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Expert committee says burial of Covid 19 dead can take place with precautions

CORONAVIRUS BURIAL: Employees of the Bouvy funeral house wear face masks as a protective measure while they burry a person who died of the COVID-19 at the cemetery of Kraainem on April 8, 2020 in Brussels.

ECONOMYNEXT – The expert committee advising the government on the disposal of the remains of those who die of the Covid 19 virus is revising its stand and recommending that burial be permitted under strict conditions.

The Health Ministry which received the report whose primary author is Senior Professor Jennifer Perera is studying the new recommendations, informed sources said.

The four-page report gives strict guidelines for both processes, limiting the number of family members who are permitted to participate in funerals and strict guidelines for the location and nature of burial sites.

The report has been authenticated by experts for EconomyNext. The only flaw in the document being circulated on social media is the list of experts that is attached to the end of the report is of the older expert committee and one of the names that appear is incorrect.

The report says the committee which still believes cremation is the “most appropriate form of disposal of the body” but revises its stand to disallow burials while adhering to specific guidelines based on new knowledge.

The committee report follows the reasoning presented by the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL) in a scientific position paper published on its website yesterday January 1, in which it pointed out that in thousands of research papers published internationally there was no evidence of the transmission of the infection from a cadaver.

This brings the two most important Colleges of Experts in the fields on to the same page.

Sri Lanka is one of only two countries of the world enforcing compulsory cremation which goes against the religious beliefs of adherents of the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All other countries allow cremation or burial depending on the preferences of the family concerned.

Images of the unsigned report were tweeted by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) last night and have now gone viral. JDS is a group of journalists exiled from Sri Lanka due to previous violence against them.

Right-Wing groups oppose burial

Pro-government academics and Right-wing groups have argued that Muslims may take the bodies of Covid dead and “weaponise” them and infect the general population. This was their justification to cremate all the cadavers of Covid dead.

Burying the bodies, they argued would contaminate the groundwater and further spread the disease.

As a result, many Muslim families have not claimed their dead and the government has resorted to storing the remains in freezer containers which have been paid for by the Muslim community.

In Thursday’s report, the panel said that the SARS-CoV-2 virus infection is not a water-borne disease. “Contamination of water by the residual virus in a corpse leading into the water table through layers of soil to reach levels of the infectious dose is very remote as any residual infection virus continues to die. Furthermore, any residual infectious virus that reached the water table gets diluted in the large volume of water.”

It added that because of that factor the “amount of virus in water is insufficient to lead to an infection either by ingestion, contact with mucus membranes or through contaminated hands as the minimal infectious dose of the virus is quite high. For the same reasons, there also has been no evidence of transmission through water contamination from burial by SARS or influenza. However, water contamination could be avoided to a large extent by wrapping the body using virus impervious material such as the use of non-biodegradable body bags.”

The recommendations of the panel are:

– The dignity of the dead and their families should be respected and protected as far as possible throughout the process used for the disposal of the body.

– Only designated healthcare personnel should handle the corpses.

– The body should not be handed over to the relatives for cremation or burial.

-Ensure all those who interact with the body (the healthcare and mortuary staff) apply standard infection prevention and control (IPC) precautions. Continuous and adequate hand hygiene supplies, PPE, cleaning and disinfection supplies should be made available.

-The bodies for cremation or burial should not be embalmed.

-The cremation or burial should be carried out within 24 hours, once the order for disposal of the body is given.

-The body should be laid inside a double-layered body bag, prior to placing in the coffin. The body bags should be of 300 um thickness, padded with absorbent material, leak-proof and non-biodegradable.

– Viewing of the body will be permitted only within the healthcare facility/mortuary.

– If the family wishes to view the body, open/unzip the body bag and allow them to view the body at a one-meter distance wearing a mask and keeping a distance of one meter from each other. Touching the body or the belongings of the dead person is not permitted. The body should not be removed from the body bag for viewing.

– Only 4 persons from the family will be allowed to view the body. Two persons at a time should be allowed to view the body and a maximum period of 5 min/per two persons should be allowed for viewing the body under supervision. A total period of 10 min is allowed for viewing the body.

– When the body is transported to a crematorium/burial site by health authorities, a maximum of 4 persons from the family could be permitted to accompany the body in a separate mode of transport.

– The crematorium/burial site designated by the healthcare authorities should be used for disposal of the body.

-The coffin shall not be opened for any reason at the crematorium or the burial site.

– Allow 10 minutes for any religious activity under supervision at the crematorium/burial site prior to cremating/burying while observing social distancing and standard precautions. Only one religious dignitary and 4 persons from the family will be permitted to be present during the religious activity.

– The bottom of the grave should be 1.5 m from the ground surface and 1.2 m above the water table. The distance between the burial site and field drains should be 10 m minimum. The distance between burial site and drinking wells, boreholes, and wells should be 250 m minimum. The distance between the burial site and springs and watercourses should be 30 m minimum as per current recommendations by global experts. (Colombo, January 2, 2021)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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  1. bisara says:

    They haven’t defined maximum transport distance for a body?

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  1. bisara says:

    They haven’t defined maximum transport distance for a body?

Indian FM meets Sri Lanka political leaders; focuses on committed deals

ECONOMYNEXT – Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar met President Ranil Wickremesinghe and a range of political leaders during his visit to Sri Lanka, focusing on commitments made by Sri Lanka to India, including land and energy pipeline connectivity.

Sri Lanka has committed to renewable energy deals for the Indian Adani group, Trincomalee port development, an investment zone around the port, a bridge between the island nation’s Northern Mannar and South India’s Rameshwaram, a power grid, and an oil and gas pipeline between the two nations.

Though most of the committed projects have been discussed and some already signed, they face delays amid public protests, court cases on environmental concerns, anti-Indian sentiments triggered by high prices of renewable projects, local politicians as well as perceived Chinese influence, analysts say.

India has been pushing Sri Lanka to fast-track these deals under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Jaishankar’s visit also comes ahead of Sri Lanka’s presidential polls later this year.

Jaishankar met President Wickremesinghe in a one-on-one meeting, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry before delegation-level talks with Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Agriculture and Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, and Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera.

“Appreciated the progress made on various bilateral projects and initiatives. Under President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s guidance, we discussed the way forward for India-Sri Lanka cooperation, especially in power, energy, connectivity, port infrastructure, aviation, digital, health, food security, education, and tourism sectors,” Jaishankar said on his official Twitter platform.

He also met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, and leaders of various political parties from the North, East, and the upcountry region.

“Interaction of EAM with the leadership of the Government of Sri Lanka provided an opportunity to review and accelerate progress in the multifaceted India-Sri Lanka partnership,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

One of the key focus areas of discussion was the Vision Document adopted by President Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Modi during the Sri Lankan leader’s visit to India in July 2023.

“Discussions added momentum to the ongoing projects as well as initiatives for promoting connectivity in all its dimensions, particularly in domains of energy, physical infrastructure as well as economic and people-to-people ties.”

Jaishankar also met leaders of Sri Lanka’s upcountry Tamils, who originally came from India as plantation workers. He discussed development and devolution of power with an eight-member delegation of Tamil leaders from the Northern and Eastern provinces, including Shanakiyan Rasamanikkam and M. A. Sumanthiran.

India helped Sri Lanka with financial and humanitarian aid when the island nation faced an unprecedented economic crisis amid delays by the International Monetary Fund loan to rescue Sri Lanka.

“Following Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and stabilization, forging deeper long-term economic cooperation was underlined as a priority for sustainable and equitable growth of Sri Lanka, and mutual prosperity in the Indian Ocean Region,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said.

Though the Sri Lankan government has claimed that Jaishankar’s visit was a precursor to Indian Prime Minister’s visit, the Indian External Affairs Ministry did not mention anything about a possible Modi visit.

This visit is Jaishankar’s first bilateral visit after the formation of the new government.

The Adani wind power project in the Northern district of Mannar has seen some public protests over environmental concerns after some experts said the project has failed to conduct a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Critics also protest against its transparency.

President Wickremesinghe, opposition leader Premadasa, and Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka are expected to contest in the election to choose the island nation’s 8th leader.

Sri Lankan leaders have been under pressure from India in the past two decades amid increasing Chinese influence in the island nation, seen as a security threat to India, analysts say.

The docking of a Chinese nuclear submarine in 2014 led to a dramatic government change in the 2015 presidential poll with the ousting of former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who later accused India of orchestrating his defeat.

Rajapaksa’s brother Gotabaya in 2021 unilaterally canceled a key port terminal project given to India’s Adani group after promising Jaishankar to sign the deal.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was later forced to flee the country in 2022 after mass protests due to his economic policies. (Colombo/June 21/2024)

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Sri Lanka car permit tax losses Rs14bn in two years of partial disclosure

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has lost 14.3 billion rupees in taxes from car permits given to public servants, including doctors, military officers, central bankers, finance ministry and tax officials, in 2019 and 2020 information disclosed by the finance ministry shows.

Inclusive of some 2021 tax losses when imports were banned for the rest of the year, 14.4 billion rupees of foregone revenue from a waived luxury tax is shown.

The list only shows waivers of a so-called ‘luxury tax’ imposed on larger vehicles above a certain value and size.

The list does not show other vehicles imported under car permits such as double cabs or cars below a certain size.

The list also does not seem to include tax free cars imported by politicians.

In 2019, Sri Lanka has lost 8.3 billion rupees from the luxury tax on car permits and in 2019 the loss 5.92 billion rupees.

In 2021 when car imports were stopped as the central bank started printing money to cut rates and target ‘potential output’ only 85.6 million rupees were lost.

Among the biggest tax waivers of over 10 million rupees went to some doctors and military officers. Doctors were among the biggest users of tax slashed car permits in the list.

Sri Lanka at one time did not allow cars imported by state workers to be transferred for many years.

But reportedly after Customs raided a finance company involving a fleet of vehicles, the rule was relaxed by the then President.

Among the largest tax waivers listed were given to Rolls Royce and Maclaren assigned to Melwire Rolling (Pvt) Ltd.

The 45.6 million rupee Rolls Royce was given a 42.1 million rupee tax waiver.

The 41.46 million McLaren was given a 37.9 million tax waiver.

There were also a large number of Audi A5 and Q2 vehicles listed at prices over 80 million rupee. It is not clear whether the disclosure is an error. The market value of the A5 and Q2 are much lower.

Up to end 2023, 138 cars imported under a migrant worker remittance scheme was listed to lose 436 million rupees in luxury taxes.
The total for the three years was listed at 14.86 billion rupees, involving 2,034 cars in 2019 and 1,470 cars in 2020.

It is not known how much the total tax losses or total vehicle imported through ‘car permits’ is. (Colombo/June20/2024)

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Construction of Sampur solar power plant to begin mid-July

ECONOMYNEXT – Joint energy projects between India and Sri Lanka, including the Sampur solar power plant due to begin next month, took centre stage during bilateral discussions between president Ranil Wickremesinghe and visiting Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday.

Wickremesinghe and Jaishankar discussed initiatives aimed at enhancing energy connectivity and developing the renewable energy sector, a statement by his media division said.

“Significant attention was given to plans for an LNG supply, a proposed petroleum pipeline linking the two countries, and advancing oil and gas exploration projects. Additionally, it was announced that construction of the Sampur Solar Power Plant is set to commence in July 2024.”

The visit comes amid delays in key Indian projects including land, oil and gas pipe, and grid connectivity deals, Adani’s wind power plant deals which are facing a legal battle, and port and investment zone projects in the Eastern port district of Trincomalee.

Indian supported projects for developing Trincomalee and expanding the Kankasanthurai port, the ongoing development of Jaffna Airport and Colombo Airport, and the expediting the unique digital identity card project were discussed.

The efficiency of projects supported by the Indian government aimed at bolstering Sri Lanka’s liquid milk industry and fertilizer production, were also examined.

Sri Lankan leaders have been under pressure from India in the past two decades amid increasing Chinese influence in the island nation as the move is seen as a security threat to India, analysts say. (Colombo/Jun20/2024)

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