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Covid-19 control: The spread of missing links



Much has been talked and written about how to control the present Covid-19 epidemic in the recent past. The most valuable contributions recently made were from Prof. Malik Peiris and Dr. Kamini Mendis. I too had mentioned some of the concerns they had, with regard to lockdowns covering Grama Sewa Divisions only, and not in larger areas encompassing at least the adjacent Grama Sewa Divisions. People may not move within one area before identification as a Covid positive patient, and they could have travelled to at least the nearby areas while being infected. Then comes the length of the lockdowns. We have to have a minimum of a 14-day lockdown if we want to avoid large graveyards in the country, whether we like it or not, if we want to shorten this third wave.

The third wave happened because we did not close down the country during the April holidays. The ideal time would have been from 10th to the 24th April this year. Usually, many institutions are practically closed down, and there is less economic activity anyway during this period. I am mentioning it because next year we should not say this again, with hindsight that we should have done this, after not doing so. This is a lesson that we learnt the hard way.

Even now we have problems in controlling this epidemic. One thing that is missing is teamwork. Many have ideas but do not come forward with them at the correct forum. There are many at these meetings who do not have an iota of an idea of epidemic control or experience in controlling one. What is in the books do not apply in these situations. I believe that the Task Force should be pruned down, so that only a few people attend it from relevant fields, who will have to come armed with the relevant proposals; as then it is easy to have a proper discussion and make decisions and agree on policies. With regard to other supportive services, there could be a separate meeting to discuss logistics, manpower, funds, etc.

The information about the situation should be simple, so that even a layman could understand, and maps should be available to indicate hotspots, high risk areas, etc., so that timely action could be taken. Information given late, or PCR test results given 2-3 days later, do not help the control teams; as by the time they receive the information to take action, more patients join the queue as they infect more people with time. With regard to information and maps, we should use the services of any competent person if the Epidemiology Unit cannot handle it alone. The GMOA has taken some positive steps in this regard, they have enough resources among their membership, and they should be allowed to work with the Epidemiology Unit to carry out this work. We need more automated PCR systems in the country, because we cannot wait for days to get to know whether a patient is positive or not. Although the initial cost will be high, in the end it will save a lot of money for the country, by lessening the number of patients with Covid-19 in the long run.

There is a debate about whether the disease has spread beyond our control. In epidemiology there is a saying that only 10% of the patients down with a communicable disease are found. In the case of Covid-19, with all these PCR and Antigen tests being done, contact tracing, quarantines in place, I believe we are still missing at least 30-40 % patients. Around 80% patients do not show any symptoms, but they could infect others, but with the present Covid-19 variant it could be less. However, the numbers could be high and they may be never identified unless antibody tests are done. At present, antibody tests are done but only using the patients who come for vaccinations. Manpower is an issue, as the same PHIs, Nurses and Midwives are used for PCR testing and Immunizations. Colombo was shown as being less prone to the present third wave, but yesterday it was found that the Narahenpita area had more than 100 people in a day, perhaps due to PCR testing in that area. I do not know from which areas within that ward they are found, and such information is important for the general public. Similarly, infected areas could be found in Borella, Wanathamulla, Dematagoda, Grandpass, Modera, Mattakkuliya, etc., where population densities are high. Priority in future vaccination programmes should be given to these areas. Similarly, in other cities and townships, such areas should be identified to carry out vaccinations. We need proper planning in place to carry out these actions, and to identify the hotspots. We need the services of personnel who have the necessary knowledge to obtain, collate, analyze and disseminate information not only district-wise, but within major cities too. Unless we do that and provide information to the Task Force or decision-makers, we will not win this battle soon. We do not have a proper people- centered awareness programme for high population density areas, where they might not get the information through radios or TV. Unless we do that, the health messages on the need for wearing a mask, keeping social distance and handwashing will not sink in. Let’s hope some action will be taken to implement the above actions.



Former Chief Medical Officer of Health

Chairman, Standing Committee on Health/CMC

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Online education – an alternative



By Dr. Rasanjalee Abeywickrama

Education is a weapon that can improve one’s life. It is a most important tool that helps to spread knowledge in society, which is a most noteworthy benefit of Education. Furthermore, it acts as a medium that transfers knowledge from one generation to another.

Education helps to boost a country’s economy and society; therefore, it is a milestone of a nation’s development. It offers knowledge and skills to the populace, while shaping the personality of the youth of a nation. Education is generally considered the foundation of society which beckons economic wealth, social prosperity and political stability. Economic and social status depends on individual education, since it contributes to individual capability in managing the quality of life. The main purpose of education is to prepare and qualify them for work, to play their part in a country’s economy, as well as to integrate people into society by teaching them the values and morals of society.

Education, for a child, begins at home. It is a lifelong process and determines the quality of an individual’s life. Education improves one’s knowledge and skills, and develops personality and attitude. Students must be equipped with knowledge and skills which are necessary to participate effectively as members of society and contribute towards the development of shared values and common identity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still haunting the human race and it will be completing its horrible journey of two years within another five months. It has changed the whole world and lives of each and everyone around the globe. There cannot be anyone who has not been affected by this virus at least once, economically, physically and psychologically. While man is busy planning to go to Mars, this microorganism is busy taking the lives of millions on earth and taking away all the freedom which man had on earth, including the freedom to breathe. While it has affected all the sectors and trades, education is one of the most affected sectors.

There are several ways this virus has affected education. The loss of livelihoods of thousands of parents has caused a financial crisis and education of their kids has been affected, dramatically. Schools remained closed for much of the time, since March 2020. Kids were unable to go to school continuously, at least for one to two months, for over 15 months now. Physical engagement with peer groups and teachers is completely hampered due to shifting to online education, where kids will only be able to talk to each other and to the teacher through a screen which looks so artificial. It does not provide the actual interaction, which is essential, especially for kids in primary grades and early childhood education.

Some kids are at least fortunate enough to gather some knowledge through online platforms as they have access to relevant electronic equipment and network connections. Sadly, kids in low income families are not fortunate enough to obtain such facilities. Some kids who were supposed to be in Grade 1, during the year 2021, have not yet been to school for at least one day, but applications are already called for year 2022 Grade 1 school admissions, which shows how much time, from their early childhood education, has been wasted. This would adversely affect all of them as early childhood education is not solely about developing learning and writing skills, but about social engagement and social development, via engaging in activities with peer groups.

Education should enhance cognitive, social-emotional and behavioural dimensions of learning. It should also ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, wherein no one is left behind. This has become a challenging task with the ongoing pandemic situation. Though online education is not the best option, it is the only option available for kids of this generation. But there are many practical issues related to access to laptops, desktops, smartphones and internet connections. In many areas, kids have to climb trees to get internet connections. Huts have been constructed on tree tops to enable kids to follow online classes. Therefore, we need to look for better and more effective ways to continue the education of kids.

The most effective way to handle this issue of online learning, at the moment, is to telecast educational programmes, in the morning or afternoon hours instead of repeat telecasts of teledramas, TV shows or any other entertainment programmes. If all the national TV channels can work towards this, it will offer a practical solution to the problems associated with online education. Since all children are at home these days, it is an efficient way not only to educate them, but also to reduce the damage caused to their brain development due to watching unsuitable content on TV. Even radio stations can help in this regard.

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The country they saved



Many YouTube videos are accessible on the Internet, which show interviews with retired/injured soldiers who were with the Sri Lanka Army during the period 2005-2009. They proudly talk about how they fought, how they got injured, how they re-joined the battle, after recovery, and how they saw their friends and higher officers get killed. Without any sadness in their voices, they show their wounded limbs and blinded eyes. Most of us who were not in the battlefield, too, can be somewhat satisfied by thinking about our much lesser contributions – donation of blood, donation of money towards various funds such as “Api Wenuwen Api” (although not sure what happened to those), helping families of soldiers, etc.  

Many would now feel sad about those injured soldiers and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard this country, when seeing how this country is managed by some politicians, who claim that they were the people who saved this country.



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Special rules for UK-SL MPs cricket



The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK, Saroja Sirisena, responding to a call by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, met the Speaker on May 24 at his office at the House of Commons, while the Lion Flag fluttered in front of the House of Commons on the occasion. Our lady diplomat, as per The Island report on 31st May, proposed and, ‘…both agreed that a friendly exchange of cricket between the members of the two Parliaments would be a fine opportunity to celebrate there shared love of cricket.’

Being concerned of the risk of conversion of the gentlemen’s game into a “Parliamentarian’s one”, shall we propose an amended 13-point set of rules applicable only to our legislators.

1. “Scrap retired hurt” phenomenon altogether as they will never dream of ‘retiring’, worse they do not understand what ‘hurt’ means.

2. Out!, and back in the pavilion, can be re-called by the Captain under “National team player” to the middle, to continue batting.

3. Ministers, who rush Bills for speedy enactments are best suited as Pace bowlers, but they will have to compete with ‘swing both-ways’ experts.

4. Talented ‘googley’ bowlers are in abundance, but English MPs are good readers of the googley; more prudent choice would be a specialist ‘Chinamen’, [there is no dearth of them either], further, the opponents do have little experience in facing them and would naturally be extra nervous to hear the first syllable of the word.

5. Sixers should be banned altogether, for they being highly skilled masters of the art will effortlessly hit every ball for a ‘SIX’.

6. Sledging, supported by familiar un-parliamentary vocabulary can be used excessively, as the opponents will not understand them, however, as a precautionary measure, the stump microphone should be disconnected from commentary.

7. Media should be allowed in the field to get voice cuts blaming the opponents, after every bungling by themselves.

8. English team has done their ‘home-work’ using freely available data : will demand free access for Agents of Bookies at the Lanka dressing room, with the idea of winning the game easily. However, such motivation can be countered by displaying 11 ultra-luxury SUVs on the grounds [as prizes for the winners]

9. A special sitting of the House prior to the match, to propose and pass a handsome match-fee for the players, would be an added incentive.

10. To compensate for their lack of experience and knowledge in playing on a level field, a ‘20%’ [a familiar numerical] bonus of runs or wickets can be granted.

11. In fairness to the Englishmen, any attempt to play a Dil-scoop using more familiar hands, minus the bat, should not be allowed.

12. The two field umpires plus 3rd, 4th umpires and match referee should be provided with special security in the event of a loss to the local team.

13. The moment the English side appealed against a Lankan batsmen, before the Umpire delivered his verdict, the bodyguards should rush to the field to prevent untoward incidents happening.




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