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SL hopeful of getting first stock of Covid-19 jab within weeks

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by Suresh Perera

The first consignment of 200,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 is expected to reach Sri Lanka by the end of January or early February, a senior health official said.

The stock of the newly developed US vaccine, now being administered in many countries across the globe, will be channeled to Colombo through the World Health Organization (WHO), he noted.

The WHO has agreed to provide around 4.2 million qualified vaccines to Sri Lanka to inoculate about 20 percent of the population.

“We are optimistic that the vaccination pledged by Pfizer/BioNTech will be the first lot to arrive so that we will able to initiate the Covid-19 inoculation campaign at least by next month (February)”, the high-ranking official said.

Though March was initially looked at to kick-start the vaccination drive, the possibility of it happening earlier is on the cards with access to the jab now virtually in sight, he noted.

“The sooner the vaccinations are administered, the better”, the official remarked, referring to the surging pandemic, which has so far killed 247 patients and infected 50,901 in Sri Lanka.

Asked about the Chinese and Indian products, he opined that it will possibly take time as the accepted practice is that all drugs have to be registered with three different regulatory bodies and approved by at least five referral countries before they are used in Sri Lanka.

“We have to work according to WHO guidelines”, he commented.

“We are comfortable with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as it has already been approved by the US Food & Drugs Administration, TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) of Australia and regulators in Japan and Singapore among others”, he said.

The vaccine has been given the green light by regulators in the UK, US, EU and more than 40 other countries.

BioNTech said it had shipped almost 33m doses of the vaccine so far from six manufacturing sites in the US and Europe.

“We had originally pledged to make 1.3bn doses in 2021 but now intend to provide as many as 2bn”, BioNTech said in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government has informed the WHO that it has initiated the process of improving cold chain requirements for the storage of doses ahead of inoculation.

With the country laying the groundwork to receive the Covid-19 vaccines, infrastructure facilities are being improved to accommodate the stocks, which have to be stored at a temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius.

At hospital level, they will have to stored at minus level temperature, if the need arises.

The WHO says that at present there are more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in trials.

“We are working in collaboration with scientists, business, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries”, the world body said on its website.

“People most at risk will be prioritized. While we work towards rolling out a safe and effective vaccine fairly, we must continue the essential public health actions to suppress transmission and reduce mortality”, it stressed.

In a bid to stem the deadly Covid-19 surge, Sri Lanka is also exploring the possibility of importing the Oxford-AstraZeneca product from the United Kingdom or the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

The Sinovac vaccine manufactured in China and the Indian AztraZeneca are also being looked at, officials said.

Beijing has responded positively to a request by President Rajapaksa to Chinese President Xi Jinping for assistance in accessing the vaccine developed by China to curb the coronavirus threat.

International media reports spoke of nine million people in China already receiving the jabs. The vaccines were being used in 10 countries including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

According to Army Commander, Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Center for Prevention of Covid-19, all options on the table are being considered to procure a proven global vaccine to set in motion the inoculation initiative in Sri Lanka.

Lalith Weeratunga, senior Adviser to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who heads a committee on the procurement of the vaccines, will oversee the coordination process of importing the jabs to Sri Lanka. Medical expertise towards this end will come from Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Secretary to the Health Ministry, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, Secretary to the State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and COVID Disease Control and Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, President of the GMOA amongst others.

Meanwhile, a group of corporates headed by Brandix Lanka Limited has pledged Rs. 7 billion (US$ 50 million) to the government to procure vaccines against Covid-19.

Brandix Lanka Chairman Ashroff Omar has already discussed the modalities of the financial commitment with State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and senior health officials.

On an understanding reached, priority will be accorded to Brandix employees in administering the first doses of the vaccines procured with the funds provided by the corporate for this purpose.



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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?

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… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.

 

 

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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others

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The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.

 

 

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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area

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Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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