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Row over Ukranian tourists deepens as visiting English cricketer also tests corona positive

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British Airways flight allowed in regardless of ban

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga yesterday (4) intervened in a simmering dispute over those handling high profile Ukrainian tourists ignoring the health regulations in place to prevent possible community transmission of COVID-19.

Soon after the arrival of two groups of Ukrainians, on Dec 28 and 29, 2020, three of those visitors tested Covid-19 positive. Yesterday, a member of the visiting England cricket team Moeen Ali was found to be Covid-19 positive.

Minister Ranatunga stepped in after Sri Lanka Tourism (SLT) Chairperson Kimarli Fernando alleged that neither the promoter of the Ukrainian project, former Sri Lanka Ambassador to Moscow Udayanga Weeratunga, nor the travel agents concerned, had provided the required information.

In a letter dated January 2 addressed to Minister Ranatunga, copied to Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva, who heads the Covid-19 Task Force, Nimesh Herath, member, Tourism Advisory Committee, Dr. Hemantha Herath, Ministry of Health and Ms Dhammika Wijayasinghe, Kimarli Fernando said that SLT had been informed that the project promoter worked with the Presidential Task Force.

Fernando raised questions about the Ukrainians going on excursions to Mirissa for whale watching and Yala safari without following proper procedures. The SLT Chief warned of dire consequences unless necessary protocols were followed.

Amidst growing concern over further deterioration of the Covid-19 situation, Minister Ranatunga instructed the relevant officials to prevent a recurrence of the situation similar to that of Ukrainians visiting Yala. Among those present at the discussion were Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa and State Aviation Minister D.V. Chanaka. The Minister emphasised the pivotal importance of following health guidelines in place in support of the ongoing pilot project ahead of the opening of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) later this month.

The government has announced those arriving in the country could visit Dalada Maligawa, Yala, Minneriya National Park, Sigiriya, Dambulla temple, Uda Walawa, Horton Plains, Sinharaja forest, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Pinnawela elephant orphanage, Salu Sala and places where they could engage in whale watching.

Before the commencement of the Ukranian project, under the leadership of the Tourism Ministry, relevant bodies reached agreement on tour organisers providing, well in advance, detailed itineraries, including drivers and guides to arrange proper screening and quarantine purposes.

A member of the visiting English cricket team all-rounder Moeen Ali tested Covid-19 positive immediately after arriving at the Mattala airport on Sunday, January 3. All members of the English team were subjected to PCR testing. Authoritative sources said that in addition to Ali, who was placed under quarantine for 10 days, another Englishman, Chris Woakes, identified as a close contact, too, had been quarantined and expected to undergo PCR test along with other members today (5).

The two countries went ahead with the two test match series despite the UK struggling to cope up with the rapid spread of a new virulent variant of Covid-19 virus that compelled the UK to impose tougher restrictions.

Sri Lanka suspended flights from the UK though the English team was allowed in. They arrived in British Airways flight to resume a tour which was cancelled at the onset of the first Covid-19 wave.

The first Test is scheduled to start on January 14.

Meanwhile, Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Patali Champika Ranawaka yesterday (4) flayed the government over the Ukranian tourism project. The former minister alleged that the government had risked a major disaster by allowing Ukranian tourists, particularly at a time the Europe was struggling to cope up with a new variant of Covid-19 virus.

Ranawaka questioned the SLPP government’s strategy in trying to boost tourism by bringing in people from Ukraine, a country in a far worse situation than Sri Lanka. The former yahapalana heavyweight said that visitors from Europe could open Sri Lanka to grave danger due to the new Covid-19 variant. The MP pointed out that the government was on record as having said that the second Covid-19 wave had been caused by a Ukranian.



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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