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Spike in Covid-19 infections raise concern over emergence of new virulent variant

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By Suresh Perera

Amidst the alarming surge in Covid-19 infections, health officials expressed concern over the possible emergence of a new variant of the contagion leading to the rapid transmission of the virus.

“We assume that a new strain of the virus has surfaced though it has still not been conclusively established”, says Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, Director of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit.

The rapid transmission level of the virus has raised concern over a new variant with a more virulent load developing to claim bigger numbers in terms of infections, health officials said.

With 634 deaths so far, Covid-19 positive cases have spiked over the past few days with admissions to intensive care units spiraling.

In the backdrop of many areas across several districts being placed under isolation as infection numbers soared, Dr. Samaraweera said the emergence of some new clusters has propelled the health authorities to clamp down emergency measures to halt the further spread of the deadly virus.

PCR screening has also been stepped up following the escalation of positive cases, with 15,000 tests conducted on a daily basis, the officials said. “If Colombo becomes a hotspot again, the spillover could have disastrous consequences”.

The next three weeks will be crucial as infections could proliferate if people don’t avoid crowded places, get-togethers and events, which are super-spreaders of the virus, they warned.

At present, the rise in infections cannot be described as a ‘third wave’, but it will happen if people continue to throw caution to the wind and disregard health safety guidelines, they cautioned.

The eruption of fresh clusters was the result of intense inter-provincial travel, shopping in crowded bazaars and get-togethers during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year notwithstanding clear warnings by health authorities to adhere to stipulated Covid-19 preventive measures, the officials explained.

Now, the country has to pay the price for the folly of a few who didn’t give a tuppence about safety protocols, they pointed out.

Take the Pamunuwa area in Maharagama as an example. Prior to the New Year holidays, business establishments and the bazaar there were crammed with shoppers many of whom disregarded Covid-19 safety guidelines, health officials said.

The end result was that two shops selling clothes were closed, after two employees tested positive for corona and 22 of their close contacts identified and isolated, they noted.

The latest area to be placed under lockdown on Thursday was Kuliyapitiya in the Kurunegala district, where a surge in infections was witnessed.

Sub-clusters have also emerged in Kurunegala, Narammala, Alawwa, Gampaha, Colombo, Kottawa, Piliyandala, Panadura, Puttalam, Trincomalee and Jaffna.

Some sub clusters were also reported from the garment sector after some workers were found infected in a few factories. Twelve persons from Batuwatte in Ragama and 26 individuals from Divulapitiya also tested positive after they had participated in various New Year related activities.

Contact tracing of close associates was set in motion with those identified so far placed under isolation.

Some employees of a bank in Colombo were also found infected.

As a preventive measure, the Prisons Department announced on Friday that no visitors will be allowed into any prisons for two weeks with effect from Saturday, April 24.



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Crisis over fuel price hike: SLPP constituents crank up pressure on party General Secretary

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Eight lawmakers representing political parties affiliated to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to take action against SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, for challenging the government decision to increase fuel prices.

The group consists of National List MP Ven. Athureliye Rathana (Our Power of People Party), Wimal Weerawansa (National Freedom Front), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Democratic Left Front), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (LSSP), A.L.M. Athaulla (National Congress), G. Weerasinghe (Communist Party), Tiran Alles (United People’s Party) and Asanka Nawaratne (Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya) in a joint letter, dated June 14, have appealed for the immediate intervention of the President and the Premier in this regard.

Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Alles are among 17 appointed to Parliament on the SLPP National List.

They warned that failure to take tangible measures against such actions would result in the deterioration of public confidence in the government. The SLPP parliamentary group comprises 145 MPs.

The group of lawmakers was responding to SLPP National List MP Kariyawasam’s controversial call for the immediate resignation of Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over the sharp increase of fuel prices at midnight on June 11.

They issued the statement consequent to a hasty  meeting called at Minister Weerawansa’s official residence on Sunday.

Noting that the Presidential Secretariat, too, on Sunday confirmed that the decision to increase fuel prices had been taken on June 09 at a meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and attended by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, the group of MPs accused the SLPP General Secretary of causing a wholly unnecessary problem. The group alleged that MP Kariyawasam’s actions had caused suspicion among the electorate whether a clique was in operation in the SLPP.

Minister Gammanpila, embroiled in simmering controversy has refrained from signing the petition though he called another press conference today (15) to explain the developments.

 The group said that in view of the financial crisis that had been caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic the government was forced to increase fuel prices in spite of it being an unpopular measure.

Political sources pointed out that in February this year MP Sagara Kariyawasam caused a media furore when he asked Minister Weerawansa to apologise for suggesting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be accommodated in the SLPP decision-making body. The group that has thrown its weight  behind Minister Gammanpila also clashed with a section of the SLPP lawmakers over the government bid to allow Indian investment at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port.

MP Kariyawasam did not answer his mobile phone.

In addition to MP Kariyawasam, MP Jagath Kumara (Colombo District) too strongly condemned the fuel price hike.

The SLPP MPs demanding action against Kariyawasam assured that they would soon submit a comprehensive proposal to President Rajapaksa to provide support to low income groups.

The Presidential Secretariat said that the price increase was necessitated by the financial crisis caused by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) being heavily indebted  to the Bank of Ceylon  and the People’s Bank to the tune of Rs 737 bn. Of that sum, CPC owed Rs 652 bn, the biggest single amount in any of the state sector enterprises.

The Samagi Jana Balavegagaya MP Mujibur Rahman said that Minister Gammanpila owed an explanation why he made the announcement as regards the fuel price hike as the matter came under the purview of the Finance Ministry.  Rahman pointed out that Minister Gammanpila himself subsequently admitted that only the Finance Ministry could decide on this matter. The former UNP MP said that the government’s much touted claim that the decision to increase fuel prices had been finalized on June 09 at the Cost of Living Committee was nothing but a joke. “We thought the Cost of Living Committee was meant to provide relief to the people not to increase their burden,” MP Rahman said.

The SJB spokesperson ridiculed the statement issued by a group of eight MPs. He alleged that the SLPP was staging a drama to divert the attention of the public. Their parliamentary group should take up responsibility for the current crisis having promised to transform the country overnight. Those who had voted for the 20th Amendment in October last year as well as the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill last month were engaged in a futile campaign to save the government, the SJB MP said.

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Basil R wouldn’t have allowed fuel price increase – MP

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Gampaha District SLPP MP Nimal Lanza yesterday said that if Basil Rajapaksa had been in the country, he wouldn’t have allowed the fuel price increase. He said that he strongly opposed the decision as it seriously affected the people, particularly the fishing community.

 

 

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1198 lockdown violators arrested

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By Norman Palihawadane

The Police had arrested 1,198 people countrywide for violating lockdown regulations in the 24 hours that ended yesterday morning, police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said.

A total of 32,593 persons had been arrested on the relevant charges since Oct 30, last year,  he said.

DIG Rohana said that special police teams had been deployed to continue the operations today as well to nab lockdown violators.

During the same period 3,051 persons travelling in 1,757 vehicles were inspected at 14 entry and exit points in the Western Province. Of them, 160 persons travelling in 100 vehicles were sent back for attempting to cross provincial borders for non-essential purposes, violating travel restrictions.

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