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Saturday May 25th, 2024

Children less sick from Coronavirus, as 140,000 cases confirmed

Medical workers wearing protective gear carry a patient infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Chuncheon on February 22, 2020. South Korea reported 142 more coronavirus cases on February 22, the sharpest spike in infections yet, with more than half of the new cases linked to a hospital in a southern city. The national toll of 346 is now the second-highest outside of China. YONHAP / AFP

AFP – For reasons unknown, children rarely have severe symptoms when infected by COVID-19 and may even be a bit less likely to get the disease in the first place, experts told AFP.

But that doesn’t mean infants, toddlers and teens are not carriers for the new coronavirus, which jumped from animals to humans in central China at the end of last year.

As of Friday, there were over 140,000 confirmed cases in 124 countries, with more than 5,000 deaths.

Experts estimate that the true number of infections — many with mild or no symptoms — is far higher.

“We know children get infected with the virus, but they don’t appear to get very sick or die,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“What we don’t know is how much these asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic kids transmit,” he told AFP. “This is key to understanding their role in the epidemic.”

In a study from mid-February of 44,000 confirmed cases in and around the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began, the 10-to-19 age bracket made up one percent of infections and a single death.

Patients under 10 comprised less than one percent, with no deaths reported.

“We are still trying to wrap our heads around the deficit of cases among those under 20,” said Cecile Viboud, an epidemiologist at the US National Institute of Health’s Fogarty International Centre.

There are several theories as to why kids, especially young ones, are less prone to serious symptoms.

“Children see so many illnesses in the first years of life that their immune systems are tuned up and respond nicely to novel infection,” commented Sharon Nachman, head of paediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in New York state.

Whatever the reason, how easily children transmit the disease despite their relative imperviousness to illness “is directly relevant to the idea of closing schools,” according to Viboud.

– ‘Flattening the curve’ –

On Thursday French President Emmanuel Macron said all schools in France — from kindergarten to college — would shut their doors as of Monday, until further notice.

So far, 29 countries — including Ireland, China, Italy, Poland and Japan — have suspended classes nationwide, affecting nearly 400 million kids, according to UNESCO. Another 20 nations having taken partial measures.

Some argue that locking children out of the classroom is not worth the social disruption caused, and that keeping kids at home may further expose older people to the disease.

“It might make the epidemic or the ability to manage the consequences worse,” suggested Keith Neal, an emeritus professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham.

It could, for example, result in a reduction in the number of healthcare workers to care for the sick, and “an increase in grandparents delivering childcare — an age group at much greater risk,” he told AFP.

Thomas House, a statistician at the University of Manchester, said there are pros and cons.

“It helps to contain the spread of infection, but it creates a wider problem in society, like missing out on an education,” he said.

But most experts come down in favour of shuttering schools in order to slow the disease’s progress and distribute the number of critical cases over a longer time period in order to avoid overwhelming critical care units in hospitals, as happened in Wuhan and Italy.

Doctors in both places described war-like triage in which they incubated a patient on the last available respirator knowing that one or more others in equal need was likely to die.

For Nachman, pulling children out of school is “a very reasonable measure.”

“We assume that all children will get infection,” she said in an interview. “But if they pass it to their parents and household contacts, it will be over a longer period of time.”

“Instead of getting a hundred people sick tomorrow, we’ll get ten sick for the next ten days, which means less people coming into the hospital all at once.”

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Sri Lanka power outages from falling trees worsened by unfilled vacancies: CEB union

HEAVY WINDS: Heavy rains and gusting winds have brought down trees on many location in Sri Lanka.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power grid has been hit by 300,000 outages as heavy winds brought down trees, restoring supply has been delayed by unfilled vacancies of breakdown staff, a union statement said.

Despite electricity being declared an essential service, vacancies have not been filled, the CEB Engineers Union said.

“In this already challenging situation, the Acting General Manager of CEB issued a circular on May 21, 2024, abolishing several essential service positions, including the Maintenance Electrical Engineer in the Area Engineer Offices, Construction Units, and Distribution Maintenance Units,” the Union said.

“This decision, made without any scientific basis, significantly reduces our capacity to provide adequate services to the public during this emergency.

“On behalf of all the staff of CEB, we express our deep regret for the inconvenience caused to our valued customers.”

High winds had rains have brought down trees across power lines and transformers, the statement said.

In the past few day over 300,000 power outages have been reported nationwide, with some areas experiencing over 30,000 outages within an hour.

“Our limited technical staff at the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are making extraordinary efforts to restore power as quickly as possible,” the union said.

“We deeply regret that due to the high volume of calls, there are times when we are unable to respond to all customer inquiries.

“We kindly ask consumers to support our restoration teams and to report any fallen live electrical wires or devices to the Electricity Board immediately without attempting to handle them.

The union said there were not enough workers to restore power quickly when such a large volume of breakdowns happens.

“We want to clarify that the additional groups mentioned by the minister have not yet been received by the CEB,” the union said.

“Despite the government’s designation of electricity as an essential service, neither the government, the minister in charge, nor the CEB board of directors have taken adequate steps to fill the relevant vacancies or retain current employees.

“We believe they should be held directly responsible for the delays in addressing the power outages due to the shortage of staff.”

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Melco’s Nuwa hotel to open in Sri Lanka in mid-2025

ECONOMYNEXT – A Nuwa branded hotel run by Melco Resorts and Entertainment linked to their gaming operation in Colombo will open in mid 2025, its Sri Lanka partner John Keells Holdings said.

The group’s integrated resort is being re-branded as a ‘City of Dreams’, a brand of Melco.

The resort will have a 687-room Cinnamon Life hotel and the Nuwa hotel described as “ultra-high end”.

“The 113-key exclusive hotel, situated on the top five floors of the integrated resort, will be managed by Melco under its ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel brand ‘Nuwa’, which has presence in Macau and the Philippines,” JKH told shareholders in the annual report.

“Melco’s ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel and casino, together with its global brand and footprint, will strongly complement the MICE, entertainment, shopping, dining and leisure offerings in the ‘City of Dreams Sri Lanka’ integrated resort, establishing it as a one-of-a-kind destination in South Asia and the region.”

Melco is investing 125 million dollars in fitting out its casino.

“The collaboration with Melco, including access to the technical, marketing, branding and loyalty programmes, expertise and governance structures, will be a boost for not only the integrated resort of the Group but a strong show of confidence in the tourism potential of the country,” JKH said.

The Cinnamon Life hotel has already started marketing.

Related Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Life begins marketing, accepts bookings

(Colombo/May25/2024)

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Sri Lanka to find investors by ‘competitive system’ after revoking plantations privatizations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will revoke the privatization of plantation companies that do not pay government dictated wages, by cancelling land leases and find new investors under a ‘competitive system’, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said.

Sri Lanka privatized the ownership of 22 plantations companies in the 1990s through long term leases after initially giving only management to private firms.

Management companies that made profits (mostly those with more rubber) were given the firms under a valuation and those that made losses (mostly ones with more tea) were sold on the stock market.

The privatized firms then made annual lease payments and paid taxes when profits were made.

In 2024 the government decreed a wage hike announced a mandated wage after President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement in the presence of several politicians representing plantations workers.

The land leases of privatized plantations, which do not pay the mandated wages would be cancelled, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at a ceremony in Deraniyagala.

The re-expropriated plantations would be given to new investors through “special transparency”

The new ‘privatization’ will be done in a ‘competitive process’ taking into account export orientation, worker welfare, infrastructure, new technology, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

It is not clear whether paying government-dictated wages was a clause in the privatization agreement.

Then President J R Jayewardene put constitutional guarantee against expropriation as the original nationalization of foreign and domestic owned companies were blamed for Sri Lanka becoming a backward nation after getting independence with indicators ‘only behind Japan’ according to many commentators.

However, in 2011 a series of companies were expropriation without recourse to judicial review, again delivering a blow to the country’s investment framework.

Ironically plantations that were privatized in the 1990s were in the original wave of nationalizations.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the cabinet approval had been given to set up a committee to examine wage and cancel the leases of plantations that were unable to pay the dictated wages.

Related

Sri Lanka state interference in plantation wages escalates into land grab threat

From the time the firms were privatized unions and the companies had bargained through collective agreements, striking in some cases as macro-economists printed money and triggered high inflation.

Under President Gotabaya, mandating wages through gazettes began in January 2020, and the wage bargaining process was put aside.

Sri Lanka’s macro-economists advising President Rajapaksa the printed money and triggered a collapse of the rupee from 184 to 370 to the US dollar from 2020 to 2020 in the course of targeting ‘potential output’ which was taught by the International Monetary Fund.

In 2024, the current central bank governor had allowed the exchange rate to appreciate to 300 to the US dollar, amid deflationary policy, recouping some of the lost wages of plantations workers.

The plantations have not given an official increase to account for what macro-economists did to the unit of account of their wages. With salaries under ‘wages boards’ from the 2020 through gazettes, neither employees not workers have engaged in the traditional wage negotiations.

The threat to re-exproriate plantations is coming as the government is trying to privatize several state enterprises, including SriLankan Airlines.

It is not clear now the impending reversal of plantations privatization will affect the prices of bids by investors for upcoming privatizations.

The firms were privatized to stop monthly transfers from the Treasury to pay salaries under state ownership. (Colombo/May25/2024)

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