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Visiting couple draws government’s attention to glaring shortcomings



Covid-19 response:


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government should re-examine the procedure in place to allow visitors from abroad amidst the rampaging Covid-19 epidemic as part of the overall efforts to alleviate difficulties, a Danish-Sri Lankan dual citizen told The Island yesterday (4).

The Danish passport holder now staying at a hotel in Kalutara with his wife said that even those who had been inoculated overseas and PCR tested negative immediately before leaving for Sri Lanka were subjected to 14-day mandatory quarantine.

The irate guest pointed out that in spite of them being tested negative on the first day of their arrival here, current quarantine laws forced them to remain at the hotel for the entire stipulated period.

They arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) from Copenhagen via Doha this week.

The Health Ministry owed visitors an explanation why those who had been inoculated abroad and tested negative twice within two or three days were compelled to stay in hotels.

Responding to another query, the Danish passport holder said that 14-day compulsory quarantine of those even tested negative seemed unfair, particularly against the backdrop of a pilot project being implemented in the Kalutara district to keep infected asymptomatic Covid-19 confirmed patients at home.

Assuring that they appreciated ongoing government efforts to bring the situation under control, the visitor warned of long term consequences of what he called unfair treatment of foreigners. “In spite of whatever difficulties experienced, we’ll visit the country. In fact, my having a foreign passport is irrelevant,” he said, adding however foreigners would find 14-day compulsory quarantine of those who had been inoculated and also PCR tested negative extremely discouraging.

Asked whether he felt comfortable with the procedures in place for foreigners and Sri Lankans visiting Sri Lanka, he said his wife carried a Sri Lankan passport. “Essentially, in our case, we were subjected to the same set of rules regardless of the different status of our nationality. The hotels involved in this project provide efficient service in spite of an extremely difficult situation.”

The visitor said that the government, particularly those in charge of the tourism portfolio, should be wary of unscrupulous elements taking advantage of the ongoing crisis. Referring to an online statement on dated January 15, 2021 made by Army Chief General Shavendra Silva who is also the head, National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), he said corrupt practices were admitted in the hotel quarantine process.

“What we want is to get those foreign arrivals a fair deal with decent meals, full care and accommodation at the lowest rate possible,” the army website quoted Chief of Defence Staff as having told a group of hotel owners/hoteliers/ hotel executives at a meeting held at NOCPCO premises on January 12th.

The Danish passport holder pointed out that General Silva was on record as having said that attempts had been made to collect money from hotels promising them guests. And some such instances had been thwarted, the guest said, demanding fleecing of visitors should stop.

According to him, when they first planned to visit Sri Lanka, accommodation for two at a particular hotel categorized as Level 1 was offered for USD 400(approximately Rs 80,000.)   In addition to that, the charges included (for two persons) 24 USD for insurance cover, USD 80 for four PCR tests and USD 55 for transport (BIA to hotel situated ten minutes away from the old parliament). Altogether, a stay in that hotel would have cost us USD 559, he said.

At that time, the above mentioned rates were offered, those arriving from abroad could have left the hotel within 48 hours if they tested negative, he said. But, due to sudden closure of the BIA, they hadn’t been able to come and when the airport was reopened, the government introduced 14-day mandatory quarantine much to their disappointment, the Danish passport holder said. But a two-week stay there would have cost 400 USD into 14 days, the visitor said, as they didn’t want to take that offer, those who facilitated the project offered two other hotels and they picked the one that charged USD 910 for 14 days full board (USD 70 per day). In addition to the hotel charges, PCR tests USD 160, insurance USD 24 and transport USD 70. Altogether, the cost came up to USD 1,164, he said, adding that when they arrived at the BIA, authorities therein didn’t bother at least to verify whether they had been inoculated.

The guest said that he obtained dual citizenship during the yahapalana administration. Although the Immigration and Emigration stamped his Danish passport with his dual citizenship status, the government didn’t issue a passport at that time. Responding to The Island queries, he said in spite of his dual citizenship status, he sought a tourist visa at a cost of USD 36.

The guest who had been living in Denmark for over 30 years said that the government should pay attention to cohesive tourism strategy or face the consequences. The Chairman of the Tourist Board Kimarli Fernando was recently seen on CNN urging foreigners under a bio bubble scheme, he said. Such a costly advertising campaign should be backed by an efficient system in place on the ground. According to him, though many people from Denmark visited the country on the day he and  his wife boarded an airline at the Copenhagen airport bound for Doha, they were the only ones visiting Sri Lanka. However several dozen joined them at Doha, almost all Sri Lankans to arrive in Colombo.

If the government was genuinely keen in putting in place a system to face the daunting post-Covid challenges, it couldn’t afford to address issues pertaining to the tourism sector, he said.

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Govt. has already spent US$ 60-65mn to procure Covid-19 vaccines – Lalith Weeratunga



By Ifham Nizam

All persons above 30 years old will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 15, Head of the Presidential Task Force for National Deployment and Vaccination Plan, Lalith Weeratunga said.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) on Thursday at Janadhipathi Mawatha in Colombo, he said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is keen on monitoring Covid-19 hotpots and intelligence services are doing a remarkable job in this regard.

Vaccines were distributed on the basis of the vulnerability of the areas, he noted.

He said the President has urged all Sri Lankans not be misled by the false propaganda about the vaccination drive. Everybody should come forward to receive the jab and help the government to overcome the socio-economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He expressed optimism of completing the inoculation campaign by the end of December this year with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We have so far spent US$ 60 to 65 million to procure Covid-19 vaccines”, Weeratunga further said.

He said that more than 8.2 million people have so far received the first dose of the vaccines, while the second dose has already been administered to over 1.8 million.

The government aims to vaccinate 11.5 million people above 30 years by August 31, 2021 and another four million thereafter, he added.

“Moves are underway to give the vaccine to all Sri Lankans between the ages of 12 to 30”.

At present, a mobile vaccination service for those who are ill and unable to leave their homes is in operation on the instructions of the President, he said.

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Swiss team of experts due today to study SL’s agricultural landscape



A renowned team of experts from Switzerland will arrive today (1) to study the country’s agriculture ecosystem. During the 10-day visit, they will meet with key industry stakeholders, visit various sites and facilities, and provide comprehensive training in composting and organic farming.

The team will meet with senior members of the Ministry of Agriculture and related State Ministries, Department of Agriculture, Centre of Excellence for Organic Agriculture (CEOA), National Fertilizer Secretariat, Sri Lanka Council for Agricultural Research Policy (SLCARP), Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Peradeniya, State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research & Innovation, Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Sri Lanka Tea Board, and Tea Research Institute (TRI).

They will visit and observe conventional and organic farmers in Kalpitiya, Thambuttegama, Weliweriya, Radawana, Belihuloya, and Nuwara Eliya. They will also tour markets, poultry farms, dairy farms, tea factories, tea estates and garbage collection centres, where garbage is collected from hotels to process organic manure.

This entire initiative is by A. Baur & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd (Baurs), a leading diversified business group and a name synonymous with pioneering scientific manuring in Sri Lanka, in partnership with two of the world’s leading institutions in organic agriculture based in Switzerland, a country that has the sixth highest penetration of organic farming in the world, with 16.5% of agriculture land being organic farmland.

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is one of world’s leading organic farming research and technology transfer centres dedicated towards sustainable agriculture. The School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) of Bern University of Applied Sciences offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees including continuing education programs.

HAFL uses applied research to address contemporary issues and futuristic challenges and provides tailored consultancy across Switzerland and globally.

Further, these experts will also conduct two training sessions; one to various teams at the Baurs Fertilizer Factory (CMW) in Kelaniya and the other to Baurs’ staff, agents, dealers, key farmers and compost producers at the Baurs’ site in Anuradhapura. These will be with strict adherence to prevailing Covid-19 health guidelines.

The expert team brings with them years of both academic as well as practical experience, and includes Dr. Christoph Studer, professor of natural resources management at HAFL and Dr. Gurbir S Bhullar, senior scientist in tropical agroecosystems at HAFL, Paul van den Berge, senior consultant at FiBL and Dr. Jacques G. Fuchs, senior scientist in plant pathology and soil quality at FiBL.

With Sri Lanka’s transition to organic agriculture, this is a timely initiative and a need of the hour. The expert team will put together a detailed, practical and scientific plan that will help support Sri Lanka to successfully identify issues and constraints and overcome future challenges.

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CEB engineers ask President to allow completion of coal-fired power plant extension project



‘Before the next power shortage in the country’

By Ifham Nizam

Perturbed by reports that the government will terminate the ongoing 300MW Lakvijaya coal-fired power plant extension project, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) has appealed to the President to allow the completion of this project of national importance.

“We are certain that your Excellency will provide the Ministry of Power and the CEB the necessary directions and assistance to complete the extension project within the shortest possible time”, the Union’s President Eng. Saumya Kumarawadu, says in a letter to the President.

The President earlier decided to implement the 300MW coal power extension project considering the fact that the country is facing an imminent power shortage as a result of not constructing a single large low-cost power plant since 2014, he said.

However, officials at the plant complex said they have not been officially informed so far to halt work on the plant.

The Sri Lankan government has already saved more than USD 2 billion due to the three coal-fired power plants at the Lakvijaya Power Plant Complex in Norochcholai, officials said.

The extension project is now underway with the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) investing USD 4 million, while the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has injected USD 1 million, they said.

The proposed plant, the fourth to be built at Norochcholai will translate into an annual saving of more than Rs. 27 billion to the government, former CEB, Chairman Eng. Vijitha Herath said.

Last year, Cabinet endorsed the fourth unit should given to CMEC considering the substantial revenue already saved due to the contribution from coal-fired plants under operation.

Kumarawadu said the proposed 300MW extension project will generate nearly two billion units of electricity per year. The fuel cost per unit of the existing coal plant is Rs.10 less than the next lowest thermal option available, furnace oil power plants. Hence, the average annual saving to the country by this plant will be around Rs. 20 billion.

 The savings compared to costly emergency power will be in the range of Rs. 30 to 40 billion per year. The price of LNG is also rapidly increasing compared to coal and even LNG. The cost difference between coal and LNG will be around of Rs. 3 to 6 per unit and savings will be in the range of Rs. 6-12 billion or more annually. So, it is evident that this extension plant will immensely help to overcome the financial crisis both in CEB and CPC and will also provide immense relief to the Treasury as well, he pointed out.

 He further said the investment for the new extension unit was comparatively low. All other power projects in the pipeline, including large-scale renewables, demand enormous investments for infrastructure development with long time span for implementation.

“This should be seriously considered by the government in a situation where the country is facing severe financial hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic,” the CEBEU President stressed.

 All preliminary work related to the project such as comprehensive feasibility studies, finalizing technical requirements, comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, commercial agreements are completed now, he said.

It is just a matter of beginning construction work at site and completing the project before the next power shortage in the country, he added.

The CEBEU also said that there is a massive propaganda campaign against coal and one of the false ideologies promoted by these forces is that many countries are moving away from coal. While agreeing that coal power development is on a declining phase in wealthy developed countries, developing countries have not stopped constructing new coal plants mainly to ease the financial burden on their national economies.

 Citing examples, he said there are new coal development plans earmarked in countries like India, Bangladesh and Vietnam in the range from 22,000MW to 66,000 MW the next 10-12 years. Germany, one of the leading wealthy countries in renewable energy development, commissioned the 1100MW Datteln 4 coal power plant in May 2020. Dubai, another country with a very strong economy is constructing the 2,400MW Hassyan coal plant. The initial 600MW unit of the plant is to be commissioned in 2023, Kumarawadu explained.

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