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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

Sri Lanka’s daily COVID-19 cases may be three times what tests suggest: Dr Fernandopulle

State Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle – Image credit: Facebook

ECONOMYNEXT – With undetected daily COVID-19 cases possibly three times what PCR testing suggests, Sri Lanka must be closed down for at least two weeks to contain the rapid spread of the virus, State Minister for COVID-19 Control Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle said.

“We recommend that people be confined to their homes for at least two weeks to contain the spread. The incubation period for this virus is two to 14 days. If people stay at home for those 14 days, the virus won’t enter the home and infected people won’t be able take it outside,” Fernandopulle told reporters on May 20.

“As a public health specialist this is what I recommend in order to break the cycle,” she added.

The state minister could not, however, guarantee that the government will definitely impose a lockdown.

“I can’t give a decision on that. It is what I recommend,” she said.

A spokesperson for the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 (NOCPOC) told EconoyNext that no decision has been made yet to go for a total lockdown.

The previously announced island-wide movement restrictions will still be in place from 11pm May 21 to 4am May 25 and again from 11pm that day to 4am May 28, the spokesperson said.

The 17-hour window on May 25 during what will otherwise be a curfew-style unofficial lockdown is for people to gather supplies.

However, Dr Fernandopulle has stressed the need for what will essentially amount to a complete closure of the country.

“The epidemic has spread widely. There is a pressing need for oxygen and equipment. Just yesterday 3,500 cases were detected, and that’s just people who were tested. There may be more cases – perhaps as three times as many – in the community,” she said.

“There can be further spread to the community from those cases,” she added.

Despite repeated requests to stay at home and only move on select days based on their national identity card (NIC) number, people can still be seen out and about, said the state minister.

“People really must stay at home. I urge the public to not step out of the house unless it’s absolutely essential,” she said, warning that asymptomatic carriers could spread the virus everywhere.

Fernandopulle recommended that people go to nearby, ventilated grocery stores rather than enclosed spaces to buy what they need and hurry home.

“The new strain is spreading fast and deaths have increased. People must act responsibly,” she said.

The state minister also defended a health ministry circular dated May 19 that has threatened disciplinary action against doctors and other officials in the health sector from speaking freely to the media.

“We can’t go to the media and say whatever we want. It is a task for the experts. Otherwise there could be inaccuracies and misleading information,” she said.

Related: Sri Lanka opp leader slams health ministry circular barring doctors from speaking to media

Asked about politicians who tend to mislead the public, Fernandopulle said: “People are smart now. When it comes to matters of public health, they know whom to listen to.”

The doctor-turned politician denied allegations that the government is attempting to hide the reality of the situation.

“I don’t think that is the case. If we try to hide this epidemic, we’ll all perish,” she said.

Fernandopulle also defended moves to treat asymptomatic COVID-19 cases at home.

“There are many positive cases. They can’t all be admitted to hospitals at once. There should be a triage and priority be given to patients over 60 and patients with underlying complications, etc, over asymptomatic or younger patients.

“They can be at home but monitored daily by doctors. They won’t be left to their own devices. That is not what is meant by home quarantine,” she said.

Asked if the public can be trusted to not further spread the virus during home quarantine, Fernandopulle said that people must remember that the country is dealing with an epidemic.

“They have a responsibility. What do you do when the system is overrun? When it’s overcapacity, if both symptomatic and asymptomatic people are admitted, the doctors will be put in a difficult position.

“Patients with complications cannot be prioritised then. People need to know that this is an epidemic. There’s no hiding it. It’s people who get infected, not animals. People must also be mindful to not get infected and not infect others,” she said. (Colombo/May20/2021)

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Sri Lanka food producers on countdown; 6-months to reduce trans fat content

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan food manufacturers only have another six months to reduce the amount of trans fat in food items as the government plans to ban high trans-fat food from January 2024 onwards, an official said.

“A six-month grace period has been given to existing manufacturers, sellers and distributors whose products contain trans-fat,” an official of the Ministry of Health told EconomyNext requesting anonymity.

According to a Ministry of Health gazette issued on… a person shall not sell, offer for sale, expose or keep for sale or advertise for sale, any packaged food product containing trans-fat unless the total amount of trans-fat of such food product per 100 grams or 100 milliliters of the food product is declared on the label of such packaged food product.

However, these regulations will not be applicable for export oriented food products.

Trans-fat is a type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils.

Eating trans-fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Sri Lanka for enacting a legislation on trans-fat to protect health and prevent premature deaths from coronary heart disease, a statement from the WHO said.

“Eliminating trans-fats from food supplies is a cost-effective measure with enormous health benefits,” the statement quoting Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.

“By enacting legislation on trans-fat, Sri Lanka has once again demonstrated its resolve to protect and promote the health of its people”.

The regulations are coming into effect as Sri Lanka is struggling with food insecurity as the country recovers from its worst economic crisis.

However, an improvement in food security across all provinces has been recorded, according to an assessment by a Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) of two UN agencies. (Colombo/ May 30/2023)

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India extends under utilized $1 bln credit facility to Sri Lanka by one year 

ECONOMYNEXT – India has extended a $1 billion credit facility to Sri Lanka by another year after the loan that was given to help the crisis-hit island nation to continue import of essentials was not fully utilized in the 12 month period originally agreed, officials said.

Sri Lanka faced with a looming sovereign default signed the credit facility in March 2022 for one year through March 2024. However, the full $1 billion had not been utilized yet.

The Facility has been used for urgent procurement of fuel, medicines, food items and industrial raw materials, as per the requirements and priorities of Sri Lanka.

“The initial agreement was signed in 2022 March and out of the 1000 million US dollars allocated materials were imported for $576.75 mil,” Shehan Semasinghe, State Finance Minister said in his official twitter platform.

“The agreement is extended for the remaining $423.25 mil. We will prioritize the import of essential medicines till March 2024.”

Indian High Commission in Colombo said the State Bank of India (SBI) has extended the tenure of the $1 billion Credit Facility provided to Sri Lanka in response to a request from the Government of Sri Lanka.  (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka President cleared to discuss cancelled LRT after soured Japan relations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe discuss resuming a Japan funded. Light Rail Transit (LRT) project cabinet spokesman said, as the island nation is in the process of mending ties with Tokyo.

However, any such deals are likely to take place after the debt restructuring and Sri Lanka starts to repay its foreign loans to come out of default, analysts say.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unilaterally cancelled the 1.5 billion US dollar LRT and East Container Terminal (ECT) projects in 2021. Japan agreed to fund the LRT project while it was one of the tripartite members of the ECT project along with India and Sri Lanka.

The abrupt cancellation hit the diplomatic ties between the two countries and Sri Lankan government officials have said Japan had given the project to Sri Lanka at a very lower financing cost.

President Wickremesinghe returned from Japan late last week after having met top officials of the Japanese government including its prime minister.

“In recent history, due to the stopping of several agreements and proposals suddenly, President Wickremesinghe went to Japan after creating the background to clear some of the worries we have,” Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told the weekly media briefing.

“Before he went, he got the approval from the cabinet to resume the discussion on the light railway project. He got the approval from the cabinet to get parliament approval for bilateral agreements signed or any other investments project. Any change or cancellation of a project could be done only with the approval of the parliament.”

Japan has backed Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe’s presidency after the island nation declared sovereign debt default. (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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