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SL facing just beginning of Delta crisis – expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

COVID-19 had reached the community spread stage in the Western Province, some parts of the Northern Province and in the Galle and Matara districts, Prof. Manuj C. Weerasinghe, Head, Department of Community Medicine said on Thursday. He is also involved in the ‘904’ SMS-based system to manage home quarantined Covid-19 patients.

Prof. Weerasinghe said that naming clusters, i.e. Avurudu Pokura, Malu Market Pokura, etc., no longer made any sense as the country was only at the beginning of the crisis created by the Delta variant

“We are only seeing the beginning. We must not dupe ourselves into thinking that we are near the end of the crisis created by Delta,” he said,

Prof. Weerasinghe said that there was no point in talking about the official figures, or planning based on the numbers at their disposal. Making assumptions based on these numbers will only lead to trouble, he said.

“We have to look beyond the numbers and understand the dynamics of the real world. We can safely assume that if there is one COVID positive person in the house, most of the other members too are infected. Given that it’s not easy to get tested, other family members won’t be in the official statistics. This is not only a health crisis but also the beginninf of a social crisis,” he said.

Moreover, in most Sri Lankan households, young people of 18 liveed among senior citizens and thus, the medical attention they need differed, he said, adding that no one had thought of what happened after the travel restrictions were lifted. “Given that we have not imposed a curfew to ensure that people remain in their homes, the effectiveness of the current lockdown is questionabl,” he said.

“Is there a way to enforce effective travel restrictions short of a curfew? It’s good if there is such a method. It’s even better if people stay home when they are asked to do so. However, we know this is not how things happen in the real world. There is a segment of people who will try to do the opposite of what they are advised to do. We have to take severe action because there are such people,” he said.

The extension of the lockdown for another week had given the government and health officials time to decide what they want to achieve during the lockdown, he said. Having objectives and benchmarks were important because it showed what the government wanted to achieve with the lockdown and gave everyone an opportunity to think beyond the lockdown, the Professor said.

“The lockdown has given us breathing space. We must think whether we should revitalize inactive systems or to create new systems to ensure that most people don’t need to travel after the lockdown is lifted. Now people are home and we expect things are going well. There is no planning and when restrictions are lifted, there will be a bit of normalcy for a few days. Then the cases will go up again and we will have to lockdown. This is not a sustainable system,” he said.

The government and most of its detractors were focused on the pros and cons of locking down the country. However, what mattered more was what the country had done to prepare itself to post lockdown context, he said.

“What have we done in the last seven days? Do we have systems in place for people to work and live without coming into contact with each other? At this rate, the social crisis created by COVID-19 will grow rapidly and once we hit a critical point, we will have no options left,” he warned.

MePrimary Health Services Director Dr. Priyantha Atapattu said that the real cases were at least five times more than the reported cases and whether Sri Lanka could return to some sort of normalcy would depend on whether the society could be mobilized to fight the pandemic.

“People are the vector and we have to find a way to keep them home,” he said.



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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