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SLMA calls for permitting of burial of coronavirus victims under strict guidelines

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The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has said that based on currently available scientific information, burial of COVID-19 victims could be permitted in Sri Lanka under strict guidelines recommended by the Health Ministry.

The SLMA has said in a media statement: “The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak had many adverse impacts on the world population and the global economy. As of 25th December 2020, over 79.5 million people have been infected with more than 1.74 million deaths worldwide.

“Sri Lanka has reported over 43,000 cases with over 200 deaths. Since the virus was first identified in December 2019, the number of deaths has been increasing exponentially, causing countries across the world, including Sri Lanka, to develop and enhance emergency measures to combat the virus.

“Since the recent past, disposal of COVID-19 dead bodies has affected ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka.

In view of the cultural diversity of Sri Lanka, it is essential to have a proper policy for disposal of the dead which is acceptable to all.

Based on the limited scientific evidence available at the initial stages, a decision was made by the Director General of Health Services of the Ministry of Health to cremate all dead bodies of COVID-19 positive patients. Since then, there has been significant unrest among some communities regarding the government’s decision to impose compulsory cremation as the only avenue of disposal of COVID-19 deaths. This has the potential to cause much civil unrest. As a result, it was also found that people were generally reluctant to cooperate with the COVID control measures implemented by the Government. Many of them avoided seeing doctors and hence there were several deaths occurring at home without seeking medical attention or treatment.

“In view of all these considerations, the SLMA decided to review the situation as a matter of urgency, taking into account some new scientific knowledge available now regarding the COVID-19 disease. It was noted that good health means physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing.

“The significant adverse impact currently experienced by close family members and loved ones of COVID deaths and the disposal of bodies were also considered.

“SLMA had a meeting of the medical experts in all relevant fields on 31st December 2020. After extensive deliberations the following observations were made based solely on the currently available scientific evidence.

1. COVID infection occurs only through respiratory route. There are no reported infections through any other routes, including the gastro-intestinal portal.

2. Virus itself can thrive only inside a living cell. As such, it is unlikely that it could remain infectious within a dead body for any significant period of time.

3. A positive PCR found post-mortem does not necessarily mean that the dead body is infectious.

4. Contamination of water supply by sewage, consisting of excretions and secretions of COVID-19 infected patients could be much worse than any possible contamination from buried corpses.

5. Although there are a few instances reported where viral particles have been isolated from ground water, there are no reports of them being infective. There are no records of such infection even with older viruses like influenza and SARS-CoV-I, which have been studied in much greater detail.

6. The reported planned exhumation and cremation of large numbers of minks culled in Denmark was not due to any possible contamination of water resources by the virus. It was due to a large amount of nitrogenous waste from these decomposing mink carcasses contaminating the nearby water sources and polluting the environment.

7. Even in the case of severe waterborne diseases like Cholera, burial of corpses was one of the practices of disposal of infected dead bodies.

“Based on these observations made, relying on currently available scientific information, the council of the Sri Lanka Medical Association is with the view that burial of COVID-19 dead bodies could be permitted in Sri Lanka.”



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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