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Prof. Peiris as Vice Chair of IORA at its 21st Council of Ministers meeting calls for collective action

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Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, accepting the charge of the Vice-Chair position of the Indian Ocean Rim Association at the 21st Council of Ministers Meeting held in Dhaka called for collective action to safeguard the maritime shipping lanes and ocean space from pollution related disasters.

Referring to the MV X-Press Pearl disaster in May 2021, involving plastic nurdles, hazardous and noxious materials, Minister Peiris said that the environmental impact was not only felt in Sri Lanka but with possible long-term repercussions on marine environment beyond Sri Lanka waters. Emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation in maritime safety and security, Minister Peiris stated that Sri Lanka would take the lead in proposing collective action that could avert or mitigate such disasters that have long term repercussions not only on the environment but also livelihoods – a critical concern for all Member States. He also called on the global community to establish a fund to recover environmental damage and losses considering the magnitude of the consequences of such incidents. He thanked all Member States who extended their support to mitigate the environmental impact of the disaster.

Congratulating the Government of Bangladesh on the assumption of leadership of IORA, Foreign Minister Peiris stated that Sri Lanka unreservedly had placed its confidence in Bangladesh leading IORA in the next two years which is crucial given the ongoing pandemic. He also thanked the Government of the United Arab Emirates for its excellent work and resilience in steering IORA during its tenure. He also thanked the outgoing past chair, the Government of South Africa for enriching collective decisions as a member of the Troika and the Acting Secretary General and his staff for their tireless work done during the absence of a Secretary General.

The Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, commenting on the theme selected by Bangladesh for the period of its Chairmanship: “Harnessing opportunities of Indian Ocean sustainably for inclusive development”, stated that the Indian Ocean was the third largest, covering an area of more than 70 million sq km, and that the world was witnessing mounting competition in the Indian Ocean rim over oceanic resources. He stated that it highlighted the need for regional mechanisms, which could guide countries in the region to cooperate and engage peacefully in harnessing the prospects in a more sustainable manner and IORA was working on an overarching vision on this key thematic area, which was imperative for the promotion of a sustainable ocean economy.

The Minister alluding to “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor”, the vision statement of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, stated that the use of ocean resources in a sustainable manner under the concept of a blue-green economy was a cornerstone of Government policy. Referring to a speech made by the President at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-26) in Scotland, the Minister said that sustainability was at the heart of Sri Lanka’s national policy framework, and was shaped by Lord Buddha’s teachings, which placed great value on environmental integrity.

Speaking on COVID-19, the Minister stated that Sri Lanka remained deeply concerned by the unprecedented challenge for the whole of humanity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic which led to catastrophic health impacts and devastation of economies, especially in the tourism sector.

 

He said that Sri Lanka had embarked on a new journey to resuscitate tourism, and had opened its doors for tourists, while taking every possible measure to ensure the wellbeing of the people. He acknowledged that tourism had immense potential for growth and development and contributed to the economies of Member States. He said Sri Lanka was confident that the global community would come together to address the challenges posed by the pandemic and build economies in dynamic ways.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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