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Beating the virus



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.



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MPs can show their colours



I refer to this article, ‘Covid bonanza for….’ by Shamnidra Ferdinando.

It was obvious that the LC could not easily be cancelled. It will be interesting to know when the LC was actually opened; before or after Cabinet approval? The answer will be revealing.

Now that the vehicles will come in, come hell or high water with burning ships, there is a simple solution.

If the government is sincere in its intentions to reverse this totally unnecessary expenditure, which the country cannot afford,  scraping the bottom of the vangediya as it is, then the vehicles can be sold in the open market, in a transparent manner and at a profit, too, and the wasted  funds reimbursed to the Treasury. Personally, I know this will not happen, seeing what we are helplessly seeing being enacted in the country yesterday, today and alarmingly, tomorrow, too.

The next best option is for those MPs who oppose this criminal waste of public funds, to work out a method by which they can sell the vehicles presented to them by the starving masses, in a transparent manner and utilise the proceeds again in a transparent manner to uplift the lives of the millions of poor citizens in their electorates.

ACabinet given opportunity for Members of Parliament to show their true, even if highly faded and smudged, colours!



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Gazette Bill in blatant conflict with Constitution



The Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill had been gazetted on March 24 after Cabinet approval, and placed in the order paper of Parliament on April 9. Normally, before placing a Bill on the order paper of the Parliament, it goes through the levels of the Legal Draftsman, Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet of Ministers.

According to a news item that appeared in the Daily News, on April 27, the Attorney General has informed the Presidential Secretary that the Port City Economic Commission Draft Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution. But the same Attorney General has advanced the submissions and amendments in court, during the hearing of 18 petitions filed by members of civil society alleging the Bill is inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has found more than one third of its clauses are conflicting with the Constitution – the supreme law of Sri Lanka. Thus, it has been proved the Gazette Bill was in blatant conflict with the Constitution.

High officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General and the Legal Draftsman who are supposed to have been involved in the drafting of this Bill are professionals of recognized capability. They are committed to follow the best practices of their professions and should adhere to standards in procedural manuals and professional codes of conduct and ethics. They are bound by the oath taken by them in line with the Constitution and the accountability of the offices they hold. They also would have been supported by several legal eagles and experienced politicians in the Cabinet.

Citizens are confused as to how on earth such a Bill, in blatant conflict with the Constitution, could have been approved by the Attorney General and be drafted by the Legal Draftsman. 149 Members of Parliament have voted to amend 26 clauses of 75 clauses of the Legal Draftsman’s Bill. This is tantamount to a No Confidence Motion on the Legal Draftsman.


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Probe into expressway construction and floods



The news item appearing in your issue of 10th June, regarding the Expressway Construction and Floods, is of interest to me, as I had handled Road Projects when attached to the then Department of Public Works [PWD] and later the Ministry for Highways.

It’s stated that Minister Johnston Fernando had instructed his Ministry Secretary to investigate immediately, whether there was any truth in the claim that some areas in Gampaha were inundated owing to the construction work, in the first phase of the Central Expressway, from Kadawatha to Mirigama; and continues to say ‘Yahapalana adjustments to the construction master plan may have lead to the present situation’, which could be insinuated as placing the blame on the previous Yahapalana government. This is the usual blame-game adopted by bankrupt politicians. It will not be surprising if the present government will be blamed when a new government is formed, for mismanagement of projects carried out now.

As far as I know, while construction is on, there comes up certain problems, which may necessitate altering or deviating from the original design. Hence the responsibility lies entirely on the Engineer, and not on any politician or government in power. Here the integrity of the Engineer counts. Sad to say, there have been accusations where professionals have given way to political pressure and projects have become failures. I would like to quote Moeller’s theory “One of the major reasons for a country to be subjected to bad governance is when its professionals do not speak out, but worst still, these professionals actually gang up with those committing anarchy for their own benefit. What the professionals do not realize is that in the long term, they too would be subjected to the worst treatment by these despotic dictators whom they were keen to protect. Moeller’s theory being proved time and again consorting with an autocratic regime is a worst act of treason against one’s own country and its people”

To the credit of Minister Johnston Fernando, he also mentions the likelihood of this flooding by saying “We must keep in mind that the highest rainfall in the known history was reported from this area”. Whatever, the findings of the investigations be, the accusation should be taken as fault finding of Engineers, and they should now come forward to protect their prestigious profession and give reasons, which lay, incompetent politicians, do not have the capacity to understand. Hope the Sri Lanka Institute of Engineers will expose the viles of politicians to steer this country in the correct direction. This goes for other professions as well.



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