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Fresh clusters could erupt despite slide in Covid-19 spread outside WP

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Senior medical official warns:

bY SURESH PERERA

Many districts outside the volatile Western province witnessed a slow-down in the transmission of Covid-19 over the past week, but the slide does not mean the worst is over as there’s every possibility of a fresh cluster erupting anywhere at any time, a senior medical official warned.

“Apart from the Western province, other districts in the country, which reported significantly high numbers earlier, have now seen an overall drop in the spread of the virus”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.

The overall coronavirus situation in these districts has improved with relatively lower positive cases emerging, he noted, while cautioning the public that dropping their guard could translate into a regression with the explosion of new clusters.

The Gampaha district, which earlier remained under lockdown as positive cases of the deadly virus hit a new high following the outbreak of the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda fish market clusters, has seen a gradual de-escalation with some areas deemed ‘high risk’ at one time witnessing a decline in terms of numbers, he explained.

It is encouraging that there have been no fresh cases reported from Minuwangoda, where the initial cluster within the Gampaha district erupted and spread to the free trade zone, Peliyagoda and Wattala in Colombo North, Dr. Herath stressed. “There was zero new patients from Katunayake as well”.

“With 500 plus Covid-19 patients reported from the Gampaha district in the Western province on Wednesday, I wouldn’t say there’s an overall significant big improvement as such, but some areas, where numbers were relatively high, have seen a decline with the virus in Minuwangoda and Katunayake dying down with zero new patients”, he outlined.

Some areas within the district still remain isolated with 28 Covid-19 patients discovered from Wattala and about seven to eight others from Biyagama and Negombo.

It cannot be said that “everything is going very nicely” in the Western province in relation to the spread of the contagion as many areas still remain ‘high risk’ amidst concerted efforts to tackle the threat, he said.

In addition, small clusters have also been identified in the Colombo district, including one at the Colombo port and another at a steel factory at Kotahena, he elaborated.

Asked about a possible time-frame to contain the raging pandemic in the Western province, Dr. Herath replied, “it’s difficult to predict, but the virus could die down within two to three weeks if no new clusters emerge. If the public adhere to preventive guidelines, an overall improvement in the situation can be expected. Otherwise, a new cluster could explode anywhere”

For example, if a Covid-19 patient visits a boutique and those who patronize it later fail to wear a face mask and touch surfaces and ignore the guidelines to wash their hands, a new cluster will emerge and spread to others they associate with, he said.

The public should also avoid visiting crowded places as the risk of infection is high. Without public support, it’s impossible to curb the threat. If people do what’s expected of them for their own safety and that of others, the virus will die down, he continued.

Asked about the relatively high number of infections from the Peliyagoda cluster, he said it could have happened due to droplets spreading out as the fish market is generally noisy.

On PCR testing, Dr. Herath said 10,000 per day capacity has already been reached with long-term plans to double the number, which means a bigger investment. Just as much as more random sampling in selected areas is called for, as the whole population cannot be screened, improving the efficiency of laboratories and reducing the operating time are also imperative to identify positive cases.

“We cannot unnecessarily spend funds on test kits without proper direction. There are asymptomatic patients who need to be identified through enhanced testing as the diagnosis cannot be done clinically”, he emphasized.

On the possibility of reopening the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), he said that it’s not practical to keep it closed indefinitely. It has to be reopened at some point though there are associated risks with a virus that is virulent.

If the risk factor is placed at 1%, of 1,000 people coming to the country, 50 could be infected and if 50,000 were to arrive, at least 500 could be carriers of the virus, he warned.

However, there’s no option but to take the risk as the country cannot afford to keep its gateway to world closed forever, Dr. Herath said.


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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report

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PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.

 

Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report

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By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin

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By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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