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Sunday October 1st, 2023

Sri Lanka vaccine conundrum: How did Colombo residents get AstraZeneca in Galle?

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan authorities will investigate allegations that the elusive second dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was administered in Galle to residents of Colombo despite an island-wide lockdown, State Minister Channa Jayasumana said.

The privately owned Derana network reported on June 08 that a text message had circulated that the second dose of AstraZeneca was scheduled to be administered the previous day at the Galle Heath Services district director’s office. According to the Derana report, more people from Colombo had turned up for the 6.45am rollout than residents in Galle, in clear violation of ongoing curfew-style movement restrictions.

Derana reported over 100 vehicles bearing Western Province license plates were seen at the Southern Province vaccination centre.

Sri Lanka is currently experiencing a shortage of AstraZeneca for some 600,000 people anxiously awaiting their second dose, with the government appealing to foreign governments and other parties to share their excess stocks. Health authorities have said frontlie workers in the health sector and the military will be prioritsed with the limited number of AstraZeneca doses left – although, 196 of these remaining doses were controversially distributed May 29 and 30 at an influential Colombo temple with links to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Related: Abhayarama’s unsanctioned vaccine rollout: Chief incumbent blames Sri Lanka govt

Similar to Galle, the Abhayarama incident too involved an anonymous messaging circulated among residents telling them to go and get their second jab.

Both the chief incumbent of the temple and health authorities claimed on May 31 that the message originated from them. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi told reporters on May 30 that the doses of AstraZeneca left in the country were reserved solely for cancer and kidney patients.

“Because there were people gathering outside the temple and there was a risk of the virus spreading there, we had to release some of those doses that were in storage to bring the situation under control,” she said.

The Derana report on the Galle incident noted that locals who turned up at the Health Services district director’s office were turned away as there were not enough doses after inoculating those who had come from Colombo.

Derana reported that residents from Kollupitiya, Kelaniya, Dehiwala and other parts of Colombo had driven down to Galle for the jab.

It is still unclear how these Western Province residents obtained permission to travel to the Southern Province in the middle of an island-wide lockdown.

State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Channa Jayasuman told reporters June 08 afternoon that a Health Ministry team has been sent to Galle to investigate the matter and take disciplinary action against anyone found to be involved.

The second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine was given to 466 people on June 08, taking total second jab receivers to 353,789.

Sri Lanka has received 1,264,000 doses of the Covishield-branded version of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). Half a million of these were donated by the Indian government, with another half directly purchased by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) from SII. The remaining 264,000 was received through the World Health Organisation (WHO)-led COVAX facility.

Since January 29, Sri Lanka has administered the first dose of Covishield to 925,242 citizens, leaving 338,758 doses. However, authorities claim that 353,789 people – some 15,000 more than the number of doses as per official data – have received the second jab so far. But according to Minister Wanniarchachi, the number of doses left after the first-dose rollout is 356,730.

If her number is accurate, Sri Lanka should have in its possession 2,941 doses of the vaccine (356,730 – 353,789) as of June 08. (Colombo/ June 09/2021)

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Sri Lanka National Christian Council opposes Online Safety Bill

ECONOMYNEXT – The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) in a statement on the Online Safety Bill, said that the existing legal regime is adequate to deal with instances of harmful speech, making it unjustifiable to enact such “stringent laws”.

The Council called upon the government to withdraw the bill immediately.

The body expressed “deep concern” over the proposed bill, detailing its potential to curtail freedom of speech and how, according to the Council, the piece of legislature is inconsistent with the principles of democracy.

“The bill proposes the establishment of an entity named the Online Safety Commission without provisions to guarantee its independence and impartiality,” the statement said.

Chapter 3 imposes restrictions on online communication of certain statements, many of which are vague and overbroad, leaving room for executive control and the curtailing of legitimate criticism and dissent that are basic features of democracy, the statement said.

“The laws granting wide discretion to the executive and its investigative agencies with expansive reach have been misused in the past.”

The Council said that the bill was not drafted with the process of public consultation and discussion, which might have ensured the bill would be less draconian in nature.

“The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka calls upon the government to withdraw this anti-human rights and anti-democratic bill immediately.” (Colombo/Sep30/2023)

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Sri Lanka to implement new vehicle revenue licence issuing system

ECONOMYNEXT – A new system of issuing vehicle licences called eRL 2.0 is to be implemented in 5 provinces, excluding the Western Province, from 3 October onwards.

The new system is to be implemented beginning in the North West, South, North Central, Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces, respectively. The existing vehicle licence issuing system eRL 1.0 will continue to be used in the Western Province.

The issuing of revenue licences islandwide at Department of Motor Traffic head offices and regional branches will be temporarily halted on October 2.

The facility of obtaining vehicle permits online will also be temporarily halted on 6 October till midnight.

The Sri Lanka Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) and the Provincial Motor Traffic Departments are working to modernize the current vehicle revenue license issuance system.

The implementation of the new eRL 2.0 system is expected to be an important step in the digitalisation of Sri Lanka. (Colombo/Sep30/2023)

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Sri Lankan Airlines flights cancelled as aircraft grounded

ECONOMYNEXT – State-run SriLankan Airlines has apologized to passengers who were stranded as multiple aircraft were grounded at the same time.

The airline said it has strict procedures which requires aircraft to be grounded when technical issues are discovered.

“Unfortunately, in this case we suffered a number of groundings at the same time,” the airline said.

“We apologize for the disruption and inconvenience caused and assure all our loyal customers that we are working diligently to minimize such occurrences moving forward.”

The airline said it was booking passengers on other airlines while some have been accommodated at hotels. (Colombo/Sept30/2023)

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