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Why experts are not happy with India’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement, pricing policy



The Narendra Modi government’s recent strategy in respect of vaccination against COVID-19 has drawn flak from a section of public healthcare experts as well as economists.

The Union government recently announced two crucial steps: Vaccine makers can sell half their COVID-19-related stock to states and the private sector and vaccination would open up for the 18-45 age group May 1, 2021; but they won’t be sponsored by the Centre, like others have been until now.

Earlier, the central government had agreed to provide emergency use approval for vaccine candidates that have been okayed by the developed countries.

Soon after the Centre’s decision, Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd priced its Covishield vaccine at Rs 600 a shot for private providers and Rs 400 for states, later scaled down to Rs 300. Bharat Biotech International Ltd has priced a single dose of its Covaxin at a flat Rs 600. Every recipient must take two doses of either vaccine.

Experts slammed the move by the Centre to allow COVID-19 vaccine makers to sell 50 per cent of their stock directly to states and the open market.

More than 20 states, including Kerala, Delhi, Maharashtra, Haryana, Odisha, Jharkhand and Karnataka, have announced free vaccination either for all or particular age groups.

State governments, which have no prior experience in procuring vaccines, will end up spending 27 per cent of their health budget on an average, Anjela Taneja, lead (inequality, health, and education) for charity network Oxfam, told Down To Earth. The figure is based on an estimation done by Oxfam for an upcoming report.

“At least 27 per cent of the state health budget 2021 will go into just getting the vaccination done. How will the procurement of medical oxygen, ventilators, hospitals and medicines happen?” she asked.

Calculations done by different experts suggest that vaccinating the entire population would cost the Union government somewhere between Rs 50,000-70,000 crore. The Union government had allocated Rs 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccination in the 2021-22 Budget.

Ratings agency India Ratings and Research Pvt Ltd’s (Ind-Ra) estimates show that vaccinating the entire population may cost Rs 67,190 crore, of which the Union government will incur Rs 20,870 crore and state governments together will incur Rs 46,320 crore. The total is only 0.36 per cent of the gross domestic product, a small amount, given the economic cost of the pandemic. The calculation was based on the assumption of Rs 400 per dose, with five per cent wastage.

Similarly, Indranil Mukhopadhyay, health economist at OP Jindal School of Public and Government Policy, said procuring vaccines for 1.3 billion Indians (Rs 500 per person) would have cost the government roughly Rs 56,000 crore.

“But if the central government is procuring at scale, the cost would be reduced. Then, a Rs 35,000 crore (budget) would also be good enough. If there is a shortfall, the PM CARES fund can be utilised,” he said – DTE

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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament



Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.



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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert



By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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