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PCR lab built at cost of USD 5 mn at BIA idling!

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Ministers Keheliya Rambukwella and Prasanna Ranatunga at the opening of newly built PCR facility at the BIA, on Sept 23 (file picture)

Unexplained sudden abolition of mandatory PCR testing on arrival makes Cabinet approved project irrelevant

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A state-of- the- art PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing facility built at a cost of USD 5 mn at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) recently is idling due to a government decision to do away with the requirement for the inbound passengers to undergo Covid-19 testing.

The AASL- Hospinorm PCR Laboratory has the capacity to conduct approximately 7,000 tests a day.

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga declared opened the facility located outside the BIA on 23 Sept.

Aviation Minister Ranatunga is on record as having said that the opening of the new facility will end corrupt practices in the mandatory hotel quarantine process.

Sources said that though a private company wholly in the project, it is owned by the Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka Private Ltd. The laboratory is managed by Airport and Aviation Services under a two-year management contract. The lab charges $ 40 for a PCR test for travelers. A sizeable share of that fee goes to the investor.

Responding to a query, sources said that the Aviation Ministry obtained cabinet approval for the project in July, 2021. Having swiftly handled the process, the Aviation Ministry paved the way for the setting up of the operation by late September, sources said.

These sources said that the fate that had befallen quite unexpectedly on the private investment had placed the ministries concerned at an embarrassing position.

The disruption of the BIA project occurred close on the heels of the Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes (APHNH) seeking an opportunity to partner the government in similar ventures. APHNH secretary Dr. Sunil Ratnapriya, in a letter addressed to the health Minister of underscored the private sector laboratories performed approximately 60% of the total PCR workload of the country, and almost all the PCR requirements of the tourism industry, BOI (Board of Investment) and quarantine centres in hotels, with results being released within 24-36 hours.

Dr. Ratnapriya, a one-time GMOA firebrand expressed surprise at the government reaching an agreement with a foreign investor at their expense. The statement quoted Dr. Ratnapriya as having requested that the government prioritize and consider local healthcare investors as a partner in efforts such as this, given the expertise and international standards upheld by our member hospitals over the past two years.

With the abolition of mandatory PCR testing, the possibility of infected passengers, both locals and foreigners entering the society couldn’t be ruled out. Earlier, all those arriving at the BIA regardless of their vaccination status were subjected to hotel quarantine, in some instances at exorbitant room rates. At one point, the hotel quarantine got quite controversial due to shady deals, sources pointed out recalling no person less than Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva had to intervene in January this year.

Addressing hoteliers in his capacity as the Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), Gen. Silva acknowledged there had been attempts to extort money from hotels assigned the quarantine task. Sources said that it was the responsibility of the government to prevent unscrupulous elements from exploiting both foreigners and locals arriving in the country.



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Abandon selfishness and embrace a life of sacrifice and harmony to achieve spiritual and worldly success – President

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his Hajj message emphasizes that to achieve spiritual and worldly success, individuals must abandon selfishness and embrace a life of sacrifice and harmony. It is with this noble aim in mind that Muslims celebrate the Hajj festival each year.

On this occasion, Muslims from around the globe gather at a single place of worship, united in purpose, to pray for communal values that embody the hope of humanity. The Hajj celebration fosters feelings of equality and brotherhood among all people, delivering a profound message for world peace.

I extend my heartfelt wishes to the entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka and around the world for a meaningful Hajj celebration, where everyone comes together to fulfill the aspirations of humanity.

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Justice Minister goes ahead with SLFP election campaign

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… attends Karandeniya meeting with MS

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who calls himself the SLFP’s presidential candidate, launched the SLFP’s election campaign yesterday (16) in spite of restraining orders the Colombo District Court has issued against him and former SLFP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena.

Minister Rajapakshe attended the SLFP meeting at Karandeniya, the main meeting of the Galle District. Former President Sirisena was also present at the meeting organised by former monitoring MP of the Foreign Ministry Sajin de Vas Gunawardena.

Restrictions imposed on Sirisena and Rajapakshe are effective until June 19 and June 25, respectively.

The Election Commission on May 09 announced by virtue of the powers vested in the Commission to fix the date for the Presidential Election, it will hold the Presidential Election between 17 September and 16 October 2024.

The group headed by Sirisena decided to go ahead with the campaign, especially in the wake of the other section forming an alliance with a group of SLPP rebels to back Ranil Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the forthcoming Presidential Poll. However, Sirisena and Minister Rajapakshe, both elected to Parliament on the SLPP ticket, couldn’t represent the party, in any capacity, sources say.

Meanwhile, Chief Government Whip Urban Development and Housing Minister Prasanna Ranatunga yesterday (16) disclosed that the ruling SLPP wouldn’t field a candidate of its own and would throw its weight behind a candidate in the fray instead.

When he was asked, after a meeting in Minuwangoda, whether the SLPP would field a presidential candidate, Minister Ranatunga said it would support a candidate in the fray. Minister Ranatunga reiterated that the incumbent President was the best to lead the country therefore he believed he should be supported. The Minister said that the support would grow for Wickremesinghe after he officially declared his candidature.

Minister Ranatunga said that though he didn’t like Wickremesinghe the current crisis had compelled him to back him.

Another Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchci, widely believed to be a staunch Rajapaksa loyalist, declared on Saturday (15) though the SLPP and President Wickremesinghe differed on policy for the sake of the country such differences had to be sunk. Wanniarachchi said so in Embilipitiya.

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NMSJ calls for proper use of IMF funds

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Karu Jayasuriya

Former Speaker and the National Movement of Social Justice (NMSJ) Chairperson Karu Jayasuriya, yesterday stressed the critical importance of effectively utilising the third tranche of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package.

Jayasuriya has, in a media statement, said steps must be taken to ensure proper use of the funds. The IMF released the third tranche of $ 336 million from its $ 2.9 billion bailout package.

Full text of the statement: “We believe that the release of the third tranche by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is crucial for Sri Lanka’s restructuring programme and is in the nation’s best interest. It is our national responsibility to allocate and manage these funds towards the country’s development. Given the current economic challenges and the significant sacrifices made by the people, it is imperative that every penny received is used responsibly and effectively.

“Our foremost concern is the urgent need to combat waste and corruption, consistently highlighted by the IMF.

“Additionally, rehabilitating neglected ancient tanks, totaling approximately 15,000, for modern agricultural use is essential. This initiative can be supported by international funds, friendly nations, the private sector, and the military, promising transformative outcomes.

“Another major task is to immediately accelerate the export sector. In the 1990s, a significant programme under the theme “Export or Perish” was launched, including the highly successful international trade fair “Expo 92,” which attracted 5,600 foreign buyers. The concept of Export Villages was successfully implemented, resulting in high incomes for people in selected villages. Given the current situation, we can establish special export villages by leveraging the support of the supermarket chains that are currently operating successfully.

“The Export Development Board (EDB) should be given the necessary resources and powers to strengthen its capabilities. With advanced communication technology, Sri Lanka can be promoted as a country with rapidly increasing exports, even without the need for traditional exhibitions.

“At the same time, it is crucial to support the development of small and medium-scale entrepreneurs (SMEs). This can be achieved by providing subsidized interest rates and basic infrastructure facilities. We should take inspiration from the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who created new opportunities for India’s youth through the development of the IT/BPO sector. This concept can be easily popularized in Sri Lanka, offering similar benefits.

“The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) urges immediate action on these fronts, expecting responsible leadership to address these pressing issues.”

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