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SL can avert 18,000 deaths by Jan. 2022 if lockdowns are imposed: WHO experts

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The 5th Independent Expert Group Meeting, convened by WHO Sri Lanka, has said Sri Lanka will be able to avert about 18,000 deaths by Jan 2022 only if the level of stringency is immediately increased similar to May 2021, for four weeks.

The experts have said that lockdowns will give authorities time to accelerate vaccination and achieve the level of protection following the second dose of vaccines, and enable the health system to recover from the overwhelming case load.

“Immediate actions are crucial and critical because it takes a few weeks before measures show a positive impact on the number of infections and hospital admissions. Any delay in implementation will lead to an increase in deaths and will require even more stringent measures with longer duration to regain control,” they said in their report handed over to the Health Ministry on Thursday.

They also recommended the government to; 1. Strictly enforce movement restrictions, including inter-district travel except for essential services. The effective implementation of these measures may require the enforcement of a curfew for a short period, in large geographic areas or nationally.

2. Restrict /cancel all public events for 3 weeks.

3. Provide care and protect the health workers and augment staffing in hospitals to minimize disruption of essential health services.

4. Develop and implement an effective communication plan to engage the public and to update them on the control measures.

5. Accurate reporting of both cases and deaths to get a better picture of the ground situation. May also use proxy indicators such as observed Test Positivity Rate (TPR), trends measured using weekly moving averages and time series analysis, mobility data, etc.

6. Prioritize vaccinating all those over 60 years old and those with comorbidities, preferably with Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca because even a single dose of these vaccines provides some degree of protection until the second dose is given.

Below are excerpts of the recommendations of the Expert Group: “The Experts noted with great concern the current surge in COVID-19, nearly overwhelming the capacity of the health systems to provide the required adequate care for the people. The trends given below indicate that Sri Lanka could soon face a health crisis of unprecedented proportions.

“Sri Lanka is showing a rapid increase in daily reported number of cases and deaths (111 deaths reported on 09 August 2021 representing a doubling of deaths in a short space of time).

” Bed occupancy rates at all levels of care facilities (over 85%) and ICU’s (over 90%) have increased progressively and is now in full capacity. Patients dependent on oxygen have significantly increased from 528 last week to 646 patients yesterday. If this trend continues, there is an inevitability of a serious shortage of oxygen supply and interruption of care.

“Many areas of the country show a high PCR test positivity rate of over 20%.

“As of 31 July 2021, more than 60% of sequenced samples are Delta variant, which is highly transmissible with a shorter incubation period. It is now the dominant variant in Western Province and will soon spread to other areas. Delta variant spreads rapidly as has been shown in several countries. The crisis will be magnified once Delta variant has spread countrywide because most of the other provinces are not as well vaccinated as the Western province.

” For the vaccine that is used most widely, community vaccination will take 2-3 weeks after the second dose to provide adequate protection from severe disease and death. As of 09 August, less than 15% of the population is fully vaccinated. The newly vaccinated, single-dose vaccinated or unvaccinated groups are at very high risk of severe illness and it is very likely that there will be further increase of cases and deaths, particularly in densely populated areas.

“Significant number of health workers are getting infected with a consequent pressure for curtailment and closure of services. All indications are that the “Amidst this situation, there is sustained high level of mobility and social mixing among population despite the nationwide restrictions (Oxford ‘Stringency Index’ was 85% (i.e. very effective restrictions in movement) in May, 49% in July and 29% by this week (i.e. dangerously low levels of movement restrictions).

The figure given in the Appendix and linked pdf shows a very clear inverse relationship between Sri Lanka’s stringency index value (black line) and the number of cases and deaths brown areas.”



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Bandula undertakes to take over SLIIT

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Bandula Gunawardane has, in his capacity, as the trade minister, assured the SLPP Parliamentary group that action would be taken to take over the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) divested through fraudulent means.

Political sources said that the assurance had been given at this week’s meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, was present. Minister Gunawardane said so when lawmakers Premanath C. Dolawatta and Weerasumana Weerasinghe raised the issue.

Chairman of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Prof. Charitha Herath, who called for taking over of SLIIT, too, was present at the meeting. Communist Party MP Weerasinghe said that they were really happy to receive such an assurance from Minister Gunawardane. Appreciating the manner in which the COPE under Prof. Herath’s leadership had handled the inquiry into the SLIIT acquisition, Matara District lawmaker Weerasinghe said the onus was on the government to take remedial measures immediately.

MP Weerasinghe said that denial of SLIIT ownership to the government was certainly not an isolated case. The way some officials and governments cooperated in daylight robbery of state property couldn’t have happened without the tacit understanding at the highest levels, lawmaker Weerasinghe said. (SF)

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SJB too demands prosecution of ex-President Sirisena and others over Easter carnage

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB yesterday demanded that the government allow the Attorney General to prosecute all those against whom the Presidential Commission of inquiry on Easter Sunday carnage wanted criminal proceedings instituted.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said that the Attorney General could not be forced by the government to spare certain individuals. “The report of the Presidential Commission recommends that legal action be taken against the former head of State Intelligence Service, senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena and the former President Maithripala Sirisena. But the government does not implement those recommendations.

“The Cardinal says that before the election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to prosecute all those responsible for the carnage. After release of the PCoI report the Cardinal has been told by the President that he could not implement some recommendations therein because he would lose his popularity. That is wrong. He cannot do so, it is the job of the Attorney General. It is not the President who implements the law of this country but the Attorney General. The President has no powers to that. “Upon the receipt of the PCoI report the government appointed a cabinet subcommittee under Minister Chamal Rajapaksa to study the report. Now, the government implements the recommendations of that sub-committee which has recommended to select whom should be prosecuted and who should be left out from the original list of persons identified by the PCoI as responsible for the terror attacks.

“The PCoI recommendations are not being properly implemented. We demand that the government should implement all recommendations of the PCoI. Victims demand the same. The Church and the Cardinal demand the same. The AG should prosecute all identified by the PCoI and let the judiciary decide who is guilty and who is not. The President cannot interfere in selecting the list to be prosecuted. That amounts to the Executive interfering in the matters of the judiciary.”

MP Kiriella said that consequences of the October 2018 constitutional crisis and 52-day government had paved the way for the Easter Sunday terror attacks. “That crisis started on 26 Oct., 2018. Thereafter, the then President Sirisena sidelined the UNP, which was the main party in the Yahapalana government. The National Security Council met without anyone representing the UNF government. The NSC was even attended by some SLFP MPs. President Sirisena took over the Ministry of Law and Order under him in addition to the Defence Ministry. The first move against the Yahapalana government was the 52-day government; the second was the Easter Sunday attack. Nilantha Jayawardena received all information and intelligence from India with exact dates, places and even the names of the attackers. He says that he did not pass that intelligence on to President Sirisena, who was the Minister of Defence. That was an offence. When the PCoI asked Jayawardena to surrender his mobile phone, he did so after deleting all its records. That too is an offence. Former President Sirisena says that he did not know anything about the matter because he had not been informed of it. Yet, the PCoI determined that he was responsible. The government should let the Attorney General implement the recommendations of the PCoI by prosecuting all who have been identified as persons responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage.”

SJB Kurunegala District MP JC Alawathuwala also addressed the press.

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BIA rapid testing PCR lab back in action

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The rapid testing PCR lab at the Bandaranaike International Airport, which was non-operational for several weeks, resumed accepting samples yesterday (27.)

Earlier, the Director General of Health Services authorised the PCR lab, SASL Hospinorm, to operate.

The lab can provide a PCR test report within three hours.

Those who test positive for COVID will be sent to quarantine centres.

Since passengers can get PCR report in three hours, they need to arrive at the airport six hours before departure. Passengers are provided with all facilities until the reports are issued.

The first passengers to benefit from the lab were those who arrived in QR 668 of Qatar Airways. The flight landed at 2.15 am yesterday (27).

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