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Beating the virus

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The inevitable has happened. In January this year,, I warned about the possibility of the UK variant B 1.1.7. arriving in the country. Some blamed an English cricket player, who was in a protective bubble, for this, but there could be others infected with the virus who had arrived in the country from the UK. After all, the PCR tests show only 70 % of infected persons as being positive for the disease! So, many could escape being detected with Covid-19 and be symptomless carriers. What has happened, has happened.

It is interesting that the virus has spread to a lot of areas, before it was found, but details are sketchy. So maybe it was here for a few months. The lowering of the number of PCR or antigen tests may be the reason why this was not detected earlier. Maybe, the lower infection rates that were shown since February this year, were not factually correct. Let’s stop the blame game now and take urgent informed action to control the present outbreak. Otherwise, it would be catastrophic for the country.

There are six strains in the country at present and all are detectable now, and the areas where each is located are mapped. When patients are found, mainly Grama Sevaka Divisions are brought under lockdown to control the spread. Some are opened after a few days, or weeks. Is this enough to stop this epidemic spreading? There seems to be no coordinated efforts by the stakeholders, and a blame game is on. While politicians have to listen to the people’s woes, the health authorities have to impose conditions laid out in the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance. The Mayor or the Medical Officer of Health is the Authority to implement the conditions in this Ordinance, at local level, and therefore it is seen that the Municipal Councils or Town Councils have a role to play during this period too.

While local lockdowns may work in the peripheral areas, in the short term, such small lockdowns will be ineffective and dangerous in areas where large crowds live, such as towns and cities where a large number of slum and shanty areas and middle-class housing complexes are situated, side by side, allowing the disease to spread like wildfire. The solution for such areas is vaccination of all people at least over the age of 30. Although mutations take place all over the world and will continue until Covid-19 goes away, most of the vaccines seem to be holding well against them. The infected people, or vaccinated persons, will create herd immunity, but only vaccinations can prevent massive infections and mutations quickly, so that there isn’t much of a damage to the society. The toll of this traumatic experience for many cannot be measured individually or as a society. Families have suffered socially, economically and some have already lost their beloved ones. The death of a pregnant woman yesterday, shows how traumatic the experience could be, not only to the family but also to the health staff. It is appreciated that Colombo’s Municipal Commissioner took a decision to allow pregnant staff members to keep away from work, even before the government made such a decision.

Lockdowns themselves will not stop the spread among the people unless they are properly policed. This is what happened in the recent past in poorer settlements, where people had to face 60-day lockdowns which are not acceptable. This is so as now the scientists have identified that the virus stays alive in the body only for 6-7 days, and if so a quarantine period with a proper lockdown of 14 days would suffice to clear an area of the virus. The law enforcement agents should build positive relationships with their community, respect civil rights and not impose unnecessary hard and fast rules, which may be counterproductive. With the threat looming due to the UK variant, we have to prevent the disease spreading, but at the same time see that socially and economically people are not that affected, as for more than a year they have undergone immense hardships.

This is so, especially with the farmers and middle level traders, who are unable to trade or sell their crops due to sudden closures and lockdowns. Living with the virus should be the slogan for these days. TV footages show vendors with perishable items such as vegetables and fruits, told all of a sudden to pack up and go from the road side or from the fairs.

I understand the police have been given orders, but then these people should be handled more humanely. Perhaps they should be allowed to sell and maintain health conditions. Consumers should be told that only one person is allowed near a street vendor at a time and they should stand in queues waiting for their turn.

Unfortunately, the communication between the government agencies and the people at large has broken down. The people are apprehensive about the actions of the law enforcement officers and the Public Health Inspectors. Usually, Health Educators and Instructors communicate with the people well, spreading out the health messages in an appropriate manner. Concern is about disorganized communities in the cities, especially in the urban slums and marginalised apartment complexes. Prevention and control of disease spread have become impossible as there is no community participation. More informal health education actions should be carried out, visiting the probable high risk areas; and action should be taken to look into various needs of the people in locked down areas whether it is the rice, fruits and vegetables, dry rations, curry powder, cooking oil, gas or whatever they need or simply the need to sell their wares.

So, what should be done to rein in the virus and stop this menace? First, have proper communications with people in the area, and the health staff comprising the field officers, are the best to do this. Secondly, lockdowns must cover larger land areas than at present. For example, if patients are found in a certain Grama Sevaka (GS) Division, then lock down the surrounding GS areas, too, as obviously people don’t contain themselves to their own areas, but would have gone into other close-by areas also even before the virus was detected by PCR testing. If there are tens of GS divisions affected, then the MOH areas or even Districts should be locked down. However, the essential staff should be allowed to go to work and trading of essential items should be allowed. Every household should be issued with a card where only one person at a time is allowed outside to go to buy needed items. If these measures still don’t work out, then curfew should be declared in such areas for at least two weeks and see the progress.

What will stop the epidemic is natural decline or vaccination of the population, as Israel did for their citizens. The latter should be our priority. People should as early as possible get their doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, whether it is the AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, Sinopharm or Pfizer vaccine that is available in their area. If we want to stop large scale deaths, as in India, this should be done immediately. We don’t want this to happen in Colombo. Yesterday, the Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera alleged that vaccines are hoarded and only the VIPs are given them in Colombo. Such situations should not be allowed to arise at any cost. Hope the government will take action to see that all are safe in this country.

 

Dr. PRADEEP KARIYAWASAM



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Opinion

Nelum Kuluna poses danger to aircraft

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The top of Nelum Kuluna (Lotus Tower) stands 350 above sea level in the heart of Colombo City, as the air navigators of old would say, sticking out like a ’sore thumb’. It has to be lit up in accordance with the Aircraft Obstacle Lighting recommendations contained in Annex 14 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Convention originally signed by Ceylon in 1944.

A free-standing tower of that height is required by international law to be lit up not only at night with red lights, but also with high visibility white strobe lights during the day.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be on always during the day. The authorities concerned must realise that the strobe lighting during the day is not for beauty but for air safety, especially these days, when the air quality and visibility are low during the day.

Have those in charge of the tower been briefed properly on the legal requirement and the use of proper lighting? In case of an accident, this certainly will have implications on insurance claims.

I wonder whether the ‘Regulator’, Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka would like to comment.

If not rectified, it will be just a matter of time an aircraft will be impaled by the Nelum Kuluna.

I M Nervy (Aviator)

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Opinion

Simple questions to Sirisena and Gotabaya

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If Sirisena had not been informed of the plans to explode bombs on 21st of April 2019, as he has claimed, shouldn’t he have taken immediate action to call for explanation from Nilantha Jayawardena, then head of State Intelligent Service (SIS), who had been notified several times about the impending attack by the Indian intelligence.

Sirisena and Jayawardena should be prosecuted for allowing a mass murder to take place. Further Sirisena should be made to explain his famous uttering, “I will reveal everything, if somebody tries to implicate me”.

Why did Gotabaya, who announced his candidature for presidency almost immediately after the Easter Sunday attack and promised to punish those who were involved in it, pay no attention to Nilantha Jayawardena’s failure in taking necessary action with regard to information he received, instead he was given a promotion?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe at a meeting with USAID Administrator Samantha Power on September 11, 2022 had said that Scotland Yard had been requested to review the reports and reach a final conclusion on claims that there was a hidden hand behind the bombings.

We do not need Scotland Yard, just get an honest set of Sri Lankan police officers to question Nilantha, Sirisena and Gotabaya to find the “hidden hand behind the bombings”

B Perera

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Opinion

Open letter to Sirisena

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Y you were in Singapore when the Easter Sunday attacks took place. You claimed that you had not been informed of the intelligence received by your intelligence officers. However, the Supreme Court has ordered you to pay Rs 100M as compensation to the victims of the terror attacks. The reasons for the decision are stated in the judgement.

Acting on a claim that there was a conspiracy to assassinate you and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya you caused the interdiction and arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, who was held in custody without bail for a long time.

In his testimony to the Presidential Commission  of Inquiry, Silva said that he had been interdicted while plans were in place to arrest Zaharan.

Due to the arrest of DIG Silva, Zaharan escaped arrest. Silva was never charged. Zaharan continued with his plans and the rest is history.

After the SC order you have been claiming that you have no money to pay the Rs 100M as compensation. You are asking for public help to pay compensation to Easter carnage victims. You even accepted some money collected by a person called Sudaththa Tilakasiri, who begged from people.

You have said publicly that you submitted your asset declarations. I suggest that you sell all your assets declared in the declarations before asking for funds from the public.

Hemal Perera

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