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Prof. Vitarana calls for a public approach based on intensive health education to get rid of Covid-19



It will be cheaper and easier to implement

By Saman Indrajith

LSSP leader Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the country’s most senior virologist, participating in the third reading stage of the budget debate under the expenditure headings of the Ministry of Health, said that it was not necessary to wait for a successful vaccine to be made and used to control the Covid-19 virus. It would also be very expensive. A public health approach based on intensive health education, and the active participation of the community would be cheaper, easier to implement and more effective even to get rid of the virus altogether from the country.

“We must first understand that this is a new virus to the world. There are many other types of viruses in the world which can cause alarm and even lead to epidemics, but there is a social immunity that has arisen against them with time and they tend to be milder. But for Covid-19 there is no such immunity. There is insufficient understanding of its behavior. It is still being studied and new knowledge of the virus is being discovered every day.” Prof. Vitarana said.

“It is in such a context that our Government faced the challenge and I must praise the way in which the Government handled that challenge. In the first wave, our experts identified separate clusters that had their origins from foreign sources. Action had been taken to identify the threat and to mitigate the damage in a scientific manner, so that Sri Lanka came to be among one of the few top countries in the world which handled the virus threat without letting it evolve into a pandemic”, said the renowned Virologist who was the former Head of the Medical Research Institute’s Virology department, and also worked as a consultant virologist at the Edinburgh City Hospital.

“But the virus gradually evolved itself. A PCR test is being used to make the diagnosis. The PCR test to identify the infection has a 70% level of accuracy. But PCR tests done against other viruses have a level of accuracy of more than 90%. This means that further research needs to be done to improve the capabilities of the Covid-19 PCR tests. About 30% of positives are being missed. That is the reality with regard to PCR tests. Further about 80% of those infected by the virus show no illness but can infect other people. Therefore, these are not easy conditions to control the spread of infection”, he said.

The World Health Organization has expressed its willingness to give vaccines to 20% of our population free of charge. The WHO can access the institutional capacity to ensure the safety and potency of those vaccines. These vaccines should be used to save the lives of elders and those who have other chronic medical conditions, for example heart patients. However, the main purpose of giving vaccines to a population is to make a country immune to the disease. To effectively stop transmission of the virus, at least 80% of the population needs to be immunized. This is a new vaccine and it is not known how long the immunization would last. And research is still been done on how frequently the vaccine should be given to obtain optimum protection. Under these circumstances the development of a program to vaccinate the entire population is unreliable and would be very costly. So the duty of the Government is to increase public awareness of the importance of following the three main health rules – the wearing of masks when other people are present, maintaining a distance of at least one meter, but better two meters, between oneself and other people, and frequent hand washing using soap, specially after touching any surface which has been touched by other people, Prof. Vitarana, who completed his PhD in virology from the University of London in 1971, further said.

He noted that there is a severe shortage of medicines in the Government hospitals and the cost is very high in the open market.

“I would like to suggest to the Minister that the way out would be to implement the Senaka Bibile Medicinal drug policy. Tenders were called worldwide to meet the requirement not only of the public health care system but also the private sector. Thus, the tenders called supplied the total national requirement. The tenders were called by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation using generic names of the medicine so that they could be bought at the cheapest prices provided their quality was ensured by getting certificates of good manufacturing practice by the supplying pharmaceutical companies”, he said.

This enabled all the Government hospitals to provide all the required medicines for practically every illness free of charge. The medicines were made available to the private sector too at the lowest possible prices. That was the result of the implementation of the Senake Bibile policy”, Prof. Vitarana added.

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LIOC seeks to expand operations



by Ifham Nizam

Power and Energey Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday revealed that Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) had asked for permission to set up 50 new filling stations in the country and take over a certain number of petrol sheds currenlty under the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). The government had asked the LIOC to increases the supply of fuel, in case Sri Lanka agreed to the Indian proposal,Wijesekera added.

Sri Lanka was facing daunting challenges as regards fuel distribution and it might not be able to get rid of fuel queues anytime soon, Minister Wijesekera said.Speaking to journalists yesterday, in Colombo, Wijesekera said that plans were underway to introduce a token system for fuel dispensation.He said the new scheme could come into effect from today (27) and the Police, and the armed forces will help implement it.

He also said that four separate groups from the Ministry were working on petrol, diesel, crude / furnace oil, and jet fuel imports. “We asked Lanka IOC to increase fuel supply and CEYPETCO to purchase diesel from them. But they asked for a price revision before that according to the pricing formula. That’s why we revised the price in a situation where there was no fuel in the country.”

The moves came as the government increased fuel prices with effect from the wee hours of Sunday wee hours. Petrol (Octane 92) now sells at Rs 470 per litre and Octane 95 at Rs. 550 per litre. Auto Diesel sells at Rs 460 per litre and Super Diesel at Rs 520 per litre.The Minister said they were working on 130-plus proposals for fuel delivery to Sri Lanka.

“USD 500 million is something that Sri Lanka cannot afford at this juncture. Therefore, consumption will have to be slashed, and fuel for public transport prioritized. Two ministers will fly to Russia today for discussions on fuel and related matters,” he said.The Minister said that bunker suppliers had been granted permission to deliver fuel for industries that deal in US currency.

He also said that overseas fuel companies based in countries that produce fuel, would be invited to set up business in Sri Lanka, as the CPC alone could not import fuel.

He said the CPC would become a more service-provider-based institution to facilitate fuel imports, and it had 9000 MT of diesel and the IOC 10,000 MT while the CPC had about 6000 MT of Petrol and the IOC about 8000 MT, of petrol.He said the IOC was issuing about 300 MT a day and their next shipment was due only after 10 July.

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Economic crisis: Govt. MPs slam Cabinet, Finance Ministry



‘How come SLPA paid to Treasury just a faction of massive revenue earned in six years?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

T wo SLPP MPs, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Madura Vithanage have, at different forums, lashed out at the government for the rapidly deteriorating status of the public sector finance. Godahewa has warned that economic recovery will not be possible unless the government restructured nearly 400 loss making public sector enterprises or at least take tangible measures to cut down on recurring losses.The former Media Minister, who represents the Gampaha District, said so addressing a group of Gampaha-based professionals and entrepreneurs recently.

Alleging that the failure, on the part of the government to establish an all-party government, contributed to the further deterioration of the situation, Dr. Godahewa emphasized the urgent need to curb, what he called, unbridled corruption as part of the efforts to revive the economy.The Gampaha District MP asked whether the current dispensation has addressed the issues at hand with a sense of responsibility.The MP questioned the composition of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, especially the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier, in spite of his party having just one seat in Parliament, against the backdrop of even the government parliamentary group not being properly represented.

Dr. Godahewa warned that SriLankan Airlines, the Ceylon Electricity Board, and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) would deny the country an opportunity to recover as they remained a massive burden on taxpayers. The One-time top level private sector executive said that the Cabinet-of-Ministers lacked the strength to take crucial decisions. But, the situation would have been different if the Cabinet-of-Ministers included representatives of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other political parties. Dr. Godahewa declared that the government couldn’t take decisions on sensitive matters as long as it didn’t command political power.

Meanwhile, Colombo District MP Vithanage has questioned the responsibility, on the part of the Finance Ministry, in the overall deterioration of public sector finance with the focus on the handling of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) at a recent meeting of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The lawmaker alleged that the Finance Ministry had conveniently failed to make required intervention on behalf of the government, thereby deprived the opportunity to utilize SLPA profits.

Prof. Charitha Herath chaired the meeting. Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne attended the meeting whereas Ports and Shipping Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra led the SLPA team.Both MP Vithanage and Prof. Herath asserted that the Finance Ministry should have intervened on behalf of the people. The COPE examined how the SLPA continuously refrained from paying the Treasury at least the minimum amounts in spite of receiving massive profits over the years.  The Director General Public Enterprises, who has received that position recently, struggled to explain their failure to take up the non-transfer of SLPA profits to the Treasury. The COPE was told of Rs 69,686 mn revenue earned from 2016 to 2021, only 600 mn had been transferred to the Treasury.

Lawmaker Vithanage yesterday told The Island that the recent examinations of various enterprises and the Central Bank, by the COPE, as well as other watchdog committees, disclosed how the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and the Monetary Board contributed to the developing crisis. MP Vithanage pointed out even after the Covid-19 eruption devastated the economy, the SLPA had been able to withhold funds required by the Treasury for want of Finance Ministry intervention.Responding to queries, MP Vithanage said that the Parliament should act without further delay to ensure the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board acted responsibly.

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Ceylon Chamber distributes dry rations



The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Diwiyata Diriyak’ social initiative provided emergency relief, in the form of 10,000 essential dry ration packs, to vulnerable families in the Kegalle and Colombo districts.

A press release from the Chamber said: Mobilising the Chamber’s Membership to assist low-income families that are struggling to survive the current crisis, the initial distribution, which took place at the Kegalle District Secretariat, was the first phase of Diwiyata Diriyak, which aims to provide 5,000 relief packs.

Containing essential items such as rice, lentils, sugar, wheat flour, canned fish, etc., costing Rs. 5,000 each, vulnerable families, identified by the respective District Secretaries in the Warakapola, Galigamuwa, Mawanella and Rambukkana DS divisions, were among the initial beneficiaries.

CEO and Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber Manjula de Silva said that the Chamber was committed to supporting the public during this immensely challenging time, and would always strive to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.

Home Garden Starter Packs, sponsored by the CIC Group, were also distributed among the families, in order to assist and encourage home garden cultivation as a viable option to address the rapidly rising costs and predicted shortage of food items, the release said.

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