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.
CB Governor: Lanka now in a position to pay for essentials
‘Inflation will not be as high as initially expected’
Inflation will not be as high as initially expected and there are signs of economy stabilising, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says.Dr. Weerasinghe said that during the past few months a number of initiatives had been made to improve the economy and they were yielding the desired results.
“During the last review, we thought the inflation would reach 70%. However, now we believe that the inflation will not be that high even with the electricity tariff hike,” he said.
Dr. Weerasinghe said that the severity of the shortage of foreign currency had lessened. The country was now in a position to import fuel, gas and medicines.
“This has become possible because of the decisions we took. Imports have decreased. Export revenue has somewhat increased. Even without short-term loans we have been able to meet our basic needs. This is a positive development,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.The CB Governor said that inflation driven by demand had lessened because the expansion of loans had been curtailed.The supply side inflation too would drop with price and foreign exchange stabilisation.
“Still the inflation is about 60% and that’s why we need to maintain the current high policy rates. Once the government adjusts the fiscal policy, tax, and presents the new budget, things will improve. I think you can also see this. We are seeing positives,” he said.
Dr. Weerasinghe also urged exporters to bring back the foreign exchange earnings, and that the Central Bank had taken steps to ensure that exporters abided by the CB regulations.
“The irregularities due to open accounts, hawala and undial are being controlled and the black market premium is dropping. The foreign exchange liquidity in the banking sector has increased,” he said.
The Governor added that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made good progress. An IMF delegation was expected to visit Sri Lanka by the end of August to reach a staff-level agreement.After Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it had to start engaging with its creditors on debt restructuring.
“Once we reach an agreement with the IMF the situation will improve further,” he added. (RK)
(See related stories in the business section)
CID arrests Mervyn 15 years after he forcibly entered Rupavahini
By Norman Palihawadana
Former Minister Mervyn Silva was yesterday arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forcibly entering the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and attacking some employees there in 2007.On 27 Dec. 2007, Silva and his associates entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director for not airing a speech he had made in Matara.
SLRC employees held Silva incommunicado for hours, and the police intervened to secure his release. A few weeks later, some of the workers involved in the incident came under goon attacks.Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President at the time.
Aeroflot affair: flights yet to resume; MP questions status of probe into detention of SU 289
Sri Lanka hadn’t been able yet to convince Russia to resume Aeroflot flights and tourists from there to Sri Lanka suspended in the wake of the detention of SU 289 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on the afternoon of June 02, authoritative sources said.
Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented foreign exchange shortage desperately needs tourists from an important destination like Russia, which earlier accounted for a sizeable share of the incoming traffic. Responding to The Island queries, sources said that relevant authorities were in the process of looking into the issue at hand.Having summoned Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage soon after the incident at the BIA, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning over the incident.
In the wake of the Russian warning, the then government took measures to lift restrictions imposed on the aircraft that was to be detained till June 16. The detained SU 289 was allowed to leave on June 06.Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (18) told The Island that no holds barred investigation was required to ascertain the truth.
Lawmaker Weerasekera said that the government should inform the Parliament of the progress of the investigation and what steps it intended to take as well as measures already taken to mend relations with Russia.
The retired Navy Chief of Staff said that those in authority should investigate whether a court ruling issued in respect of a case filed by Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Company Ltd., against Aeroflot had been manipulated by interested parties.
It transpired that no sooner High Court Judge, S. M. H. S.P. Sethunge, in the Commercial High Court of the Western Province, Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva accompanied a fiscal officer of the same Court to the BIA at lightning speed to deliver the ruling.
Lawyer de Silva appeared for the plaintiff with Avindra Rodrigo, PC, (litigation) of FJ & G.de Saram, leading law firm from the colonial times. The law firm has previously declined to comment on this matter.High Court judge Sethunga is on record as having said that he didn’t order the BIA not to permit Aeroflot SU 289 to take off on the afternoon of June 02.
Attorney-at-Law Dasun Nagasena, Coordinating Secretary to Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC yesterday (18) said that the Justice Ministry recommended action against the Attorney-at-Law to the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC. Nagasena said that the fiscal officer who served the Justice Ministry had been interdicted, pending further investigations. As regards the lawyer, it would be handled on the advice of the CJ, the official said. Responding to another query, the official said that the Justice Ministry hadn’t been informed yet of the progress of the investigations.
Ports, Shipping and Aviation Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra yesterday said that ministry officials on Wednesday (17) discussed ways and means of resuming Aeroflot flights with relevant authorities, including the Russian embassy. Ruwanchandra said they were hopeful reaching a consensus on this matter soon. The official said so in response to The Island queries.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said that they could initiate an inquiry only on the basis of a formal complaint. He said so when The Island asked him whether the BASL initiated an inquiry into the lawyer’s conduct in this regard. The President’s Counsel said that normally the BASL wouldn’t launch an investigation into a matter inquired into by the CJ.
At the time of the BIA incident, Prof. G.L. Peiris had been the minister in charge of foreign affairs. Since the change of government, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has sworn in Ali Sabry, PC, as the new minister of foreign affairs.
Russia has pointed out that action was taken against SU 289 in spite of an assurance given by Sri Lanka in respect of regular flights to Colombo.Sri Lankan Airlines in late March suspended flights to Moscow in the wake of imposition of what the airline called operational restrictions in the wake of war between Russia and Ukraine.
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