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Re-infections with Covid-19:

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Are they distinct possibilities?

The headline of this article appeared with a different column yesterday due to a technical problem. We apologise to our readers for the inadvertent error – Editor

By Dr.B. J. C. Perera,Specialist Consultant Paediatrician

There has been considerable debate on whether reinfections implying repeated infections with the virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes the COVID-19 disease was occurring and whether such occurrences were even possible. A reinfection is a second, third or any subsequent infection with the same virus once a person has recovered from an initial index infection. Unscrambling of those contentions were obviously extremely important from public health as well as curative health perspectives. In the not too distant past, there were some suspicious cases of possible reinfections in other parts of the world but whether those were due to a persistence of the virus in the individual, reactivation of the same illness after some time in the person or whether these were due to new second infections could not be scientifically proven with certainty. Various types of conjectures and assumptions were quite rife in the face of the ambiguity of details on the topic of reinfections.

In the human health scenario, some viruses like measles or chicken pox viruses generate virtually life-long immunity and resistance to reinfections. Second infections with these viruses are extremely rare and are almost unheard of. In the other extreme, there are viruses like those that cause the common cold, with which reinfections are extremely common. There are examples of even certain other types of human coronaviruses that cause the common cold, with the propensity to cause multiple reinfections. From a public health perspective information regarding such immunological features of an infection are absolutely vital to facilitate the formulation and implementation of preventive measures.

Being able to say for sure that there is a reinfection by another strain of the same organism depends on how reliably one could say that it is not the same original index organism that is there in the second infection. It is not easy to detect alterations in the different strains of the same organism. However, a modern technological development has made this possible. It is a technique known as genome sequencing. Whole genome sequencing is the process of determining the complete sequence of the components of an organism’s genetic structure at a given time. This technique can be used to detect differences in the genetic make-up of different strains of the same organism. When an organism undergoes any form of mutation, the new mutant will have some differences in the genome from the original index strain.

There is now convincing evidence for at least two cases, one from Hong Kong and the other from the USA, of well-documented human reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 virus. These case reports invariably generate certain questions about how commonly reinfection may occur. The cases described here have different characteristics in terms of viral genetics, timeline of reinfection and the severity of the disease. Although we can learn quite a few things from the characteristics of these two cases, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about the clinical and public health implications of these findings.

On August 24, researchers in Hong Kong announced the first confirmed instance of human reinfection with SARS-CoV-2. It was a 33-year-old otherwise healthy man living in Hong Kong who developed three days of respiratory symptoms and was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 26th March 2020. Following recovery, he was later PCR tested twice more for SARS-CoV-2 and both tests were negative. On 15th August 2020, he was tested for SARS-CoV-2 again as a part of re-entry screening when he returned to Hong Kong from Europe. That test result was positive. He had no symptoms at the time of the second positive result. Genome sequencing revealed that the viruses isolated in March and in August were from different genetic groups, leading the study authors to conclude that the patient had been infected twice.

In the second case, a 25-year-old otherwise healthy man living in Nevada, USA, developed a respiratory viral infection and was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 18th April 2020. The patient recovered and two PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 performed in May were negative. Then at the end of May, the patient again developed respiratory symptoms and tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in early June 2020. Genomic sequencing revealed that the viral isolates showed a number of genetic differences between the isolates. The authors of that report concluded that based on the degrees of genetic differences between the two isolates, these were two distinct infections.

There have also been recent news reports of one case of reinfection in Belgium and one in the Netherlands, diagnosed using genome sequencing, but the scientific details of those cases were not available at the time of writing this article.

What makes these reports of reinfection different from previous reports? There have been numerous reports of patients with possible reinfection prior to this one. In April, it was reported that hundreds of people in South Korea who had recovered from COVID-19 and were retested for SARS-CoV-2, had tested positive upon retesting. To help determine whether the patients in South Korea had indeed been reinfected and if they could transmit the virus, researchers attempted to culture SARS-CoV-2 from retest samples and traced the close contacts of those with positive retest results. The virus could not be cultured and there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases among contacts, suggesting that the detected virus was not alive. It was therefore thought that what was observed in South Korea was prolonged shedding of SARS-CoV-2, a phenomenon that is now well recognised.

The best way to establish proof of reinfection is to perform genome sequencing. The technique determines the order of chemical building blocks that comprise the genetic code of an organism. Although the genomes of different SARS-CoV-2 individual virus particles are very similar to each other and hence identified as SARS-CoV-2 and not as other viruses, some differences do occur. Those differences develop through mutations, or the substitution of one chemical building block for another, as genome copies are made. Mutations may be inherited by the next generation of virus particles, resulting in viral evolution as they accumulate over time. Genome sequencing can thus help to determine whether two populations of SARS-CoV-2 evolved separately from each other or whether one gave rise to the other. This principle can be applied to virus samples obtained from a single person at two different times.

Thousands of genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 isolates from all over the world have been published in on-line databases. Comparison and analysis of these sequences has resulted in the characterization of several clades. A clade is a group of organisms that can be traced to a common ancestor and all common descendants. These clades of SARS-CoV-2 have geographic specificity in part because viral evolution has occurred after SARS-CoV-2 has been transported between continents. It has been found that viruses from one lineage, clade G, predominate in Europe and the United States, while clade L, the progenitor of clade G, predominates in Asia. In the case of the Hong Kong patient, genomic sequencing determined that the patient’s first infection was caused by a virus from clade V, while the second was caused by a virus from clade G. This strongly suggests that the patient was infected on two separate occasions, in different parts of the world.

Is the occurrence of reinfection surprising? The possibility of reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 has been widely argued. Several lines of evidence have been used to contend against it. Until the announcement from Hong Kong, evidence in support of reinfection had not been published. On the other hand, the occurrence of SARS-CoV2 reinfection is not surprising, based on experience with other infectious diseases. “Sterilizing immunity,” or complete protection from infection after immunologic priming by natural infection or vaccination is often an elusive target, either because short-term immunity is not fool proof or because immunity tends to wane over time. Evidence from animal studies demonstrate the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection despite immunologic priming. If reinfection is possible, why are the first cases of this are only coming up being reported now? Will there be more cases in the future? It is possible there have been other cases of reinfection that have not been detected or convincingly investigated. In essence, public health surveillance systems are not set up to identify cases of reinfection.

Based on current information, it is difficult to predict how commonly reinfection will occur, but it is useful to explore whether features of the Hong Kong and Nevada cases make those patients’ situations more or less applicable to other patients. As for timing of reinfection, it is unclear how much the time period between infections, 4.5 months in the case of the Hong Kong patient, and six weeks in the case of the Nevada patient, may have contributed to the patients’ risks for reinfection. Studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies can decline rapidly within a few weeks or months of infection but again, the role that antibodies play in immunologic protection is unclear. It is possible these patients were poorly protected against reinfection and were reinfected as soon as they were next exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Generally speaking, immunologic protection induced by natural infection or vaccination tends to wane over time. Hence the possibility that an effective COVID-19 vaccine may need to be administered repeatedly in order to maintain sufficient immunity. It is possible that as travel restrictions ease and population movement increases, exposure to SARS-CoV-2 clades that have not been previously encountered may increase the risk of reinfection. Concerns have also been expressed as to whether immune enhancement may occur for SARS-CoV-2, and in particular, if vaccination against COVID-19 could precipitate severe disease if post-vaccination infection occurs. At this time, there is no evidence from human or animal studies that SARSCoV-2 infection can precipitate immune enhancement of the disease.

Clearly a lot more scientific information is needed before tangible conclusions can be arrived at. Our perceptions on the capabilities of this blight will change over time when more and more details and research evidence is brought to light in the course of time. However, in view of the mayhem that has so far been wreaked by the virus, time is perhaps at a premium. As time is of the essence, the onus is on dedicated researchers world-wide to unravel some of these mysteries as soon as possible.

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Viewing 20A through governance prisms

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By Austin Fernando
(Former Secretary to the President)

Twentieth Amendment (20A) is reviewed by commentators from political, legal, journalistic, and religious angles. Not belonging to any such group, I do not venture to cover the multitude of discussions on 20A. My focus is to view 20A to understand how it affects governance and causes political contradictions.

In democratic good governance, there are essential elements, such as the rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensual oriented action, equity and inclusivity, accountability, and participation. Irrespectively, it is surprising to observe public administrators/their associations (except Auditors) in stoic silence on the 20A, though they will implement and experience fallouts of the 20A.

 

Ministerial Review Committee

The 20A created contradictory opinions even among the government ranks. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a Committee of Ministers to review 20A. When this Committee Report was handed over, the public expected a review by the Cabinet. But it did not happen. Responsiveness, inclusivity, and participation have been lost even before 20A is passed, with a presidential directive to discuss the revisions of the Ministerial Committee at the Committee Stage. Such directives are common in Executive Presidency though one may question the applicability of Article 42(2) – “collective responsibility.” Anyway, the revisions will hence lack prior legal or public scrutiny.

 

Drafting crucial law

Probably, the Minister of Justice, who coordinated abolishing 19A, would have ordered the drafters to revert to 18A. Due to the critical nature, the Legal Draftsman would have officially conveyed the Cabinet of the implications of the amendments. It would have been opportune if that had happened, and their views shared, least as an Annex to the Cabinet Memorandum, especially for the Cabinet to observe the weaknesses/adversities of 20A, independently. Let me view 20A to observe the effects on good governance in this scenario.

 

Post-conflict issues and President’s duty

One sensitive amendment is the deletion of Article 33(1)(b) “Promote national reconciliation and integration.” It entered the 19A from post-conflict demands and tagged as a presidential ‘duty.’ Not much to exceptionally disturb the President through this ‘duty’ happened during the last five years. Hence, this deletion wrongly orchestrates negativism that he may be averse to ‘reconciliation and integration.’ It is unfair by him and hence deserves review.

 

Constitutional Council vs Parliamentary Council

Chapter VIIA – The Executive, matters to good governance. The first important issue is the erasure of the Constitutional Council (CC) and replacement by the Parliamentary Council (PC). The membership of the PC is political, and the proposed processes in application are subjected to presidential whim, especially by the power to supersede PC’s observations. These dilute PC’s independence and restricts inclusive participation.

 

 

Audit and Procurement Commissions

Under the 19A, nine Commissions were established out of which 20A has deleted the Audit Services Commission and National Procurement Commission (NPC). Erasing the Audit Services Commission does not reflect well for good governance.

Worst is to selectively leave-out audit of the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office by constitutional fiat [Article 154(1)- 20A]. The primary objective of auditing is to examine the accuracy of accounts and express opinions on financial statements. The secondary objective is to detect and prevent frauds, misuses, misappropriations, etc.  

Preventing auditing cheekily endorses the reluctance to be transparent and accountable; and could motivate officers to deliberately committing errors, frauds, and corruption. More important is the impact on parliamentary control of state finances (Article 148). The President, PM, and their officials, immune to parliamentary financial control, predict an accountability disaster. This also ridicules the government’s “One Country, One Law” rhetoric because other Ministers and officials have no such immunity.

In the private sector, the shareholders decide who the Auditors are, to audit the Board, Chief Executive (CEO), and all transactions. The 20A wants everyone to be audited, but not Sri Lanka’s CEO and his deputy. If 20A equivalent had happened in the private sector, shareholders would have revolted, but 20A is Amurtha (elixir) for government supporters.

Article 156C directs the National Procurement Commission (NPC) to formulate fair, transparent, competitive, and cost-effective procedures and guidelines for government procurements. These are extremely positive objectives. It is surprising for 20A to push them aside because we hear of wrongdoings, worth millions of rupees, happening even while the 19A is operative, as alleged by government spokespersons. What can we predict without an NPC? If the NPC is slow performing, corrections should be followed, rather than to abolish it.

“Independent Commissions”

According to the 19A, members of the Commissions were appointed by the President. (Article 41B and 41C). There had been very few disagreements on appointments between the CC and the Executive, which had been sorted out proving the ability to cohabit.

Special concerns on the CC are projected regarding higher judicial appointments. We sometimes hear the complaint of the President’s inability to get judges appointed at will. These are probably related to the CC’s unanimous rejections of two judicial appointment recommendations. Nevertheless, these decisions were made with the participation of the representatives of the then Opposition and civil society. Thus, 20A will ignore the latter arrangements negating an existing democratic process. Under 20A, a President’s recommendations, though wrong, may stay on, irrespective of negative observations of the PC. Article 41C blocked this happening, post-19A. Therefore, are the 20A provisions democratic and hail good governance?

Proposed Article 111D permits the President to appoint two members of his wish to the Judicial Services Commission. When such open-ended appointments are possible it gives hope to the judiciary that they could manipulate their personal gains.

 

Therefore, reviewing these appointments by the CC will do justice to the judiciary.

Though the incumbent President, with a strong Parliament, and personality, may not sometimes succumb to such influencing, but a weaker President certainly will, to sustain power. Constitutions must be drafted with appropriate controls applicable to any President, and not person-centric to the incumbent. This mistake has been repeated by us and should end.

Even the Public Service Commission (PSC) is appointed by the President after receiving PC observations. Again, overruling these observations, like in other instances, could make the PSC also toothless.

The effects will be observed in the short, medium, and long terms in recruitment, promotion, discipline, transfers, etc. The future of public administration may effectively face dismal problems.

We hear from the Minister of Justice of the constraints to appointment an IGP. He castigated the “purpose” or “use” of a National Police Commission (NPC) based on this. But such an appointment is prohibited by Article 155G. The increased numbers of criminal incidents were referred to prove the ineffectiveness of the NPoC. He ignored that the NPoC does not have the power to fight criminality. (Article 155G)

Removal of Officers (Procedure) Act No. 5 of 2002 clearly states that IGP’s removal is possible only under specified circumstances, such as insolvency, ill health, ceasing to be a citizen, etc. None of these sins were proved and the incumbent government retired him with all attached perks. Factually, there was no vacancy until he formally retired to appoint a new IGP. But when such irresponsible criticisms happen others hang on to such arguments. Therefore, they also pray for NPoC’s demise!

Dual citizenry

By deleting Article 91 (d) (xiii), 20A permits dual citizen’s appointment as parliamentarians. The need to use this amendment will be at the next general election, after five years. But the government is in a mighty hurry. Urgent implementation will be required if the National List is to be tampered for special political gain. Some ministers stated that 19A – 91(d)(xii) should be repealed because it was incorporated by person-centric lawmaking and thus wrong. The irony is that the 19A deletion also appears to accommodate person-centricity.

The keen advocates of this amendment are those who argued against Singapore-rooted Arjuna Mahendran. They forget that the difficulties with Mahendran would arise with dual citizen politicians sinning after 20A. Politicians sin whichever the party they belong!

When a clerk, a Grama Sevaka, IGP or a Secretary must be a citizen, but not parliamentarians, Ministers, PMs, or Presidents, it is a joke. Since the President has shown how to solve the dual citizenship problem, individually, why mess with the Constitution without following the Leader?

Another important reason is that this amendment will apply to any other dual citizens while being members of international terror groups (e.g. ISIS) or Tiger remnants. This situation is worsened by repealing the administering of the Official Oath (Article 53) in Schedule 7 of the Constitution. We are assured that the President will not do underhand deals with LTTE remnants or the Islamic terror groups. But this amendment affecting security governance could be used by another President or Minister, supported by extremists, by being inactive, permitting “support, espouse, promote, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate state.”

This freedom to engage in separatist agendas may motivate helpful activities for separatism and it will be the base for another conflict that has to be fought. Such motivators are mentioned of previous regimes and cannot it repeat with the current and future regimes? This country has suffered enough and hence this amendment needs erasure or at least modifying.

Election promises and constitutional amendments

That the incumbent President received nearly seven million votes at the presidential election and a 2/3 majority at the general election is used to validate the 20A. But were the electors told that these questionable changes (e. g. abolition of dual citizenship, Audit and Procurement Commissions, Article 53, immunity, and castrating the independence of the CC/Commissions, etc.) would follow? No!

We must also remember that these amendments cannot be repealed conveniently. A President in power with a lean margin or performing with a weak parliamentary alliance can use these amendments to the detriment of democratic governance/country, even militarily. Canvassers may emerge inviting political leaders to be autocrats using some of these amended powers. In such circumstances, what is the guarantee that an Idi Amin or Robert Mugabe will not emerge from among our politicians?

President must be the Minister of Defence

The 20A corrects a prohibition in the 19A. The incumbent President, while possessing the power to declare war and peace and appoint the three Services Chiefs, is disabled to be the Minister of Defence because he is not a parliamentarian. I reason to differ from 19A, without being person-centric on the incumbent President’s professional suitability to be the Minister of Defence.

To wit, Article 4 (b) of our Constitution stipulates that the “executive power of the people, including the defence of Sri Lanka,” must be exercised by the President. Only “defence” is specially chosen here, not Agriculture, industry, etc. Under Article 33A, (which will be deleted by 20A, included in Article 42), the President is accountable for “his powers” to the Parliament on laws applicable to public security. Public security always combines with defence.

At present, there is no Minister of Defence and there is a Secretary Defence. According to Article 52(1): “There shall be a Secretary for every Ministry of a Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers.” By Article 52(2) the Secretary shall act “subject to the directions and control of his Minister…’’ It is the Cabinet Minister of Defence and not the State Minister. This status is thus challengeable legally.

When these situations are bagged together, the Ministry of Defence/relevant institutions should come under the President. However, 20A permits him to hold even any other Ministry [reintroduced Article 44(2)] and sadly this “residual power” deviates from democratic governance elements.

The 20A has revisited the issue. Taking into consideration the above-mentioned reasons only the Ministry of Defence should be handled by the President.

President the Messiah

There is a school of thought that considers the incumbent President as the Messiah who has proven prowess to accelerate action and therefore wants to “strengthen his hands,” to bring in political stability and economic revival. The successful manner the President managed the COVID-19 issues showed that for him the 19A was not a hindrance to perform efficiently and effectively.

However, considering the challenges ahead, the President requiring concentrated power is not surprising. Evening TV news everyday shows that he is attempting it. Concurrently, it is a fact that pre-2015 when Presidents had these executive powers there was an ongoing 25-year conflict. Equal development outputs were not observed during the tenures of some Presidents. Exceptional performances were based on individualistic strengths. Hence, to tag the Executive Presidency as a panacea for stability and development is a misnomer.

Emerging political contradictions

There seem to be six major political contradictions that affect political governance.

One is how the incumbent PM would bear the amendments reducing his powers substantially. Tisaranee Gunasekara has explained this, as quoted below. Agreement or not is your choice.

“Rendering the post of PM powerless is a measure of protection, in case the family is compelled by circumstances to bestow the premiership on an outsider, as a stop-gap measure. If the 20th Amendment becomes law, such a premier will be a mere cipher and will not have the power or the authority to challenge Rajapaksa primacy in any serious sense. His role will be to warm that seat until the next Rajapaksa is ready to step in.”

If true, brilliant manoeuvrering!

The second contradiction is the stance of the United National Party and break away Samagi Janabalavegaya. For them to oppose the 20A is a cautious ride. It is because the 20A basics evolved from their original Jayewardene Constitution, tinkered with by others later.

The third political contradiction is from the politicians who now venerate 20A – the by-product of the Jayewardene Constitution – the “Bahubootha vyavasthaava” (Mayhem Constitution)

The fourth extremely embarrassing political contradiction is for President Sirisena to vote for 20A, having praised 19A as the apex of democratic governance. He was the major force behind its approval in 2015. He may vote for the 20A, but his conscience will bleed until his last breath.

The fifth contradiction will arise from the expectations of the Tamil political parties who will see 20A to be the majoritarian political steamroller.

The last contradiction emerges with the speculation that the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress may support the 20A, as they did in 2010, and the sufferings Muslims experienced. Maybe, for the SLMC governance is reborn!

A historical opportunity has been given to consider solutions for the contradictions through constitutional amendments with a 2/3 majority in the Parliament. The country wishes the government will give priority to the country’s needs over personal or political group needs. It is a difficult proposition, but the government was given the unusual power to face and overcome even worse difficulties.

A short article cannot discuss the vast array of issues arising out of the abolition of the 19A. Hence, issues such as the presidential immunity, appointment and removal of Ministers and the PM, dissolution of parliament, etc., are not dealt with here though those issues certainly affect good democratic governance extensively.

There are deep ramifications of issues arising from the proposed constitutional amendments. The President must first protect himself, politically. As a democratically elected person he need not camouflage himself with an anti-democratic cloak because he has a massive vantage value unlike anyone else in his government, to take correct steps. Hence, his actions need not be at the expense of democratic governance. Regrettably, the published amendments do not show such. The sacred principles of good governance will safeguard him, us and the country.

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The right groove…for local DJs

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Some of the big names in the DJ industry at the ceremony

 

We do have a few associations, around, that work for the benefit of those involved in the entertainment field.

Yes, there’s an association for oriental artistes and also one, catering to the needs of the local Western musicians.

In fact, I believe the second AGM 2020 of the Western Musicians’ Association was held just recently, in Colombo.

Well not to be outdone, an association, for local deejays, has become a reality. And, that’s encouraging news, indeed!

The Ceylon Disc Jockeys’ Association (CDJA) was incorporated on July 5th, 2020, and the inaugural forum, involving the disc spinners, as well as the big names of the past, took place at the Movenpick Hotel, on Sunday, September 5th.

Several well-known personalities, in the entertainment field, were seen at the forum.

The CDIA will certainly be a boon to the local DJ industry.

 

The lighting of the traditional oil lamp at the inauguration ceremony

 

The Vice-President of the Association, Romesh Fernando, said that connecting both the present and past DJs, within an industry with a rich history of over 45 years, is the cornerstone of the CDJA.

The forming of an Association for DJs was an idea in the making for many years, but never became a reality. However, with the entertainment scene changing drastically, due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has affected the whole world, and the hardships faced by many DJs, in recent times, the need for a Single, Unified Voice for all Disc Jockeys, in Sri Lanka, became an absolute necessity – thus, the Ceylon Disc Jockey’s Association was born.

The Board of Management consists of some of the pioneering DJs, who have made a mark as business leaders and entrepreneurs in the country’s DJ and Entertainment Circuits.

The Office-Bearers are: Gerry Jayasinghe (Chairman and President), Romesh Fernando (Vice President), Kosala Sureshchandra (Secretary), and Kapila Peiris (Treasurer).

The Committee Members are: Bonnie Perera, Niranjan Wanigasuriya (Asst. Secretary), Chamila Perera (Asst. Treasurer), Thanujika Perera, Serul Wimalasena and Amal Fernando.

The Advisory Council consists of Harpo Goonaratne and Roshan Wijeyaratne, while the Legal and Compliance Officer is Tareeq Musafer.

“Our Mission is to be committed towards improving the career opportunities, skill levels and performance capabilities of our members, and gathering DJs from all around Sri Lanka, under a single Organization. Our Vision is to gain the professional recognition that talented and good DJs truly deserve,” said a spokesman for the Association.

The Constitution of the Ceylon Disc Jockeys’ Association (CDJA) is focused on three main principles. As an industry, to develop, improve and advance the Art and Science of the DJ, to advance Public Education and Understanding of the art and science of the DJ, and improving the Professional standing of the DJ.

The Association offers three types of Memberships – Full Time, Part Time and Student Memberships. It also has a category of Honorary Memberships presented to senior DJs who have significantly added value and changed the landscape of Sri Lanka’s DJ Industry.

Members will also receive many benefits from Insurance schemes, Healthcare privileges, Membership Recognition, Legal advice and Discounts from Equipment retailers. Above all, the CDJA offers a sense of Community and Oneness, as an Industry, and shall uphold its members at all times.

The Ceylon Disc Jockey’s Association (CDJA) has a very strong mandate towards Education. To that end, it will offer Soft skills Development in Communication Skills, Email Etiquette and Writing Skills, as well, and Basic Compering, etc., which are added proficiencies, required by DJs to better their business scope.

The Association has also planned for Seminars and Workshops on Small Business Development, Legal Compliance, Taxation, SME Policy Frameworks and Start up Training, conducted by Sector Professionals. Apart from Academic programmes, the CDJA will implement initiatives to inculcate Creativity and Originality in DJs.

Through these initiatives, the CDJA hopes to create a new landscape in the Mobile, Producer and Event DJ Circuits of Sri Lanka.

“Especially in these difficult times, a New Outlook and a Commitment to Excel, is what our Association hopes to promote and develop,” the spokesman added.

 

Invitees and celebrities taking in the scene at the Movenpick Hotel

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China Cultural Centre – Sixth Anniversary celebrations !

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By Chamara Ranmandala
Consultant – local Affairs
China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka
(Based on an interview with
Liwen Yue, Director
China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka

The China Cultural Centre (CCC) in Sri Lanka is celebrating its 6th year anniversary of its establishment as the official organization for cultural exchange in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka CCC is the 16th overseas China Cultural Centre established globally under the patronage of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which was inaugurated on 16th September 2014 by his Excellency the Chinese President Xi Jinping and then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The preparations and establishment of the CCC was carried out by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Sri Lanka, and it is run and operated by a working team from China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

This article attempts to highlight the significance of this cultural relationship, and the establishment of a path for cultural exchange between the peoples of China and Sri Lanka.

A 1000-year-old friendship refreshed

and renewed

Although the formal bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and China was established only 63 years ago, the history of the friendship between the two countries dates back far beyond. The recorded history origins from the times of Jin Dynasty of China, where such information is found in the written stories of famous Chinese buddhist monk Faxian, who travelled to Sri Lanka between 410 – 415. Sri Lanka has been a very important partner during the ancient times where significant trade was carried out through the maritime silk route, used as a gateway to bridge East Asia and South Asia. The archaeological findings in Sri Lanka are evident to this trade and exchange of cultural values taking place between Sri Lanka and China.

The establishment of the China Cultural Centre in the year 2014 has significantly brought the bilateral cultural exchange to a totally different level. Across the world, the Chinese Cultural Centres have contributed immensely to establish the meaning and significance of authentic cultural values of China, which is often misinterpreted by many. It is evident that the world has not enough chances to experience the traditional culture and values of China. Hence the 60+ cultural centres established in various countries have attempted to bridge this gap of understanding the real cultural values of China without infiltrating to the local culture but supporting and thriving together with the customs of respective ways and norms.

As the 16th overseas China Cultural Centre amongst the 60+ other centres across the world, and as the first center inaugurated by the two presidents of the respective countries, the CCC in Sri Lanka highlights its importance and the value placed on the friendship of the two countries, which was created many centuries ago between China and Sri Lanka.

 

Cultural exchange – continued effort with variation

The China Cultural Centre has now become a fully functional apparatus that enables cultural exchange through many different facets and complementing programs. The CCC is in a constant drive to educate the society at large how cultural exchange helps to bridge the gaps and bring the peoples of the countries much closer to each other.

During the past six years, the Sri Lankan culture-loving society was exposed to some of the unique experiences of traditional Chinese art, music and dancing, calligraphy, cinema, drama, authentic Chinese cuisine, photography and intangible cultural heritage through the commitment of China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka.

The events carried out by the CCC are aligned to the diverse cultural heritage of many different parts of China, and many of them are held in the form of “Cultural Week”, planned by the CCC and organised together with some local partners, including scholars, artists, painters, photographers and journalists who have travelled across China. The “cultural weeks” reflect many aspects of Chinese cultural heritage from different areas. Based on the need, the CCC sponsors and brings down the respective professional artists who are highly regarded as unique contributors of nurturing and preserving the authentic cultural heritage of China. The CCC also accommodates Chinese scholars, journalists and media personnel to be a part of these “cultural weeks”, thus enabling the knowledge sharing amongst different audiences.

The cultural footprint of China is not only limited to events of cultural exchange, but also is extended to long standing relationships through memorandums of understanding (MOU) with many local institutions such as libraries, museums and various friendship associations. The contribution through the Confucius institutions established at various universities in Sri Lanka, such as the University of Kelaniya, is another approach adopted by the CCC to provide greater access to resources and scholarships for the students who pursue higher studies in Chinese language, literature and culture.

 

Appreciation of the communities

across Sri Lanka

The educational knowledge and unique experience achieved from those programs and events organized by the CCC can meet various appetites of a wider spectrum of the society and intellects. Moreover, the officials of the CCC have made every attempt to reach out to most remote communities in Sri Lanka creating value for all age groups who witness and engage with the programs. This is highly commendable since most international cultural programs are being focused only on a limited crowd in a major city in Sri Lanka. The CCC has done the opposite way and concentrated on both urban and rural areas, which benefited more people here.

At present, the CCC has carried out over 100 programmes, including more than 300 various types of activities and events (including performances, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, teaching programmes, and etc.). More than half of Chinese provinces (Jiangsu, Hubei, Canton, Jiangxi, Shanxi, Yunnan…and etc.), provincial-level autonomous regions (such as Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Xinjiang, and Ningxia), provincial-level municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin) , and Chinese SAR Hong Kong have been invited by the CCC to conduct different cultural exchange programmes in Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the events organized by the CCC have reached people in all 9 provinces of Sri Lanka as well, where specially skilled artists are not hesitant to delight an audience of students or parents at a Sunday school, a university, a school in a remote part of a district, government institutions, and even a military camp. All events of cultural heritage are held with complete sponsorship of the CCC, thus enabling all Sri Lankans to experience most of these high-level events free of charge.

These events are a first to many where most Sri Lankans are amused and appreciative of the skill and professionalism of the artists and performers, who participate in these events and create positive vibes about China and its friendly people.

The efforts of the CCC are also extended to enable and strengthen the ties between the media and journalist forums of Sri Lanka and China. The cordial sponsorship of professional programmes conducted for the benefit of the Sri Lanka journalists in China is such an instance that the CCC extends their hand to build friendship and confidence among all stakeholders.

 

The future of the friendship

It is obvious that the expectation of the CCC is to build a cultural relationship amongst the peoples of both countries. The CCC has successfully created an atmosphere of understanding the true nature of authentic Chinese culture whilst respecting and appreciating the Sri Lankan values and traditions.

With the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), which attempts to bring economic and cultural prosperity to all the nations from far East to Africa and Europe, there is no doubt that the China Cultural Centres will go on playing a vital role in defusing the misconceptions level against the great efforts of the People’s Republic of China. Sri Lanka, being part of the BRI through the maritime silk route and having a better understanding of China and its people, will also play an important role in bridging the gaps between the countries of the BRI.

The future road will probably be a challenging one! However, as proven in the past, the sincere friendship between the two countries and the mutual respect to each other’s culture and value will be the north star for both of our nations to follow during challenging and dark times. With the efforts of past six years, the China Cultural Centre has contributed much more to Sri Lanka and its people, and surely enough, it will continue to do so, nurturing the friendship which China and Sri Lanka value so dearly.

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