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SLMA warns of imminent Covid outbreak, recommends countermeasures

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The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has warned of dire consequences unless the government maintains stringent health guidelines in place to thwart another major Covid-19 eruption and adopt measures such as booster doses for high-risk groups.

The following is the text of statement issued by the President of the SLMA Dr. Padma Gunaratne: “While sincerely appreciating the decisions taken by your Government to mitigate the last wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, lessons learnt from the recent outbreaks in countries such as the United Kingdom, Singapore and Israel compel us to believe that another wave is imminent, particularly now that movement restrictions have been lifted. As such, we consider it more important than ever before that precise steps are taken at this point of time within the context of the current regulations to prevent another surge of infections. Another wave of infections will be extremely deleterious to the health and the economy of the country.

We are pleased to recommend the following steps for implementation:

1. Stringent enforcement of current regulations by monitoring:

It is noted that although reasonable guidelines and regulations on public health measures have been issued by the Ministry of Health, the implementation of these measures is extremely lax, and that they are widely disobeyed by the public. Many do not adhere to wearing masks, and social distancing is not maintained in public places such as shops, markets, places of worship, and events such as funerals etc. We urge the Government to take adequate measures to enforce these regulations through a system of close monitoring and ensure that health regulations issued by the Director General Health Services are fully implemented.

2. Third dose/booster of Pfizer vaccine to priority groups:

It has been established that 7% of elders who received Sinopharm vaccine in Sri Lanka have not developed an adequate level of immunity against COVID-19. The re-opening of schools and lifting of mobility restrictions will significantly increase the risk of these elders contracting COVID-19 infection such as via their grandchildren, and they are more prone than other age groups to severe disease and death.

Furthermore, healthcare professionals are now completing six months following the last dose of their Covishield vaccine and their immunity levels will begin to wane. They will soon be at a greatly increased risk of contracting the COVID-19 infection.

As such, people over 60 years of age, patients less than 60 years with immune deficiency states and all healthcare professionals should be given a third dose / booster of the Pfizer vaccine without delay. This should be considered as one of the highest priority activities to prevent another wave of infections in the near future.

3 Continue with restrictions on super-spreader situations and events:

Crowded enclosed environments constitute super-spreader situations for COVID-19 infection. As such we earnestly request the government to delay for a further period of time the complete relaxation of regulations pertaining to public events by restricting numbers at weddings, religious events, funerals, musical shows, gatherings at clubs etc., in enclosed environments.

4. Sustain a high level of case surveillance by testing:

Early detection of a rise in infections would be extremely important if the next wave of infection is to be prevented. Careful surveillance would enable the government to take prompt action to prevent an escalation of the disease, again. As such strengthening the routine surveillance system for COVID-19 is of paramount importance. In this regard we request the Ministry of Health to maintain a high level of testing for COVID-19 including in the community, and to strengthen the ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Tract Infections’ (SARI) surveillance system in OPDs of all major hospitals.

We, at the Sri Lanka Medical Association remain committed to assist the government of Sri Lanka in all your endeavours to safeguard the health of the nation. ”



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Collective Cabinet responsibility won’t be at country’s expense

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Udaya: We are ready to face consequences of revolting against backdoor Yugadanavi deal

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila says that in spite of being members of the Cabinet, he along with National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa and Democratic Left Front (DLF) leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara, have supported the petitions filed against the government entering into a framework agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy in respect of Yugadanavi Power Plant, etc., as they strongly felt that collective Cabinet responsibility should not be at the expense of national security.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila emphasised they had challenged the Cabinet over the controversial agreement following careful examination of what he called a politically charged situation.

The Colombo District MP said that they were ready to face the consequences of legal measures they had resorted to. Minister Gammanpila said so in response to The Island query whether they could continue as members of the Cabinet after having objected to an international agreement, finalised by the government.

Gammanpila said that they had never tried to hide their intentions and they felt embarrassed by the way some in the government manipulated the very process that was meant to ensure transparency and accountability.

Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle, on behalf of the government, entered into an agreement with New Fortress Energy, a company listed in the NASDAQ, on July 7, 2021, two days after Cabinet decided on the matter.

Gammanpila said they had tried to settle the issue at the Cabinet level and at the government parliamentary group. “Finally, we were left with no alternative but to denounce the New

Fortress deal and then throw our weight behind those who moved the Supreme Court against it,” Minister Gammanpila said.
The SLPP repeatedly demanded that whatever the issue the constituents should settle it within the government parliamentary group and the Cabinet.
Minister Weerawansa told Parliament on 11 November that an Attorney-at-Law would represent the trio at the Supreme Court proceedings.
Responding to another query, Minister Gammanpila questioned the rationale behind bringing in a company that hadn’t been involved in the tender process in respect of a high profile project involving the West Coast Power Limited (WCPL). The minister said that the US firm had spurned the tender process as it received an assurance as regards the contract.

The US government pushed for the deal meant to secure 40 percent shares of the WCPL at a cost of USD 250 mn, Minister Gammanpila said.
The Cabinet memorandum as regards the sale of WCPL shares, in addition to the floating storage regasification unit, mooring system and the pipelines and the supply of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) is dated 06 Sept., 2021, months after Sri Lanka entered into FA with New Fortress Energy.

Asked whether the NFF, PHU and DLF would receive the support of other parties including the SLFP, Minister Gammanpila said that those who had pledged support for their cause remained committed and confident.

In addition to the NFF, PHU and DLF with a combined strength of eight MPs, the grouping against the New Fortress deal included the SLFP (14 members), CP (1 MP), Yuthukama (2 members) and Tiran Alles. Over two dozen elected and appointed members of the SLPP are against the New Fortress deal.

Of the smaller constituents in the government, the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) has distanced itself from the campaign against the energy deal.
Minister Gammanpila said that in his current capacity as the energy minister he had been compelled to struggle against the energy project as it posed a threat to the country. Referring to the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa sacking ministers, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayaka and G.M. Premachandra in 1991, Minister Gammanpila said that the UNPers sought the Supreme Court intervention. The SC ruled that in case ministers had been deprived of an opportunity to discuss some matter at the cabinet, they could do so with the public, Gammanpila said, adding that they pursued a strategy based on that SC position.

Minister Gammanpila said that Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to create a foreign monopoly in the gas supply to the country. The situation would be far worse as the proposed monopoly would be American, Gammanpila said, noting that in spite of entering into a spate of other agreements with foreign partners under controversial circumstances, the incumbent government seemed to have perpetrated an unpardonable act.

Minister Gammanpila said that the US energy deal would deliver a knockout blow to Sri Lanka’s efforts to tap gas in the Mannar seas. The consequence of this arrangement would be far reaching and devastating as far as Sri Lanka was concerned, the minister said. If the New Fortress deal was carried pit. Sri Lanka wouldn’t be able to bring in other investors to extract gas from the Mannar basin, the minister said.

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State and private sector union members on sick leave demanding Rs 10,000 pay hike

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Protesting workers blocking the entrance to the Presidential Secretariat yesterday morning (pic by Nishan S. Priyantha)

Members of several state, semi-government and private sector trade unions took sick leave yesterday (08) as part of their trade union struggle to win a number of demands including a 10,000-rupee pay hike and the cancellation of the questionable New Fortresss deal.

Unions of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the Ports Authority and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) have pledged solidarity with the protesting workers.
The unions held demonstrations near the Parliament Roundabout and the Fort Railway Station.

They opposed the government decision to raise the retirement age to 65.
“There are over 25,000 postal workers and about 80% of them have joined the union action. This is the case in other sectors too,” President of Sri Lanka Postal Services Union Chinthaka Bandara said.

He demanded that the government increase their salaries through the budget 2022. “Otherwise, we will resort to sterner trade union action. The cost of living has gone through the roof and the Central Bank has admitted that inflation has risen sharply. Most companies in the private sector have reduced the salaries of employees and the allowances in the government sector too have been slashed. People will have to starve at this rate, “Bandara said. (RK)

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Contaminated fertiliser: Case to be taken up on May 09

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By Ifham Nizam and Chitra Weerarathne

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)’s lawsuit to stop unloading here of allegedly contaminated organic fertiliser, CA WRIT 476/2 was taken up yesterday before Court of Appeal Justices Achala Wengappuli and Dhammika Ganepola.

Taking the facts into account the Court ordered that the case be recalled on May 9, 2021.

At a previous hearing the court questioned the Attorney General whether the Government was in a position to assure that they would not allow the controversial load of fertiliser to be unloaded. In response to that request Deputy Solicitor General Nirmalan Wigneswaran, who appeared on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture informed the Court yesterday that the vessel carrying the controversial fertilizer belonging to the Chinese company has left Sri Lankan maritime space.

Senior Counsel Ravindranath Dabare, Ms Nilmal Wickramasinghe (AAL) and Ms Thushini Jayasekara (AAL) appeared for the petitioners on the instructions of Ms. Samadhi Hansani Premasiri (AAL).

In the petition. CEJ argued that organic fertiliser from any country could not be imported into Sri Lanka, under any circumstance, according to the regulations of the Plant Protection Ordinance imposed in 1981 and Plant Protection Act No. 35 of 1999 as it prohibit the import of soil particles, living organisms, any virus, bacteria or fungus cultures into the country, given that organic manure/compost is made of decomposing animal and plant parts, which could consist of pathogens.
However, when the samples collected from this controversial shipment were tested Sri Lankan authorities found harmful organisms. As a result, National Plant Quarantine Service did not issue any import permit particularly for this bulk stock of so called “Organic Fertilizer”, the petitioner pointed out.

It also said that based on those facts the Director General of Agriculture had issued a letter dated 22.10.2021, addressing the Chairman, Sri Lanka Port Authority, requesting him to prevent the berth of the vessel carrying this stock of Fertilizer at the Colombo Port and not to discharge any of its organic fertilizer into the Sri Lankan territory claiming it carried a huge phytosanitary risk to Sri Lanka.

In addition to this Ceylon Fertilizer Company also obtained an enjoining order (on 22.10.2021) from the Commercial High Court of Colombo against Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd; the supplier and the People’s Bank, preventing the latter from making any payment under the Letter of Credit opened in favour of Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd which has entered into a contract with Ceylon Fertilizer Company.

However, in spite of all these Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd officially informed The Director General of Agriculture that its consignment of fertilizer which was shipped from China on 29th September 2021 would reach Sri Lanka as scheduled.

The Center for Environmental Justice therefore had to file an urgent motion CA WRIT 476/21 on (25.10.2021) to prevent the stock of fertilizer from entering the country owing to political or public pressure.

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