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COVID-19 lockdown: Too little, too late

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After dragging its feet to heed the advice of medical professionals, starting well before the Sinhala New Year, the government has finally clamped down on a lockdown, banning movement of people, from province to province. The argument, on the government side, is that a full lockdown affects the economy, but this does not take into account increasing Covid patients and the resulting increased health costs incurred by the Government to treat these patients. It is a case of choosing between death or hunger. People are accustomed to complete lockdowns, as it happened last year, about this time. The question remains whether such a partial lockdown is effective in controlling the spread of Covid. My own suggestion is to go for a complete lockdown of the country, for at least two weeks. Imposing night time curfew is ineffective since people to people transmission takes place during day time when people flock to do shopping and to attend to various other chores.

People in this country are not disciplined to wear face masks and practice social distancing. They wear the mask, only at the sight of a policeman. The enforced partial lockdown, at present, will not curb the spread of the disease, especially in the provinces where people attend to their business as usual. In crowded market places, in particular, there is scant regard for health guidelines. It may be appropriate to include someone uthorized in human behavior, in the COVID task force. The Health Ministry epidemiologist has gone on record saying that the present escalation of Covid patients is mainly due to the Sinhala aurudhu season where people were travelling all over the country, specially to places such as Nuwara-Eliya and Kataragama. Media were reporting uthoriz frolicking in Nuwara-Eliya without any consideration of health guidelines and where the Mayor, himself, was involved in uthorized a festival for holidaymakers. The result is all the traffic policemen, on duty, in Nuwara-Eliya, got Covid and they had to be replaced by officers from other stations. Similar incidents have taken place at Kataragama where large crowds gathered. It is a well-known habit that people travel to these places during the New Year period. Had the government listened to the health professionals, instead of its own advisors, this could have been avoided.

In India, which is facing a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, ignorance of people is the main cause in spreading this virus, just like here. Political consideration takes precedence over health and even some provincial elections were held during the pandemic. Also, religious activities, such as mass poojas, with complete disregard to health guidelines, are another main reason for the spread of Covid in India. Even in Jaffna there was a pooja attended by a large crowd where none wore face masks. . The famous Indian writer, Aurunditha Roy, was blunt in venting her anger and frustration, even asking Prime Minister Modi to step aside. Similarly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the Covid Task Force, in the USA, urged Prime Minister Modi to go for a total lockdown, at least on two occasions. This Indian variety is the most contagious and a WHO official said on Monday (May 10) that it is reclassifying the highly contagious triple mutant Covid variant spreading in India as a “variant of concern” at the global level. This is known as B.1.617, which has been found to spread more easily than the original virus and there is evidence that the currently available vaccines are ineffective against this virus mutant. Recently an Indian Professor from the Rutgers University, USA, who was an expert on infectious diseases, who travelled to India, died of the corona virus and this was after getting both vaccines in the USA. This is alarming because this virulent Indian variety was found in Sri Lanka from an affected Indian citizen. How many Indians came to Sri Lanka in recent weeks should be investigated and they should be properly isolated and quarantined. The question arises as to who uthorized the entry of Indians to our country when most governments have banned the entry of Indians into their countries. In April alone, statistics of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Board (SLTDB) reveal that a total of 4,168 international tourists have arrived in Sri Lanka during and most of these arrivals were from India followed by China and Kazakhstan.   It is shocking to see some ministers still talking about a tourist bubble to bring in Indian tourists. Doctors at the Sri Jayawardenapura University also reported that the British variety of the virus originated from the tourist bubble of Ukranian tourists. This was first revealed on April 8th by the same group and despite this warning the government thought it fit not to go for a complete lockdown during the New Year period.

Health professionals, too, has a role in taking a more positive stand, instead of talking vaguely about provincial lockdowns which are not going to work. Why cannot they ask the President to completely lockdown the entire country? Recently, Malaysia enforced a complete lockdown of the country to tackle the problem. New Zealand controlled the pandemic by strictly enforcing lockdowns, even when one positive case was found. The USA has been able to control the pandemic through mass vaccinations and over 50% of the total populations has been vaccinated so far, as opposed to 3% in Sri Lanka. It is the only way to fight this invisible enemy. There is no other alternative but to enforce a total lockdown if we have to come out of this dire situation.

Prof. O. A. Ileperuma

 

 



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Opinion

A ‘painless shot’ from Army

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When I was told that the Army was administering Sinopharm Covid vaccinations at Viharamaha Devi Park with special provisions for individuals with disabilities, I decided to take my wife, herself a Rehabilitation Medicine Physician, but now afflicted with Alzheimers disease, for her Covid shot, not knowing quite what to expect.

At the driveway into the park an Officer in smart uniform stopped me and inquired politely if there was anyone with a disability. When I answered in the affirmative, indicating my wife, I was asked to drive in and given instructions where to park my vehicle. In the parking area, another army officer kindly directed me to park under the shade of a “Nuga” tree for my wife’s comfort and asked me to proceed to the Registration desk and obtain my vaccination card.

Walking the short distance to the registration desk I observed those awaiting the vaccination seated comfortably in shaded and green surroundings. There was even a vending machine which was, I presume to provide refreshments for those waiting.

The several registration desks were manned by smart young male and female army personnel. The gentleman who attended to me took down my details and when my contact number was given information that the owner of this phone number had already had the vaccination appeared on the computer correctly, as I had been already vaccinated. Now, I expected a typical “public servant’ response that the “rule” is that a contact number could be registered only once. However, the officer used his brain, and after listening to my wife’s situation proceeded to complete the form. Then came the consent form that had to be signed. When I explained that my wife was unable to do so again I expected him to say, “Then get a letter from a doctor saying she cannot sign.” But this officer who did not behave like a robot used his judgement and allowed me to sign the form.

The paper work having been duly completed, I was asked to bring my wife to get her shot. When I explained that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, I was directed to the doctor at the site. I walked up to the young yet professional looking doctor attired in scrubs. When I explained my position, he promptly directed a staff member to go along with me to the vehicle and administer the injection while my wife was still seated there.

I then inquired if the young man who was helping my wife could also get his vaccination, and “no problem” was the answer. And before I could say “Sinopharm” the whole procedure was done and dusted!

What first class service!

To be at the receiving end of empathy and kindness was indeed a satisfying experience.

My thanks and appreciation to the organisers of the vaccination programme at Viharmahdevi Park on Wednesday (21 July)

Those who are critical of the army playing a lead role in Covid pandemic control, please take note.

Dr. N.Jayasinghe

Physician.

Colombo 7

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Opinion

On ‘misinformation’ against Minister of Health

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Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana (UW) is a regular contributor to this newspaper. His articles are almost always interesting and sometimes they provide valuable perspectives.

I find his criticism/castigation of the Minister of Health (MOH) in an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ (Island 19.07.2021) unfair and baseless. UW singles the MOH out as ‘the leader of the pack, undoubtedly is the Minister of Health who conveys wrong health messages’. This is erroneous and unwarranted

The main issues that UW quotes in support of his argument is that ‘she recently went to a shrine to thank a goddess for protecting her’ and ‘that she dropped pots in rivers to prevent the spread of the pandemic’.

From the onset of this pandemic a multitude of rituals have been conducted and they are still in force; all night Pirith, Bodhi Pooja, continuous chanting of the Ratana Suthraya, etc. The MOH releasing pots to the rivers that would wash down the ‘pandemic’ to the sea was one such ritual. A salient point to be appreciated is that while there is the possibility that the MOH herself believed in the effects of releasing these pots; this ritual was done primarily for the country/public rather than herself- hence the coverage on TV and news.

In contrast to this, her fulfilling a vow that she and/or her family made on her behalf when she was at death’s door, is based on a personal belief, and unlike the previous public action was done as an extremely private affair. If not for the fact that she is the MOH and her actions got reported in the press, none of us would have been even aware of this act. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has not fulfilled a vow; be it for himself or herself / siblings/ parents /children with regard to examinations, illnesses, promotions, etc…

None of these actions has any bearing on how the MOH has advised the public based on the counsel that she has received from her health officials and as such she is certainly not guilty of conveying any ‘wrong health messages’.

The MOH contracted Covid -19 because she was at the forefront of this epidemic and was constantly in touch with frontline workers. Not because she abandoned good health practices in favour of a cultural ritual! She had to be admitted to the IDH, was in the intensive care unit and according to medical sources was quite sick. We now see her on TV, the effects of the Covid-19 are apparent, a person who has had a near brush with death, fully cognizant of the danger of her current position. Certainly this would not have been something she signed up for when she took on the job as the MOH! This being the case, for UW, a doctor of medicine, to refer to ‘There are other idiotic politicians around the world who paid with their lives for the folly of not accepting the reality of a viral pandemic’ is not worthy of a healer.

Having recovered from her illness the MOH at a press conference publicly thanked her medical team for the effort they put into saving her life. I am sure that she would have thanked them personally as well. UW concludes his diatribe against her saying ‘Her life was saved not by goddesses, but by the excellent doctors, nurses and other health professionals Sri Lanka is blessed with. A person who is unable to even grasp that reality surely does not deserve to be the Minister of Health’. Is UW seriously suggesting to this readership that the MOH is unaware of the difference between science and culture? Is it his contention that anyone who engages in a religious /cultural ritual has no grasp of reality?

As a side note I am amused by the use of the term ‘Sri Lanka is blessed with ’. Based on UW’s logic ‘who are highly trained in Sri Lanka’ ought to have been a more appropriate term as blessings have nothing to do with a scientific reality!

 

Dr. Sumedha S. Amarasekara

 

 

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Opinion

Night soil as fertiliser

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I write with reference to a letter on night soil as a source of fertiliser by my good friend Upali Wickremasinghe which appeared in the Island of 17/07.

In the first place we were not talking of ammonium sulphate only but all chemical fertilisers vs compost as the sole supplier of nutrients for successful crop growth.

His suggestion to use night soil is an invitation to revisit the smelly past. It is true that some Asian countries and Sri Lanka too used this on a very limited scale many years ago mostly on home gardens.Our concern is on  much larger holdings. Irrespective of the scale of operation the implementation poses many problems,

Outdoor latrines have to be built. Who collects and cleans the buckets used? In the olden days scavengers were employed. Today, we attach more respect and dignity to human labour. These kinds of latrines particularly around Negombo were designed for the pigs reared on the range. Repulsive no doubt. I remember a story I heard as a child. A state councilor who visited a friend in Negombo spent a night with him. The following morning when using the toilet he was amazed to find a pig catching his dropping in midair. He is supposed to have commented that although he had been a state councilor for many years it was the only day that his motion was carried! There was also a practice to tether buffalows to coconut palms overnight. Their dung and the urine nourished the palms.

I will not elaborate on the sanitary and enviorenmental issues which are bound to be overwhelming

Some theoretical concepts cannot be adopted in practice particularly on large scale. UW talks of some girls in Nigeria generating electricity from urine, One could also conceptualise to extract sugar from the urine of diabetics. How feasible is it?

UW in earnest implores to find ones roots. Whatever it means it cannot be scattering human waste  all over.

Let us view the fertiliser issue crippling the farmer and the nation more seriously.

 

Gamini Peiris

Panadura

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