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Was six-week delay in using Chinese vaccine deliberate asks State Minister

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‘Who accepts responsibility for deaths due to delay in inoculation’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr Nalaka Godahewa yesterday (13) questioned the failure on their part to administer 600,000 Chinese Sinopharm vaccines while the ground situation deteriorated.

Addressing the media at his ministry, Dr. Godahewa said that delaying the use of the stock donated by China was an unfortunate lapse.

Sri Lanka received the stock on March 31 whereas the government finally gave the go ahead to use it only on May 8.

Responding to media queries, Dr. Godahewa said that stakeholders had been engaged in a debate without using the available vaccines. The State Minister questioned the rationale in delaying tactics while asking whether the delay was deliberate.

The State Minister asked who would accept the responsibility for the deaths of people who were deprived of available vaccines with the government. If those responsible for the entire vaccination process used Sinopharm, the country could have secured additional stocks from China. The State Minister addressed the media in the wake of the country recording cumulative death toll of nearly 900 with over 2000 new cases being reported on a daily basis.

AstraZeneca and Sputnik procured from India and Russia, respectively, were administered within 24 hours after receiving them whereas the Chinese vaccine stock was held up for six weeks.

Acknowledging the delay on the part of the government, Dr. Godahewa said that the vaccination drive was underway.

Blaming the delay on those who found fault with the Chinese vaccines, Dr. Godahewa claimed that strong critic and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Harin Fernando was among the recipients of Chinese vaccine. According to the State Minister over 280mn doses of Chinese vaccine had been used so far as the world struggled to cope up with the raging pandemic.

Dismissing Opposition allegations of political interference in Covid-19 strategy, Dr Godahewa emphasized that the health authorities should take final decisions. The government wouldn’t interfere with health authorities, the Minister said, alleging that the Opposition played politics with the Chinese vaccine.

Dr Godahewa said that Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa sought meetings with representatives of countries soon after he received information on the government of Sri Lanka receiving assistance from those countries.

The State Minister explained how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a significant role in the overall government effort to procure much needed assistance from overseas.

Acknowledging shortcomings in the government response to the daunting Covid-19 challenge, Dr. Godahewa questioned the Opposition strategy. Challenging the Opposition response to the pandemic, Dr Godahewa asked whether they built up public opinion against the vaccination programme.

Dr. Godahewa said that in spite of the setback suffered by the vaccination project, the government was able to secure vaccines from China and Russia.

The State Minister said that the fast spreading epidemic was quite a challenge and efforts were being made to bring the situation under control.

The State Minister said that countrywide lockdowns would help control the situation. However, there was no consensus on the matter. Those who earned daily wages opposed lockdowns, the State Minister said, adding that whatever the outcome the final decision on such matters should be taken by health authorities.

Authoritative sources said that while Chinese vaccine stock remained unused, the government administered 927,000 of 1,264,000 covishield (500,000 doses free, 500,000 paid for and the rest through UN’s covax facility) till April 6. Sources pointed out if the Chinese vaccine was used, the country wouldn’t have to experience a shortfall of over 600,000 covishield doses for those who received the first jab.

The National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) is the authority for approving the use of medicine.

Controversy surrounds the government decision not to administer Sputnik V and Sinopharm for those over 60 though covishield was made available without any age-related restrictions.



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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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