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Politically motivated efforts to sabotage Covid-19 inoculation project alleged

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… despite shortcomings, vaccination drive on track

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister of Pharmaceutical Production, Supply and Regulation Prof. Channa Jayasumana says despicable attempts are being made to derail the ongoing Covid-19 inoculation drive.

In a wide ranging interview with Dasun Wasantha on ITN on Wednesday (16) night, Anuradhapura District lawmaker Prof. Jayasumana alleged that the recent inoculation of a group of people from Colombo at a vaccination centre in Galle was certainly part of their strategy.

When the interviewer pressed for an explanation, the medical academic turned politician said a senior Opposition politician’s younger brother was behind the moves to discredit those engaged in the vaccination programme.

Pointing out that the matter was now before courts, Prof. Jayasumana emphasised that the government could not ignore the threat posed by those who were out to prevent it from overcoming the Covid-19 challenge.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the government was also countering a threat on the political front. Answering another query, he alleged that an influential section of medical administrators and doctors, too, were trying to sabotage the vaccination programme for political reasons.

Conspiracy to derail vaccination drive

The state minister compared those who had been trying to sabotage the vaccination programme with the political groups which could not bear the eradication of terrorism. He recalled how certain influential persons had tried to thwart the combined security forces campaign on the Vanni front during eelam war IV (August 2006-May 2009).

Prof. Jayasumana said that some of those pursuing politically motivated strategy had been removed, moved out or neutralised to ensure that the vaccination programme would be conducted efficiently, but action could not be taken against some elements as they were under the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Acknowledging shortcomings and some failures on the part of the SLPP administration in the implementation of the vaccination programme, Prof. Jayasumana said he was confident that the vaccination drive could be steered to a successful conclusion.

 

Lanka refused to allow clinical trials

At the onset of the interview, Prof. Jayasumana explained why the government had refused to involve Sri Lanka in Covid-19 clinical trials. “We were given the opportunity. If agreed, we could have secured some privileges such as priority access to vaccines. Brazil and Peru were among those countries involved in clinical trials and were given priority in the distribution of vaccines.”

Prof. Jayasumana denied the interviewer’s assertion that Sri Lanka was late in launching the vaccination programme. “How could that be? We launched inoculation drive on January 29, within 24 hours after taking delivery of 500,000 free covishield doses from India.”

Prof. Jayasumana pointed out that Sri Lanka had launched the inoculation drive two weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) approved AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine aka covishield produced at Serum Institute, Pune in India for emergency use.

Sinopharm jab

Commenting on the introduction of the Sinopharm vaccine here, Prof. Jayasumana said that the Chinese product encountered serious challenges due to a highly politically motivated campaign meant to sabotage the inoculation campaign. He alleged a section of the print media contributed to that project carried out by disruptive elements, who also directed a high-profile social media campaign targeting Sinopharm.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the campaign against Sinopharm had delayed the administration of it. Referring to political influence exerted on medical specialists to discourage them from approving its use, Prof. Jayasumana acknowledged that finally a new regulatory committee had been appointed to secure approval for the Chinese jab.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the government had first used Sinopharm on May 8 though China delivered stock of 600,000 doses on March 31. “Doctors felt threatened. They believed a decision on Sinopharm could boomerang.”

Asked whether the government could have tackled Covid-19 if Sinopharm had been introduced much earlier, the State Minister said the vaccination process could have been advanced.

Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that Sri Lanka recently received sufficient Sinopharm doses to sustain the inoculation drive. He revealed that another consignment of one million vaccine doses was awaited in addition to six million doses expected in July and August.

Prof. Jayasumana said that the unexpected Covid-19 eruption in India had disrupted Sri Lanka’s inoculation project. Having received 500,000 free covishield doses from India, the government expected to buy 10 mn doses from Serum Institute, but only 500,000 could be bought. Besides, Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses through Covax facility, Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that the breaking up of the supply chain had resulted in about 575,000 being deprived of the covishield second dose. “We are quite concerned about the situation.”

Commenting on difficulties experienced in procurement efforts, Prof. Jayasumana said that there was no point in denying the fact that both the US and Russia pursued what he called vaccine diplomacy in line with their geopolitical strategy.

Prof. Jayasumana said that those who seek to discourage the use of Sinopharm had recently propagated the lie China sold Sinopharm dose at USD 15 a piece to Sri Lanka whereas Bangladesh received the same for USD 10 each. He alleged social media had been abused to mislead the public into believing that Sinopharm was unsafe and China was engaged in unfair trading practices.

 

‘200-million-rupee property’

Prof. Jayasumana said he had been accused of building a Rs 200 mn house in Etul Kotte. “Neither I nor my family members own any property in Etul Kotte or Pita Kotte,” Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that he had called for a police investigation.

Declaring that Sri Lanka had procured the Sinopharm vaccine at the lowest possible price, Prof. Jayasumana explained the procedures adopted in the procurement process.

Prof. Jayasumana insisted that no other country had received Sinopharm at lower prices.

The State Minister also discussed efforts to provide the second dose of covishield to those denied it so far. According to him, the WHO has promised to deliver 264,000 covishield doses as booster shots. “We expect to take delivery of the consignment within the first two weeks of July,” Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that Sri Lanka had also requested additional 300,000 doses for those deprived of the second dose. Those countries having additional stocks of that vaccine had said they could make available the vaccines only through the Covax programme, the state minister said.

 

Possible AZ-Pfizer mix

Prof. Jayasumana said that if their efforts to procure sufficient stock of covishield failed, the Pfizer vaccine could be used for the second dose. However, this would be subjected to approval by the regulatory body though the WHO had approved the vaccine mix.

Prof. Jayasumana said that 300,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines were expected to be delivered next month. Sri Lanka expected to take delivery of as many as 5 mn Pfizer vaccines this year, including 300,000 expected next month.

Responding to another query, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been only three cases of those who had received Sinopharm experiencing side-effects though 1.4 mn received the vaccine since May 8. The recent problem at a garment factory in Anuradhapura had not been caused by Sinopharm, but an issue caused by poor ventilation, the state minister said.



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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions

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Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread

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Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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