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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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Lord Naseby asks why Adele not prosecuted in UK for child recruitment

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Lord Naseby President of the UK all party British-Sri Lanka Parliamentary group has questioned the failure on the part of the UK to prosecute senior LTTE leader Adela Balasingham, wife of the outfit’s late theoretician Anton Balasingham. Lord Naseby said that Adele, who had been involved with the LTTE for several decades, was responsible for recruitment and deployment of child soldiers.

The following is the text of the statement issued by Lord Naseby in response to the UK statement at the Human Rights Council by Lord Tariq Ahmad on Feb 25:

“I am astounded how the UK or any other Member of the Core Group can possibly welcome the High Commissioner’s so called ‘detailed and most comprehensive report on Sri Lanka’ when it is riddled with totally unsubstantiated allegations and statements completely ignoring the huge effort to restore infrastructure and rehouse displaced Tamils and Muslims, who lost their homes due to the Tamil Tigers.

“Furthermore, I question how the UK Government knowingly and apparently consciously withheld vital evidence from the despatches of the UK military attaché Col. Gash. Evidence I obtained from a Freedom of Information request, resisted by the Foreign Office at every stage for over 2 years. These dispatches from an experienced and dedicated senior British officer in the field makes it clear that the Sri Lankan armed forces at every level acted and behaved appropriately, trying hard not to harm any Tamil civilians who were held by the Tamil Tigers as hostages in a human shield.

“This conscious decision totally undermines the UK‘s standing as an objective Leader of the Core Group; made even worse by the impunity for not prosecuting the LTTE leader living in the UK, largely responsible for recruiting, training and deploying over 5,000 Child Soldiers – a real War Crime. It is time that the UK Government acknowledges and respects the recommendations of the Paranagama Commission, which involved several international expert advisers, including from the UK – Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dixon QC and Major General John Holmes. Sri Lanka and the UK should be honouring the recommendations of the Paranagama Commission, which provides real evidence over all the years of the conflict, rather than just focussing on uncorroborated claims during a few months in 2009, only when the war concluded.

“Furthermore, the criticism of the way Covid has been handled with no burials for anyone based entirely on scientific advice at a time when there was no advice from WHO shows no understanding. Following the scientific advice from WHO and Sri Lanka’s scientists, burials are now permitted. The UN ignores the fact that only about 400 people on a population of 22m have sadly died in Sri Lanka, whereas no less than 120,000+ have died in the UK with a population of 66 million. By any yardstick Sri Lanka has been more successful at saving lives than any member of the Core Group.

“It seems to me that the Core Group needs to have more faith in the reconciliation structures already on the ground such as the Office of Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations. If the UN Core Group really wants to help, then why cannot the UK, Canada and Germany release to Sri Lanka the names of all asylum seekers since the war so that they can be checked against the list of Missing Persons and be removed from the master list?

“During the period of the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe government, draft legislation for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission was prepared and the current government should be given the time and space, whilst also handling the pandemic, to introduce its own TRC mechanism. Britain should stand in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka as a unique TRC is developed and is implemented. Reconciliation cannot be externally forced on to the people of Sri Lanka. It must come from within and I would also urge the diaspora communities living in the Core Group countries to also trust, engage with and contribute towards Sri Lanka’s reconciliation processes.

It is for Sri Lanka to decide how much help they seek from outside but for me I doubt the need or the efficacy of the UNHRC being able to help in an enhanced monitoring role as proposed.”

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SJB finds fault with recommendations of political victimisation PCoI

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB yesterday found fault with the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that investigated incidents of political victimization for arrogating to itself the powers of the judiciary.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella said: “The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the incidents of political victimisation has usurped the powers of courts.

MP Kiriella said that PCoI or any one including the Executive should not encroach on the powers of the judiciary. The MPs had a right to stand against it. “We have a constitutional right to prevent this. As per the provisions of the Article 4 of the Constitution people have given their sovereign powers of exercising judicial power to Parliament. It is by parliament through the courts or any other tribunal accepted by the law the judicial powers are exercised. A presidential commission of inquiry has not been given powers of courts. The PCoI headed by retired Justice Upali Abeyratne arrogated to itself the powers of courts as per the recommendations the commission made in its report,” Kiriella said.

He said that the PCoI had recommended that cases pending before in the Magistrate and High Courts be stopped. “Victims have been turned into complainants and complainants into offenders. The PCoI has made recommendations to acquit those implicated in numerous offences. The commission has recommended that some of those who violated the laws be acquitted and compensated. A PCoI has no such powers. We have expressed our opposition to this. We actually have submitted a petition to the Chief Justice on Tuesday against the PCoI hijacking the powers of the court.”

The MP said that PCoI’s usurping of court powers was a serious matter that should be rectified immediately. “We have utmost faith in the judiciary of this country. Courts have maintained their independence very bravely in the face of many challenges. You may recall that when there was a constitutional coup in 2018 October, the court did not succumb to political pressure

and declared the ouster of our government unconstitutional. If the PCoIs are allowed to usurp the powers of judiciary then the public would lose their faith in courts.”

SJB MPs J.C. Alawathuwala and Harin Fernando also addressed the press.

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Explosion of credit to private sector this year at low interest to ensure economic recovery – CB

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A record Rs. 850 billion worth of credit would be given to the private sector by the Banks in 2021, CBSL’s Director of Economic Research Dr. Chandranath Amarasekera told the media yesterday.

The increase in the Private sector credit growth would be due to low interest rates, introduction of loan targets for selected segments of the SME sector and the increase in demand for credit as investor confidence booms, Dr. Amarasekera said.

CBSL had already commenced a dialogue with banks to iron out issues that might arise, he said.

Dr. Amarasekera said that the Standing Deposit Facility Rate will remain at 4.5% and the Standing Lending Facility Rate will remain at 5.5%. The Monetary Board decided to keep the policy interest rates unchanged considering the global and local situation, he said.

The Board also decided to keep interest rates low until the economy showed a sustainable recovery, Dr. Amarasekera said.

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