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Zuhair takes up right of Muslims killed by COVID-19 to be buried according to their religion

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Former lawmaker M. M. Zuhair, PC, has strongly opposed what he calls forcible cremation of Covid-19 victims on a directive given by Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC.

 The following is the text of a letter by former Senior State Counsel Zuhair to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa: 

This is further to my previous representation dated 06th May 2020.

 According to media reports the Hon Attorney General has directed the Director-General of Health Services that the dead bodies of Covid-19 victims unclaimed by the immediate members of the family to be cremated. (Ada Derana. Lk-09/12/2020 at 15.07 hrs. and AFP “Sri Lanka cremates Muslim Covid-19 victims against religious wishes” 09/12/2020 7.40 pm).

 Firstly it is well known that the right to accord a dignified burial to a deceased person is an internationally recognized right. This is a right available to every person not merely to Muslims.

Secondly it is equally well known that the kith and kin of the deceased Muslims in particular have refused to accept the dead bodies as a protest against the unlawful refusal by the health authorities of our country to allow Covid 19 deceased persons a dignified burial. In the circumstances the Attorney General ought not to have directed the forcible cremation without hearing the kith and kin of the deceased persons. Such direction is in violation of the principles of natural justice, which principles the Attorney General is bound to uphold.

Thirdly, the direction has been made in terms of the Quarantine and Prevention of Deceases ordinance. If that be the case, the Attorney General would have seen that section 3(1)(i) of the Quarantine Ordinance provides for both options of burial and cremation and that he ought not to become a party to directing solely the cremation of the ‘under protest’ bodies without the consent of the kith and kin and in violation of the provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance read with section 17 (1) (c) of the Interpretation Ordinance. He ought not to expose the illustrious office of the Attorney General and the State to possible claims of damages.

Fourthly, Professor Tissa Vitharana has been quoted in the media last week that the expert panel appointed by the Minister of Health to advise her on the quarantine measures does not have a single virologist and hence not a competent panel, though the country has many eminent experts, virologists, epidemiologists, etc. Whereas 190 countries in the world had permitted burial of Covid-19 deceased persons following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, Sri Lanka and China are said to be the two countries that do not allow burials. The excellent work otherwise done by the countries health authorities and the armed forces are being brought into disrepute world-wide by the panel’s undue delay in resolving the problem by giving convincing scientific reasons as to why the WHO guidelines cannot be followed here.

 Fifthly, if in fact and in science Covid- 19 will spread through contamination of water, I wish to state that no one, Muslim or otherwise will ask for burial of their victims. According to WHO any virus contaminated water may cause diarrhea but will not spread Covid-19.

Sixthly recent judicial decisions have kept the matter open to be decided by the Cabinet based on expert opinion which is anxiously awaited. Courts have not restrained the government or the experts from taking necessary decisions.

Permit me also to point out the following matters. Two Ministers Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa and Hon. Mahinda Amaraweera said recently that the government is favourably considering restoring the 27th March 2020 gazette allowing both burial and cremation for Covid-19 deceased persons and a third Minister Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella said a final decision will be taken after the experts give their opinion to the Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. The country’s accredited experts on the subject must not delay giving the opinion and they must do so with convincing scientific reasons for the public to know, because the government’s pursuit to restore burials in line with the opinion of the experts of the country as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines are being perceived as being delayed unreasonably.

According to the WHO, water contaminated by any virus may cause diarrhoea but not Covid 19. If the local experts on virology and epidemiology have scientific reasons to establish that Covid-19 will spread through contamination of water to the living cell of a host, they also need to explain that apart from human beings animals, birds and fish will not be infected and will not host the virus and transmit them to human beings who may consume or handle them. There is thus an urgent need for the Sri Lankan experts to clear with scientific reasons all possible misconceptions.

The main protective measures that the public have been presently made aware of, to restrict the spread of Covid-19 are related to contamination through inhalation of infected droplets or by touching infected surfaces but not to Covid-19 contaminated water being consumed by living cells and getting transmitted to human beings. Experts in the relative field must clarify these matters on an urgent basis with scientific reasoning and evidence.  

The composition of the committee of experts and their expertise in the relevant field to override WHO guidelines and the meetings or discussions they are engaged in need to be publicized in the interest of transparency. These representations are being made in the interest of the country’s best interests, its global reputation particularly in the Middle-Eastern countries which provide the highest foreign exchange earnings of US $ 7,000 million per year and in establishing acceptable scientific reasoning in the process of decision making affecting the fundamental rights of persons both living and dead.”

A copy has been also sent to the AG.

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SL hopeful of getting first stock of Covid-19 jab within weeks

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by Suresh Perera

The first consignment of 200,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 is expected to reach Sri Lanka by the end of January or early February, a senior health official said.

The stock of the newly developed US vaccine, now being administered in many countries across the globe, will be channeled to Colombo through the World Health Organization (WHO), he noted.

The WHO has agreed to provide around 4.2 million qualified vaccines to Sri Lanka to inoculate about 20 percent of the population.

“We are optimistic that the vaccination pledged by Pfizer/BioNTech will be the first lot to arrive so that we will able to initiate the Covid-19 inoculation campaign at least by next month (February)”, the high-ranking official said.

Though March was initially looked at to kick-start the vaccination drive, the possibility of it happening earlier is on the cards with access to the jab now virtually in sight, he noted.

“The sooner the vaccinations are administered, the better”, the official remarked, referring to the surging pandemic, which has so far killed 247 patients and infected 50,901 in Sri Lanka.

Asked about the Chinese and Indian products, he opined that it will possibly take time as the accepted practice is that all drugs have to be registered with three different regulatory bodies and approved by at least five referral countries before they are used in Sri Lanka.

“We have to work according to WHO guidelines”, he commented.

“We are comfortable with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as it has already been approved by the US Food & Drugs Administration, TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) of Australia and regulators in Japan and Singapore among others”, he said.

The vaccine has been given the green light by regulators in the UK, US, EU and more than 40 other countries.

BioNTech said it had shipped almost 33m doses of the vaccine so far from six manufacturing sites in the US and Europe.

“We had originally pledged to make 1.3bn doses in 2021 but now intend to provide as many as 2bn”, BioNTech said in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government has informed the WHO that it has initiated the process of improving cold chain requirements for the storage of doses ahead of inoculation.

With the country laying the groundwork to receive the Covid-19 vaccines, infrastructure facilities are being improved to accommodate the stocks, which have to be stored at a temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius.

At hospital level, they will have to stored at minus level temperature, if the need arises.

The WHO says that at present there are more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in trials.

“We are working in collaboration with scientists, business, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries”, the world body said on its website.

“People most at risk will be prioritized. While we work towards rolling out a safe and effective vaccine fairly, we must continue the essential public health actions to suppress transmission and reduce mortality”, it stressed.

In a bid to stem the deadly Covid-19 surge, Sri Lanka is also exploring the possibility of importing the Oxford-AstraZeneca product from the United Kingdom or the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

The Sinovac vaccine manufactured in China and the Indian AztraZeneca are also being looked at, officials said.

Beijing has responded positively to a request by President Rajapaksa to Chinese President Xi Jinping for assistance in accessing the vaccine developed by China to curb the coronavirus threat.

International media reports spoke of nine million people in China already receiving the jabs. The vaccines were being used in 10 countries including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

According to Army Commander, Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Center for Prevention of Covid-19, all options on the table are being considered to procure a proven global vaccine to set in motion the inoculation initiative in Sri Lanka.

Lalith Weeratunga, senior Adviser to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who heads a committee on the procurement of the vaccines, will oversee the coordination process of importing the jabs to Sri Lanka. Medical expertise towards this end will come from Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Secretary to the Health Ministry, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, Secretary to the State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and COVID Disease Control and Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, President of the GMOA amongst others.

Meanwhile, a group of corporates headed by Brandix Lanka Limited has pledged Rs. 7 billion (US$ 50 million) to the government to procure vaccines against Covid-19.

Brandix Lanka Chairman Ashroff Omar has already discussed the modalities of the financial commitment with State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and senior health officials.

On an understanding reached, priority will be accorded to Brandix employees in administering the first doses of the vaccines procured with the funds provided by the corporate for this purpose.

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State Minister wants SD&CC to make profits and contribute towards the economy

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A discussion on streamlining the operations of the State Development and Constructions Corporation (SD&CC) and turn it around into a profit-making institution to contribute towards the country’s economy was held on Wednesday.

State Minister for Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure, Nimal Lanza, chaired the meeting at the institution in Ratmalana.

Under the President’s ‘Vision of Prosperity’ concept, the SD&CC will be entrusted with future development work. It will be tasked with the development of 100,000km of roadways and rural bridge projects aimed at replacing old bridges and vine bridges.

Established in 1971, the SD&CC has contributed towards many government development projects, including building roads, bridges, irrigation, water supply, precast concrete products, road signs and other construction activities.

The State Minister said the physical and human resources of the institution should be properly managed and action taken to make it a profitable institution by minimizing the cost of the projects implemented.

He said the company should work towards achieving high efficiency by submitting new plans based on the recommendations of its officials.

Lanza instructed the officials to pay more attention to the high priority and profitable sectors in the implementation of various projects and to submit new plans and proposals for the development of the institution and the implementation of new projects expeditiously.

R. W. R. Pemasiri, Secretary to the Ministry of Highways and D. P. M. Chandana, Chairman, State Development and Construction Corporation, were also present.

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Sri Lanka Insurance launches ‘Nagaraja’ – an exclusive medical insurance for Buddhist clergy

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Sri Lanka Insurance launched ‘Nagaraja’ an exclusive medical insurance cover to provide protection for Buddhist clergy and their family members.

The official hand over of the insurance policy took place recently at Temple Trees with the participation of the Maha Sangha, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Vidura Wickramanayaka State Minister of National heritage, Performing Arts and Rural Arts promotion, senior officials of the Prime Minister’s Office, Jagath Wellawatta, Chairman of SLIC and the corporate management.

This unique insurance scheme will be available at Sri Lanka Insurance branches island-wide for the public to purchase at Rs. 2000/- and offer as pirikara to the Sanga.

The ‘Nagaraja’ insurance scheme also falls under the ‘Insurance for All” concept of Sri Lanka Insurance to provide protection for each and every citizen of Sri Lanka.

Under the insurance scheme, Buddhist clergy will receive inpatient benefits of Rs. 1,000/- per day for hospitalization in a government or private hospital (up to 15 days), Rs. 25,000/- on expenses incurred on drugs purchased and tests, scans and X-rays as an inpatient in a government or private hospital.

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