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SL facing just beginning of Delta crisis – expert



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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Inter-provincial travel ban to be lifted on Oct. 31



Flagrant violations largely ignored during restrictions

ECONOMYNEXT – The ongoing inter-provincial travel ban will be lifted on October 31, the national COVID-19 prevention task force said, despite social media accounts – and sometimes pictures – of people openly flouting the ban.

The restriction was imposed in conjunction with an island-wide lockdown, officially known as a quarantine curfew, that the government declared on August 20 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Despite the lockdown being relaxed on October 01 as cases began to drop, the inter-province travel restriction has remained, at least on paper.

Critics, however, claim that people have been traveling – some even going on trips – around the country blatantly ignoring the ban, despite President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordering the authorities to strictly enforce it from October 21.

“After a discussion among the task force on Friday (23), with the permission of the president, it was decided to lift the travel ban from 4am October 31,” Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva told reporters on Friday.

Silva, who heads the national COVID-19 task force, said all public transportation services will also restart on October 25 and will operate according to health guidelines.

Health officials have joined the chorus of voices lamenting the apparent lax nature of the inter-provincial travel ban. The public does not seem to follow health guidelines increasing the risk of another wave of the epidemic, they have said.

“The behaviour of the public is not satisfactory,” Health Promotion Bureau Director Dr Ranjith Batuwanthudawa told the privately owned Derana network in an interview.

“The public did not follow the guidelines in the first long weekend after restrictions were relaxed. It can again increase the number of patients to a level the health sector cannot cope with,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Gen Silva said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be administered as a booster dose for frontline workers in the health, military, police and tourism sectors starting November 01.

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North, East see highest attendance of students, teachers: Dinesh



ECONOMYNEXT – Northern and Eastern provinces saw the highest attendance of students, teachers, and principals when schools were reopened for the first time in six months, Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Friday (22).

Classes from grades 1 to 5 recommenced at 5,059 schools with fewer than 200 students on Thursday (21) amid an ongoing strike by teachers’ trade unions which is set to finally end next Monday (25).

Minister Gunawardena said the government was able to open around 98 percent of the targeted schools.

“Sixteen percent of students attended schools across the country, while 26 percent of teachers who signed their attendance,” Minister Gunawardena told parliament.

Principals showed up to work at 69 percent of schools with fewer than 200 students, in the island’s north, while 52 percent of teachers and 21 percent of students were present on Thursday, he said.

In the Eastern province, 67 percent of principals, 45 percent of teachers, and 39 percent of students went back to school on Thursday, he added.

In contrast, schools in the Southern and Western provinces saw lower levels of attendance from principals, teachers, and students, the minister said.

“We believe everyone will support the reopening of schools without any party or colour difference,” Minister Gunawardena said.

Trade unions are not fully onboard the government’s proposed solution to their long-standing grievance of salary anomalies.

The three-month-long strike, one of the longest trade union campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history, has deprived students of their only mode of distance learning in pandemic times: online education.

It is still uncertain if all principals will report to duty on Monday as some principals’ trade unions have said some of their demands including car permits and a mobile phone allowance have not been addressed yet.

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for the 99th day running on October 15 when they said they would start work from October 25.

The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued the strike, demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

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Foreign Minister to launch Lanka-UK chamber of commerce in London



by Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Foreign Minister Prof G. L. Peiris is scheduled to be in London this week starting from tomorrow (25) for a series of events including the launching the Sri Lanka-UK Chamber of Commerce, diplomatic sources said

During his stay in London from Monday to Thursday (28), Prof Peiris is to meet his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss and Members of the Houses of Parliament and Lord Naseby.

Sources said that it would be Prof Peiris’ first visit to London after assuming the duties as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The launch of the Sri Lanka – United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to be presided over by HSBC bank. Lord Davies of Abersoch, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Sri Lanka and a host of invitees including the representatives of the London Stock Exchange and De La Rue. The new Chamber is to be registered with both British Chamber of Commerce and the UK Companies House.

Prof Peiris is expected to complete his London visit on Thursday (28) and then to proceed to Glasgow to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which is scheduled to begin next Sunday (31).

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