helping Sarah Jasmin to flee Sri Lanka. The former UNPer said that the police officer’s role in Sarah Jasmin’s escape transpired in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the Easter Sunday carnage.
The Batticaloa High Court granted bail to Chief Inspector Nagoor Thambi Aboobucker who had been arrested on July 13, 2020, a few weeks before the last general election, after he filed a fundamental rights application. The law enforcement officer had been held in custody for a period of 32 months.
Rahuman noted that Abdul Cader Fathima Saadiah, the wife of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks mastermind Zahran Hashim, too, had been granted bail. She had been held under the PTA for almost four years.The SJB official emphasized that regardless of repeated assurances given by successive governments, the Easter Sunday massacre remained a mystery. Rahuman said that SJB MPs Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, who had been severely critical of the Easter Sunday investigations and repeatedly alleging a conspiracy, switched allegiance to the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government in last May. However, the SJB wouldn’t allow the incumbent government to suppress the truth, he said.
The former lawmaker asked whether the new partners had reached a consensus on the matter, therefore interested parties were busy covering up tracks.Rahuman said that those at the helm should be ashamed that the P CoI recommendations were never implemented. Demanding punishment to those who neglected their responsibilities, Rahuman said the current dispensation should know the conspirators, too, should be dealt with.
CBK: Proposed anti-corruption bill inadequate to end widespread problem
“75 percent in parliament are crooks.”
There is nothing in the proposed anti-corruption bill to prevent people from engaging in corrupt activities, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike said yesterday in Colombo.She said that she had accessed the draft of the bill, formulated at the behest of the IMF.
“The bill focuses on what to do when someone is identified as a crook. But there is nothing to prevent people from engaging in such acts.”
Corruption had become a key feature in Sri Lanka since 1977 despite some efforts by political leaders. However, there were strong anti-corruption sentiments in the country and they had to be harnessed, she said.
“75 percent in parliament are crooks,” she said.
The former President was also critical of the proposed new anti-terror laws. She said they were very dangerous laws and anyone could be detained for having dissenting views.
“These are scary laws. Everyone must unite to fight such laws,” she said.
SJB MP throws party union under the bus
By Akitha Perera
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP S.M. Marikkar on Thursday said that he supported the government’s decision to liberalise the petroleum sector and that the state should not be involved in business. Marikkar added that most Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers were idling and that they got paid for not doing any work.
“If you ask me, I say that we must liberalise the CPC. We must open the market. We can’t have this island mentality and it is our parochial thinking that got us into this mess. We can’t live in isolation. The world is open and an increase in competition leads to better outcomes for the consumer.
We believe that the state should not be involved in business. The Lanka IOC is in Sri Lanka. When three other companies come in, there will be greater competition. Most CPC employees are idling. They draw fat salaries at the end of the month for doing nothing,” he said.Marikkar said that while the average CPC employee wasted public funds, those who headed it were involved in corruption. Both waste and corruption had to be stopped, he said.
“I am not sucking up to the President. We have principles and we stand by them,” he said.
However, the SJB’s trade union arm led by Ananda Palitha is playing leading role in CPC trade union struggle against the Cabinet decision to award licenses to more foreign companies that intend to enter the fuel retail market in the country.
In a Twitter message, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera said China’s Sinopec, United Petroleum of Australia and RM Parks of USA in a collaboration with Shell Plc would enter the fuel retail market in Sri Lanka.
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