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Opinion

Battle against COVID-19: Key lesson

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Dr. Chandana Jayawardena DPhil

 

When?

Over the last 12 months, the whole world has battled against the greatest pandemic it has faced in 100 years. Retrospective studies consider that the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) evolved in China in November 2019. In late December, 2019, scientific comprehension of this new kind of coronavirus took place in Guangzhou Province, and clinical apprehension of a pending epidemic started at Hubei Provincial Hospital in Wuhan. Soon after that the Wuhan Health authorities issued a case statistic, and this information reached the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in USA, soon after that.

 

What?

COVID-19, which undoubtedly is the worst pandemic during our lifetime, but it is not the worst pandemic that the world has faced. The Spanish Flu, also known as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, lasted over two years from February 1918. In four successive waves, it infected 500 million people – close to a third of the world’s population at the time, and is believed to have killed between 17 and 50 million people. As the world’s population has grown in 100 years by 4.33 times, from 1.8 billion to 7.8 billion; 17 million deaths 100 years ago are equal to 74 million deaths today. In that context, the number of COVID-19 deaths (which is currently at 1.57 million) is significantly low, as a percentage of the present global population. However, as advanced and knowledgeable as we are today, should not the world have dealt with COVID-19, in a better way?

 

Why?

In a global context, there are many reasons for the unexpected spread of COVID-19. The following eight reasons can be identified for handling the current pandemic well or poorly, particularly among the 50 countries with the largest populations:

1. Proactive political leadership (or lack of it)

2. Crisis management skills (or lack of it)

3. Mature national cultural attitude (or lack of it)

4. Quality and quantity of medical facilities

5. National wealth

6. Population density

7. Size of the country

8. Experiences in dealing with other pandemics.

 

How?

So far, what are the countries that have handled the COVID-19 pandemic better? As countries have populations of highly varied levels, it is meaningless to judge the effectiveness of handling of the pandemic, by simply looking at the total cases or deaths per country. Therefore, ‘deaths per million people can be considered as the best criteria for such an analysis. On assumption that all countries are honest with their reporting, and based on the rate of deaths per million, as published on December 9th, 2020 (reference: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/), the worst performance of COVID-19 ‘deaths per million people are the following two small European countries:

 

* Belgium 1,508 deaths per million

* San Marino 1,443 deaths per million.

In the same analysis, the world average is 201 deaths per million. Sri Lanka recorded 7 deaths per million, which is relatively very good.

 

Who?

Based on the 50 countries with the world’s largest (over 28 million) populations, can be ranked based on ‘deaths per million people, in the following (worst first, best last) order:

 

1. Peru 1,097

2. Italy 1,014

3. Spain 998

4. UK 912

5. USA 885

6. Argentina 882

7. France 862

8. Mexico 856

9. Brazil 836

10. Colombia 746

11. Iran 606

12. Poland 559

13. South Africa 376

14. Canada 340

15. Ukraine 326

16. Iraq 308

17. Russia 306

18. Germany 242

19. Turkey 181

20. Morocco 172

21. Saudi Arabia 171

22. India 102

23. Philippines 79

24. Indonesia 66

25. Egypt 66

26. Algeria 57

27. Nepal 56

28. Afghanistan 49

29. Bangladesh 42

30. Myanmar 40

31. Pakistan 38

32. Sudan 30

33. Kenya 29

34. Yemen 20

35. Japan 19

36. Uzbekistan 18

37. Ethiopia 15

38. Malaysia 12

39. South Korea 11

40. Angola 11

41. Ghana 10

42. Madagascar 9

43. Nigeria 6

44. DR Congo 4

45. Mozambique 4

46. Uganda 4

47. China 3

48. Thailand 0.9

49. Vietnam 0.4

50. Tanzania 0.3

 

It is puzzling to see rich, advanced and well-developed countries such as: Italy, Spain, UK, USA and France, among the worst Covid19 affected countries in the world while some of the poorer and less developed nations in Africa and Asia are among the least affected. Perhaps, their less democratic political systems and experience in dealing with other recent pandemics helped these countries to fight the covid19 pandemic, better than the western world.

 

What Next?

* Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has so far claimed well over one and half million lives. Medical science is progressing faster than even the optimists had expected. It is estimated by the WHO that between 65% and 75% of the population, either need vaccination or recovery against the virus to achieve immunity. Some countries have concluded that the vaccination is required for 70% of their population. A few vaccinations are now entering the national approval stage around the world.

* UK – On December 8th, 2020, ninety-year-old Margaret Keenan, a retired shop clerk from Northern Ireland was at the front of the line at University Hospital Coventry in UK to receive the vaccine that was approved by British regulators. She became the first person in the world (outside trials) to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, a week after the UK became the first country to approve its use. UK commenced this operation with 50 vaccination hubs with an aim of vaccinating (first dose) four million people by end of the year 2020. This is only 6% of the UK’s population of 66 million.

* Russia is emerging as the second nation after UK, to make an approved vaccination, available to selected public. According to the Russian President, more than two million doses of Sputnik V will be available by mid-November, 2020 for medical workers and teachers across Russia, but with a main focus on Russia’s pandemic epicentre – the city of Moscow.

* USA is expected to follow UK and Russia soon. The Wall Street Journal reports that Pfizer expects to ship half as many doses of its vaccine as planned in 2020. The medical news site STAT reports frontline US healthcare workers think the current administration’s pledge to vaccinate 20 million people in December seems unrealistic. USA’s President-Elect’s goal of getting 100 million shots in his administration’s first 100 days or by April 30th, 2021, appears to be more realistic. This is 30% of the USA’s population (of 331 million). Pfizer product is a double dose vaccination and most likely, these 100 million persons should get their second dose between 19 and 42 days, after the first dose. Ideal vaccination target of 70% of the population of USA equals 232 million. Therefore, it is unlikely that USA will reach its vaccination target before the end of 2021. Most likely, people vaccinated will also need annual boosters.

* The Rest of the World is expected to follow the UK, Russia and USA. Canada is expecting to receive up to 249,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Soon after that Canadians will begin to get vaccinated. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) plans to give its opinion in favour of a first vaccine in EU countries by the end of 2020, with a view to distribution from early 2021. Mexico’s vaccination campaign against COVID-19 is expected to begin before the end of 2020. Brazil could begin its nationwide immunization program against Covid-19 by March, 2021. China’s need to both develop and introduce a COVID-19 vaccine has differed from other countries as it has effectively halted the spread of the virus. Japan and Korea look to begin distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of March, 2021. India has a couple of vaccines which in their final trial stage, and may take around three months getting the required approvals from regulatory authorities.

The World Health Organisation, (reference: Research for COVID-19 Recovery) says: “Recovering better from COVID-19 will depend on bold efforts to strengthen health systems, shore up social protections, project economic opportunities, bolster multicultural collaboration, and enhance social cohesion.” There is a key lesson the world has to learn from the current global pandemic, particularly from mistakes made by highly developed countries such as the US. That is, global research and science (and not politics) represent the world’s best chance of recovering from the current pandemic and preparing for the future pandemics.

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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