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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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Six member committee appointed to inquire into Sri Lanka Cricket Team’s conduct in Australia

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Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Roshan Ranasinghe has appointed a six member committee headed by Retired Supreme Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena to inquire into the incidents reported against some members of the Sri Lanka Cricket team that participated at the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia.

 

 

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SJB MP: Most parents have to choose between food and children’s education

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By Saman Indrajith

Most Sri Lankan parents are compelled to choose between food for their families and their children’s eduction, SJB Matale District MP Rohini Kumari Wijerathne told Parliament yesterday.

Only a few parents were able to feed and educate their children the MP said, participating in the debate on Budget 2023 under the expenditure heads of Ministries of Education and Women and Child Affairs.

“An 80-page exercise book costs Rs. 200. A CR book costs Rs 560. A pencil or pen costs Rs 40. A box of colour pencils costs Rs 570 while a bottle of glue costs Rs 150. If the father is a daily wage earner he has to spend one fourth of his salary on a box of colour pencils for his child. A satchel now costs around Rs 4,000. A pair of school shoes is above Rs 3,500. The Minister of Education knows well how many days a child could use an 80-page exercise book for taking notes. Roughly, stationery cost is around Rs 25,000 to 30,000 per child, MP Wijerathne said, adding that only Rs. 232 billion had been allotted for the Ministry of Education by Budget 2023.

“After paying salaries of teachers and covering officials’ expenses, etc., there will be very little left for other important matters,” the MP said, noting that Sri Lanka would soon be known as the country that made the lowest allocation of funds for education in the South Asian region.

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All crises boil down to flaws in education system, says Dullas

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By Saman Indrajith

All the crises Sri Lanka was beset with were due to the country’s outdated education system, MP Dullas Alahapperuma told Parliament yesterday.

“The political and economic crisis we are facing is the direct result of our education,” he said.

The Sri Lankan education system had not changed with global developments. Our system is not even geared for employment. Our examination system is antiquated and our classrooms are in the 19th Century.

However, the students belong to the 21st century. How can you cater to 21st Century children under an outdated system?” he queried.

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