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COVID-19: Advice of Singer and others

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I read with amazement the attempt by the Resident UN coordinator in Sri Lanka, Ms. Hanna Singer, to take over the job of advising the Sri Lankan government about the safety of burial of Covid infected bodies. In addition, she is trying to offer advice on the political fallout from it to a veteran politician like Mahinda Rajapaksa!

One thinks of the donkey who took over the dog’s job, as retold in Aesop’s Fables. Ms. Singer hangs on the claim that the WHO has made a statement regarding the matter! Why has Ms Singer’s equivalent in USA kept shut instead of advising President Trump about the need to follow the directives of the WHO which are in fact in agreement with those of the Head of Disease control in the US, namely, Dr. Fauci?

The WHO has certainly NOT conducted any field experiments regarding the matter in the context of Sri Lanka. Furthermore, The Health Ministry officials are evidently in close communication with the WHO officials who have even congratulated the Sri Lankan Health authorities for their excellent management of Covid cases. Even with the second wave, Sri Lanka so far has 61 deaths for a population of 22 million, while Bangladesh, which allows burial of corpses, has 1.33 MILLION people dead, for a population of 161 million. If Sri Lanka had followed Bangladesh in proportion to the population, there should have been 182,000 deaths in Sri Lanka and not just 61. Let us look at Ms Singer’s own country, Egypt, another predominantly Muslim country with a population of 98 million. It has also suffered 1.34 MILLION deaths! Religious rights have over-arched health regulations in many countries, while in some countries like the US, some states or regions with strongly orthodox religious belief systems have had higher incidences of the Epidemic.

Ms. Singer is not the only person who has come forward to advise the public. Some have even marketed all kinds of medications that are claimed to boost the immunity of those who take the “medications”. Ms. Senanayake, a lady who is supposed be able to communicate with God Natha, and her team claim to have formulated an inhalation (“dum hattiya”) as well as a leafy broth (“kola Kaenda”) that are claimed to not only prevent Covid-19, but to even cure it in three days. Of course, NO randomized double-blind trials that prove the claim are offered. One must be careful to note that Minister Jayasumana, now in charge of pharmaceuticals, was at one time a follower of Ms. Senanayake.

Sisira Jayakodi, Minister of Indigenous Medicine Promotion, claims that his ministry has “developed” several Ayurvedic drugs to treat COVID-19 and also for the people who are at greater risk of contracting the virus. “Sadanga Panaya” and “Suwadarani Immunising Drink”, are said to be two drugs “developed” using completely local herbs. They are said to be “immunity boosters”. However, there is not a word about how these drugs were tested and shown to be effective! They were just “developed”!

The Ayurvedic doctors and the Nath Deviyo followers can at least say that they don’t practice medicine that is purely based on empirical investigations. They claim to depend on the revelations and writings of the “ancient Rishis” and “traditional wisdom”- whatever that may be! If you ask them about what this “immunity” is, that is being “boosted”, they offer no clear mechanism.

But Dr. Stanley Weeraratne, a retired agricultural scientist is clearly not going on the authority of ancient Rishis. He has written to The Island Newspaper (17-11-20) asking the public to take “Vitamin D to increase immunity to COVID-19”.

Dr. Weeraratne tells us that “among the many things to be done to avoid COVID 19 is to boost immunity. Vitamin D is considered to increase the immunity to virus diseases. Exposing to direct sunlight for 30 to 45 minutes between 9.30 am and mid-day would generate an adequate amount of vitamin D to boost immunity. Several publications on Vitamin D and immunity are in a number of websites”.

But NO randomized trials, or even authenticated (even if limited) clinical trials exit, to show that Vitamin D “Vitamin D to increase immunity to COVID-19”.

Exposing oneself to the sun in the manner described can lead to sunburn unless you have regularly worked in the sun and acquired a sufficiently dark skin when Vitamin-D production as well as the risk of sunburn drops. There may exist dozens of publications in websites, including not only on Vitamin D, but even suggesting drinking Cow Urine, as boosting immunity, but those claims are as worthless as the usual mis-information found in the internet.

Immunity is produced by T-cells and antibodies that have been formed during past infections, and now recognize any new attacks by those previous diseases. Good health and adequate Vitamins can help maintain the already acquired immunity intact. But a new virus cannot be fought using the T-cells and antibodies made for those previous infections. Hence, until the body gets the T-cells and antibodies that can recognize and attack the new virus, no amount of immunity boosting, no amount of “inguru, koththamalli, vishnu-kraanthi” etc., can help against the new virus. That is why knowledgeable scientists are working hard to make NEW vaccines against the NEW virus. So, people who talk of “boosting the immune system” are simply vague myth makers.

I invite Dr. Weeraratne to explain why this immunity that he claims can be acquired using Vitamin D has no effect on Dengue and other viral diseases that affect the tropics. Here people work in fields for most of the day, often bare-bodies, wearing only a loin cloth and perhaps a “Jataava” to cover the head.

I invite Dr. Weeraratne to explain why this immunity did not protect local populations that work in the sun – be they in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, from polio, chicken pox, small pox, HIV, common flu etc., all these being viral diseases.

Or is he claiming that Vitamin D has a specifically powerful ability to prevent Covid-19 but not Dengue etc? If so, can he provide some reliable clinical evidence for this utterly unsubstantiated claim? Just saying that the evidence is there in some publications and websites is not enough. That suggest a surprisingly uncritical and dangerous approach to an extremely important matter – dealing with an Epidemic.Bodhi Dhanapala(A retired lecturer who worked in Technical Colleges (CEGEP, Ecole Polytechnique) in Quebec, Canada.)



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Opinion

Save us from our govt.!

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When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.

One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.

Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!

Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.

The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.

BUDDHI PERERA

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Challenges, and need for an all-party govt.

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Whoever wants to take charge, must first disclose how they are going to set about it. making statements that ‘WE WILL PUT IT INTO ORDER’ is not acceptable. Even SJB, the main Opposition party, hasn’t put forward at least an outline plan as to how they will set about it.

What did the current President promise? What did the current PM promise.? What are their results? Can the country afford more of such vague promises? Three months have gone and still there is no plan from any Party in Parliament. How can any country or institution assist one who has no plan?

Challenges are many and very unpopular decisions have to be made. Resistance from entrenched interests, such as trade Unions, including the GMOA, some corrupt business interests, political interests, mafias, monopolies, etc., has to be countered. Are they prepared to overcome them?

Why go far? Are they prepared to reduce the Parliamentary allocation substantially, and even reduce the number of MPS from 225 to about 150 – on par with countries of similar size, population, GDP, etc.

Parties trying to form a Govt. must first agree amongst them on their Plan, at least on the following:

(i) on their strategy to get Foreign Exchange to purchase limited quantities of fuel for essential services, food, medicines. and fertiliser for the next 6-9 months. Their strategy to increase exports, foreign employment and foreign investment so as to increase Foreign Exchange in the short and medium term. With current conditions it is futile to expect tourists to come to Sri Lanka.

(2) as to how to balance the budget. Are they unitedly prepared to close down or privatize CEB, CPC, AirLanka and Water Board, etc.? Budgetary Allocation for Defence is another, which has to be drastically reduced, the developed countries spend only 2 to 3 % of their GDP on Defence. What does SL do? Out of the Defence allocation, Navy must have the major component for they have to patrol the sea area, which is many times larger than SL land area. SL sea resources are at risk from illegal fishing, human smuggling and illegal dumping, etc.

 (3) Are they prepared to close down unnecessary Ministries, Corporations, and Departments, most of which were created for the benefit of politicians, especially for Ministerial Positions.

(4) Staff levels in Ministries, Departments. Corporations that are to function, have to be drastically reduced, so that they could function efficiently and cost effectively. Reducing staff will also reduce the need for large office spaces, electricity, telephone cost etc.

(5) What are their plans to support and or rehabilitate the staff so retrenched.?

(6) Their plan for distribution of essentials? Rationing?

(9) Can they agree on a small, efficient and capable cabinet? Let not the country have too many Ministers and or Officials telling the country different versions, confusing the people as to which is correct, and that too hoping that at least one will be correct.

(10) How will they source the revenue? Are they prepared to increase the direct tax component to 60% or even 75 % for the present? The majority of the population have been badly affected due to the current crises. Their only crime being they misused their votes. They should not be burdened further with indirect taxes. To reduce their burden indirect taxes have to be the lesser component of the revenue, at least for the present.

(11) Can they do away with duty free cars, and all other special privileges given to some sections of the society. All Laws must be equally applicable to all. Other than the First citizen of the country, all others (be it state employees or Parliamentarians) must be taxed on the same basis as others.

All Parties joining must undertake that they will no longer do politics with these issues, nor will they withdraw from the interim govt when it undertakes unpopular decisions on above issues. They must all commit to swim or sink together.

None of those who served as Ministers in failed Governments, or who were Ministers in MR’s Govts which decided on vanity projects, should not be given Ministerial positions. Same should apply to those Parliamentarians who voted for the 17 ,18,19 and 20th amendments should be excluded, as it shows they neither have principles, nor care for the country. Corrupt and convicts too should be kept out. KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITY should be the criteria in the selection of the Ministers. Those who are unable to deliver within 3 months must be made to stand down.

To the party leaders who want to form the government, may I say, first divulge your plan to the country.

Please, do not tell the country that you have a better plan. You can afford to fail but not the country or its people at large!

A. K.RATNARAJAH

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Opinion

Fuel tokens, a big farce

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A file photo of fuel tokens being issued

The Minister of Power and Energy who covers a very responsible Ministry, was selected by the President probably due to his membership of the ‘Viyath Maga’, has undoubtedly proved to be a very inefficient Power and Energy Minister, and a complete failure without any doubt.

He is very capable of giving false hopes always of fuel and gas laden ships arriving on Sri Lanka shores, which have proved to be absolutely wrong. One wonders whether it is a gimmick to keep the fuel and gas starved motorists happy, and avoid the unending queues at fuel stations. This has proved to be a wrong system.

In order to control the daily queues, and knowing there will be no fuel ships for some time, he introduced the fuel token system out of the blues, and with no proper organizational effort. The policy announced regarding the token system, was to enable vehicle drivers to enter the fuel stations on a pre-selected day of the week, allocated to him/her, and dependent on the last digit of the vehicle number plate. This was again to avoid the long queues, according to the Power and Energy Minister.

With the latest innovative fuel token system announced, I visited the petrol station, in close proximity to my home on Monday 27th June, with much hope, and was among the first hundred with the details of my address, profession, NIC Number and contact mobile number. The relevant officer, who recorded the details, informed me that this was a pilot project, from Ratmalana to Moratuwa, and that when the fuel arrives at the petrol station, I will receive an SMS requesting me to report at the petrol station, at the allocated time, once again to avoid queues. But I did not receive the fuel token as it was not available. I was told that there was no necessity to have the token, as I will receive the SMS on my mobile phone.

The following day I received news that the fuel tokens are being issued. When I visited the fuel station, to obtain the token, there were four different long queues, along the road registering three-wheelers, motorcycles, vehicles needing diesel, and cars needing petrol. I met the S LAF officer, registering the cars queued up on the Galle Road, and told him that I am already registered in the book he was entering details and requested the token, which was denied to me. As the queues were there during the next two days, I visited the fuel shed on day four (30th June) when the officer was registering a few people. When my turn came, I showed the serial number and my name registered therein. I was told to wait until the SMS was received. He said that my registration will be cancelled if the token was given at a later date! Then I met the SL Air Force official and explained my position. He then approved the issue of the token. The delay in obtaining the token was nearly 15 minutes. By this incident it was evident that the advice given to Air Force officers to register and issue tokens was not properly given.

I was surprised to receive the token which was a slip of paper, with dimensions only 10cm x 6 cm. Inside it there were printed, Name of the Fuel Station, Type of fuel, Contact Number, Name, NIC Number, Vehicle No, , Date , Time, Signature of authorized Officer and Signature of vehicle Owner. With a microscopic piece of paper, it was with great difficulty that the necessary details were entered.

However, congratulations to the Minister of Power and Energy for drying up all the CEYPETCO FUEL STATIONS in The Island, without fuel for another three weeks or more, without queues, due to lack of fuel. Also causing unending long queues by supporting the LANKA IOC Fuel Stations, to issue your Fuel without Tokens at a higher price.

I politely ask you, Minister Kanchana, is not this another gimmick of yours to handover the CEYPETCO fuel stations to LANKA I O C?

So, we now know the reason for the latest gimmick of the Minister of Power and Energy to issue fuel tokens.

Do you now realise in your conscience, the problems created by you, especially to three-wheeler drivers, who are dependent on a daily living for their families by earning from hires, and now completely out of any earnings to feed their children, to give even a single meal?

Without creating further problems please resign from your post as the Minister of Power and Energy.

Eng. B.R.O FERNANDO

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