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X-Press Pearl disaster: Govt. to submit initial US$ 50 million claim as compensation



by Ifham Nizam

The government will submit an initial claim for US$ 50 million as compensation from the owners/insurance agents of the X-Press Pearl vessel, which was destroyed in a blaze in Sri Lankan territorial waters, a top government official said.

A Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) team is now working on the preliminary compensation proposal to be submitted shortly.

The Sunday Island learns that the team has also sought inputs from various other sectors affected by the enormous environmental disaster caused by the fire-stricken cargo vessel to prepare separate claims for compensation.

Central Environmental Authority’s Chemical and Hazardous Waste Management Unit, Director, Ajith Weerasundara said they would shortly spell out their recommendations regarding the extensive damage by the waste around the sea areas.

He termed the impact as “huge” with a strong chemical spread in the vicinity/

“MEPA is handling the calculations on the negative impacts on the ocean and to marine biodiversity”, he said.

Environmental Scientist, Hematha Withanage said only eight of the 1,486 containers had been cleared from the sea. “The longer the delay, the more extensive will be the damage caused”.

He said the fisheries sector has lost around Rs. 80 million per day and in addition, the clean up will have to go on for many more years though it may not be possible to trace 40 per cent of the debris.

The billions of plastic pellets that were washed ashore will remain intact for the next 500 to 1,000 years, Withanage asserted. “Every single plastic pellet is an environmental threat. We may collect 50 per cent, but the rest will remain buried in the sand the along the affected coastal belt”.

The ship seems to have been transporting around 42 different chemicals and around 45 different materials (of the declared goods) that possibly contain hazardous chemicals, he claimed.

He said while some are known toxics, the others are not chemicals of concern in their pure form. However, as the chemicals were ignited and also mixed with sea water, the damage will have a multiple ecological impact.

For example, the ingots when burned could emit lead vapour that cause air-borne contamination, he pointed out.

Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) and The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) are the ship owners and insurance companies, respectively.

Environment Minister Amaraweera said that the ship’s VDR (Voyage Data Recorder) would reveal those responsible for the ecological and economic disaster. “They should be held accountable”.

The environmental damage caused by the burning ship cannot be quantified as it’s so enormous , he  said.

He said the Marine Environment Protection Authority Chairman informed him that a team has already been sent to the vicinity of the sunken ship to investigate and obtain the oil samples.

“I received the list of cargo aboard the vessel. There were 193 items in about 1,486 containers”, the Minister said.

Debris from the container ship has affected more than 150km of Sri Lanka’s coastline, according to International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) experts who are on site.

ITOPF said more than 1,000 people are involved in the clean up operation. The specialist pollution response company Oil Spill Response has also arrived in Sri Lanka and will work with ITOPF in providing technical assistance.

The Wildlife Conservation Department said dozens of dead marine species have been found on beaches countrywide.

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Even four months after first jab antibodies generated by Covishield vaccine remain active – expert



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A significant amount of antibodies created by the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine remained even 16 weeks after receiving the first jab, Dr. Chandima Jeewandara of the Allergy, Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, Department of Immunology Molecular and Molecular Medicine of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura said yesterday.

“We studied this because it was a serious issue due to hundreds of thousands of people have not received the booster doses yet. Our research shows that a significant amount of antibodies remains in those who received the first dose. This is good news and I think we can give them the second dose. But we have to conduct tests.”

Dr. Jeewandara said they would soon release a report on antibodies that developed due to the Sputnik-V vaccine, and a similar report on the Moderna vaccine too would be released in a month or two.

Dr. Jeewandara said that 500 Sputnik-V recipients and 600 Moderna recipients were being studied.

Commenting on a recent study by the department on the development of antibodies by those given the Sinopharm vaccine where it was found that vaccine induced antibody responses in over 95% of individuals, similar to levels seen following natural COVID-19 illness, Dr. Jeewandara said that the study had addressed a key concern people had about Sinopharm.

“One of the biggest problems is that we have little data on Sinopharm. This study tries to fill that,” he said.

Dr. Jeewandara said that the university had started measuring efficacy and antibodies from vaccines since Sri Lanka started administering them. The first vaccine they started studying was Covishield, he said.

“Let me explain the process. We take a blood sample before vaccination. We do that to identify antibody levels before vaccination. In Sri Lanka most people who contract COVID19 don’t develop symptoms. So we do this as a baseline blood test. Then we get a second sample before the second jab is given and a third sample at a time the manufacturer recommends as the best time to check antibodies.”

In the case of Sinopharm, the third sample was taken two weeks after the second jab. The researchers look at the level of antibodies and T-cell response because they are the two main tools to fight or prevent the virus or prevent serious illness, he said. A person can either get antibodies from contracting the virus or through vaccination, Dr. Jeewandara said.

“These are not efficacy tests. Efficacy is measured in a controlled clinical trial and is based on how many people who got vaccinated developed the ‘outcome of interest’ (usually the disease) compared with how many people who got the placebo (dummy vaccine) developed the same outcome. What we did was to test antibodies but this hints at vaccine efficacy too. Immunity and protection tend to be similar in both tests.”

Dr. Jeewandara said that Sri Lanka was an interesting case study because most Sri Lankans were genetically similar and that one variant usually dominates the country. However, Sri Lanka used several vaccines, giving the country an excellent opportunity to find out what vaccine was best.

“We also studied Covishield and over 90% of people vaccinated with it had developed antibodies,” he said.

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Natural disasters affected 1,512,344 persons last year



By Rathindra Kuruwita

During 2020, 1,512,344 persons belonging to 412,520 families were affected by natural disasters and out of them 19,872 families were placed in 202 shelters, the Annual Performance Report of the State Ministry of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management for the year 2020 has said.

The State Ministry added that 62 deaths were reported in 2020 due to natural disasters, 393 houses were completely destroyed, 30,317 houses were partially damaged, and 2,911 small and medium scale businesses were damaged.

The government spent Rs. 12.7 million to provide them with cooked meals, Rs. 18.6 million for dry rations, Rs. 5.5 million to compensate the dead, Rs. 130 million to provide them with drinking water. In total Rs. 166.8 million were spent on those affected by natural disasters in 2020.

“Based on estimates of the assessment of damages made by an assessment committee, compensation of up to a maximum of Rs. 2.5 million was paid to home appliances, and to buildings and equipment of small and medium scale business that do not exceed an annual income of Rs. 10.0 million and that are not benefited under any other insurance coverage. Further, an advance of Rs. 10,000 was also given to the victims to quickly repair the damaged houses due to natural disasters until the damage assessment is done. This money was paid through National Insurance Trust Fund and Provisions from the Treasury. Rs. 287.9 million and Rs. 320.7 million were paid from those two sources between April 2019 and December 2020,” the report said.

The report highlighted that a large number of people are being affected by dry weather and that many people suffer being unable to meet their daily drinking water needs. In 2017, 1,113,858 families were affected by dry weather, in 2018, 567,987 families were affected, and in 2019, 312,383 families were affected.

“In 2020, 364 tractor bowsers, 133 lorry bowsers and 11,936 water tanks were provided to all Districts to provide water to 310,742 affected families from drought,” the report said.

The relevant District Secretaries were also provided with Rs. 143 million in 2020 to supply drinking water to affected families.



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New guidelines for weddings soon – Health Ministry



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Health Ministry will soon amend health guidelines on weddings after hundreds of complaints had been received on behaviour that could lead to superspreader events, a ministry spokesman said.

“We have allowed weddings to take place with 25% seating capacity or a maximum of 150 people but drinking and dancing are not permitted. We have received many complaints of drunk people and other guests dancing on fully packed dance floors. Covid-19 guidelines are not followed” he said.

Given this development the Ministry would soon amend the guidelines so certain activities can’t be carried out, he said.

Earlier yesterday General Shavendra Silva, Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID 19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) said wedding guests were behaving irresponsibly and there was a high possibility wedding clusters emerging.

“We have set the maximum number of people who can attend a wedding at 150 but in some areas many more people attend wedding receptions. We have allowed these weddings to take place on humanitarian grounds but if people abuse freedom given to them we will all be in trouble. Over 1,500 Covid-19 cases are still reported daily.”

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