Battle against COVID-19: Key lesson
Dr. Chandana Jayawardena DPhil
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
Jayantha Dhanapala, a star in a Trinity galaxy
It was about one and a half years ago that I contacted Jayantha Dhanapala to find his Kandy address in order to send him two of my books. On that day he informed me of the death of Mr SML Marikkar, his classmate at Trinity College, Kandy and my student to whom I had taught the classical languages. In an appreciation of Mr. Marikkar I had used the well known Latin dictum, “seniores priores” to indicate that in death too the older should take precedence over the younger as in matters of ordinary life.
As I commenced teaching the classical languages I was more than surprised that I had to teach another subject to the students of the University Entrance class . It so happened that the students learning this subject were an exceedingly outstanding group of Arts and Science students. Among them were Jayantha, Marikkar, Sarath Amunugama, Arjuna Aluvihare, Nihal Perera, Breckenridge and Karaliyadde.
The subject was called General English, a motley combination of general knowledge, language, precis writing and current affairs . In my school by the Beira this subject was taught by the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, a mathematician turned a teacher of Government to senior students.
Why the Trinity Principal, Mr Norman Walter selected me, a green horn, to teach this subject was a mystery to me. Sometimes I was out of depth. Some of these outstanding students would help me by raising very appropriate questions in class before I got “drowned.” They were Jayantha Dhanapala, SML Marikkar, and Sarath Amunugama. The last two later joined the Civil Service. Sarath even became my boss when I returned to the public service, the SLAS, after premature retirement with full pension rights.
Jayantha won the open Essay prize at Trinity in his final year. The English teacher Rev. Eliott shortlisted the competing essayists selecting two Jayantha’s and JKL Pereira’s as the two best and asked me to be the final arbiter. Though my talents were elsewhere, in the logic of grammar and in figures and less in literature it was clear that Jayantha should be the winner.
JKLP, who came second, like me chose accountancy as a profession. After finishing the English Honours degree with a good second class, Jayantha had a short stint at my old school at Maradana. In the first Administrative Service examination held, after the abolition of the Civil Service, he was placed first. But he chose the diplomatic service.
I heard that he had chosen to learn Mandarin Chinese as one of the foreign languages that young diplomats were required to learn. He later progressed in his career up to the top as an Under Secretary to the Sec. General of the United Nations. I remember reading in the media how President Clinton had paid a tribute to him on his handling of the complex affairs with regard to the nuclear arms proliferation and disarmament.
I had not met Jayantha while he was serving in the UN. It was only when he attended meetings of the Peradeniya Jayatilleke Hall old boys reunions that I came face to face with him after 50 years or so. He would have been surprised to see me at these reunions ,sometimes playing the piano accordion accompanying the ageing old boys of J Hall singing old favourites. Among them were Rev Fr. Derrick Mendis and his cousin Rev Fr. Egerton Perera, both of whom had qualified as Chartered Accountants and had dedicated themselves to a life of poverty as Jesuits. Sadly they are no more.
Jayantha could have reached the top in the UN outfit had the then SL government sponsored his candidacy with greater vigour. Even in the case of his classmate, Sarath Amunugama, had the recommendation of the late Prof. Carlo Fonseka that Aumunugama be the second in command in managing the affairs of the country been realized, the world and our country would have been better places.
May Jayantha Dhanapala’s soul rest in Peace.
Dr Leo Fernando,
TImely action must be taken to preserve Buddhism in Sri Lanka
As reported on the first page of Sunday Island (June 4) it is indeed very praiseworthy for the government authorities to have taken timely action to safeguard the most venerated Bo tree in the world. It is both an object of worship and symbol of national sovereignty on the majority Buddhist island of 22 million people. It is a well established fact that a sapling of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi was brought to Ceylon by none other than Indian Emperor Ashoka’s daughter Sangamitta Maha theri, who established the Bhikkuni sasana here.
However it is sad to note that presently the Bhikkuni sasana is not given the due recognition it deserves in our country, though it is common knowledge that our Buddha sasana comprises of Bhikku, Bhikkuni, upasaka and upasika. It is very difficult to fathom why the government authorities are not issuing Bhikkuni Identity cards, while the Bhikkus even though some break the vinaya rules in public from time to time are allowed to continue with their Bhikku identity cards. Why the double standard? Therefore it is of great importance that Buddhists rise up to the occasion and demand that government issue Bhikkuni Identity cards and give them the due recognition they deserve to have in our society.
If timely action is not taken to rectify the situation to protect the Bhikkuni Sasana, it will face the same fate as the Dhamma Chakraya, which symbolizes the Eight Fold Path preached by The Buddha in his first sermon to the Pasvaga mahanunun, after attaining Buddha hood. The ancient Dhamma Chakraya is correctly depicted in all Emperor Ashoka’s pillars which were erected in Buddhist places of worship in India, under his direction and guidance. Needless to say it is in the shape of a cart wheel with eight spokes connecting to the outer circle depicting the Eight Fold Path. It was also accepted as the Buddhist symbol here after Emperor Ashoka’s son Arahat Mahinda Threra introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
However, presently due to unknown reasons the Dhamma Chakraya has taken the form of the helm, (the wheel connected to the rudder to steer a ship), with projections from the outer circle. Presently 90% of the Buddhist establishments, TV channels and print media use this wheel as the symbol of Buddhism which is an incorrect depiction of the original Dhamma Chakraya. Thus it is equally important to take timely action to rectify this to contribute towards stability and continuity of the Buddha Sasana for posterity.
R. W. W.
Appreciation: Nalini de Lanerolle
Peradeniya with its soaring architecture reminiscent of auspicious traditions melding the grace of the sculptured rock and incredible richness of greenery and extravagant streamers and showers of glowing flowers in the space of 1956 to 1959 merged Nalini de Lanerolle’s (then de Silva’s) stores of reading and imagination to a vision of the past in all its splendor.
She graduated from the University of Peradeniya in 1959 where she majored in Sociology. She married Asoka de Lanerolle in 1960, and became the mother of a girl and two boys. From 1960 to 1972, she was a Librarian in the Ministry of Planning; from 1973 to 1975 she was an Instructor in English at the University of Colombo.
Energetic in temperament, she had many interests. She read extensively from teen-hood: a vast variety of books ranging from the classics to murder mysteries and science fiction to movie magazines and historical novels. In Sinhala, she mentioned having enjoyed W.A. Silva’s Vijayaba Kollaya and Martin Wickramasinghe’s Rohini, at Visakha. She was appointed to the panel which judged the annual Sinhala Drama Festival. She was also a member of the panel appointed to evaluate films and performers regularly. Le Roy Robinson’s “An Interview with Nalini de Lanerolle on Aspects of Culture in Sri Lanka” reveals the scope of her reflections which enriched readers through ‘The Reign of Ten Kings – Sri Lanka – The World 500 B.C. – 1200 A.D.
Alert in judgment, she had had an active mind and capacious imagination which turned mere curiosity to tough questions with firm answers. Why do the Apollo Belvedere and the Gandhara Buddha show distinct traces of similarity? Was there a King Arthur?
Nalini de Lanerolle has not only satisfied her own musings; in her book she has deftly interwoven facts from Lanka’s chronicles and periods of European history to throw light. To quote Manik de Silva “She has done some innovative historical researching and found exciting parallels of kings and epics in the East and West during the same periods.”
According to Sir Arthur C. Clarke ‘The Reign of Ten Kings’ is an “excellent and much neededpiece of research. I hope that her book will bring to the attention of a large audience some of the most remarkable architectural and cultural achievements in history …”.
Nalini in her interview with Le Roy Robins attributes her interest in history to her father, a Government Surveyor who travelled widely in the country and who told stories of Greek Gods to his children pointing out the constellations including Orion striding across the night sky. Her mother too inspired her, reading to her in Sinhala from Milindapanha, which she later discovered was about the questions posed to an Indo-Greek ruler, a contemporary of King Dutugamunu. Parallels always interested her. As she says to Le Roy Robins “I think I was a history addict. It began with the stories of all those kings – King Arthur included.”
Her husband, Asoka de Lanerolle took a keen interest in history as well and to quote her “my husband Asoka has been interested in most of my thinking regarding history, so he has always urged me to write”. I tried out the idea of parallels in history on him and he encouraged me feeling it was “a different way of writing a history of Sri Lanka”.
Asoka having gained his high school education at Royal, graduated from the University of Peradeniya with an Honors degree in Economics and began his career as an Assistant Lecturer in Economics. He then became a Foreign Service diplomat, and later the Marketing Manager at Lever Brothers Ceylon.
In 1972 he was nominated as the Eisenhower Exchange student from Sri Lanka, giving them both the opportunity of living for seven months in the USA and travelling widely soaking in the history of a different continent. When he joined the UN International Trade Center in Geneva, and worked in Somalia, Bangladesh and Nigeria, Nalini travelled extensively enjoying glimpses of history like the sale of frankincense (one of the three gifts to baby Jesus by the kings) in Somalian market places.
She took great pleasure in all her children being avid readers despite the advent of televisions and in the fact that they all strongly supported the publication of her book, helping her by taking photographs, doing line drawings and cross-checking all the years mentioned in the book.
We have lost a historian and an intellectual, one who sought knowledge and thought, for the pleasure it gave – who has left to her country men and visitors to the island and enchanting and enlightening volume.
Dr. Lakshmi de Silva
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