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Covid-19 pandemic can be overcome if it’s dealt as a National Challenge

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It is clear that the coronavirus pandemic in Sri Lanka has gone beyond the patient and group of contacts (“Cluster”) stage, and is now widespread around the country and is in the stage of “Community” spread. Thus, everyone must assume that anyone can be a source of infection, and must learn to protect oneself.

While proper contact tracing and isolation, which was adequate at the early stage must continue, a community-based approach is also necessary. There are as yet many areas, specially rural, that are free of the virus, but it will not be long before they too can have cases. The more crowded areas, like towns, will have many more cases. The government must take a policy decision to ensure that people avoid forming crowds.

For example clinic patients in government hospitals form crowds to obtain their medicines. Using the personnel of the Health Department, it should be possible to supply the necessary medicine as indicated in their clinic records to the patients on the due date once a month. Similarly by using digital technology collection of crowds in offices and schools must be avoided. The Covid-19 risk could be minimized if most public and social activities are conducted digitally so that personal contact is avoided. Thereby the efficiency of the public and private services as a whole can be done more speedily and efficiently.

The emergence of a new strain of the virus causing Covid-19 in the UK, which is more transmissible (that is spreads faster) has led to a substantial increase in the occurrence of cases in the UK. Naturally, there has been an increase in deaths. But, as the case fatality rate does appear to have gone up, it would appear that the severity has not increased. But in a virus that is prone to undergo mutations, this too can occur. This is why sensible countries even in Europe have stopped all flights to and back from the UK. I am glad that Sri Lanka too has done so, but it must ensure that UK residents do not come here indirectly.

Frequent sequencing of Covid viruses isolated in Sri Lanka must be done so as to detect the entry of the UK strain of the virus or any other varieties as early as possible so that effective preventive action can be taken immediately. It is regrettable that by not performing sequences since the beginning of December, we are still unable to determine whether the UK strain has entered our country. During an epidemic, such lapses should not be allowed to occur.

It is becoming evident that the world, including Sri Lanka, will have to learn to live with the virus for a long period. How long depends on the correctness of national policy decisions and the strict inculcation of health rules. Their implementation as a habit by the entire population must be achieved by an intensive health education program. If everyone in society properly understands the nature of the virus and its mode of spread and ensures that he or she does not get infected, then the virus will automatically die out.

This is because the Covid-19 virus cannot multiply on its own but can do so only in live cells of the human respiratory tract, according to current knowledge. The pandemic will then automatically come to an end in Sri Lanka at minimal cost.

The health education program focuses on ensuring that everyone follows the three health rules (wearing a mask when outside one’s house, observing the distance rule of at least one meter, better two, and washing hands with soap and water frequently, specially after touching any object that anyone else has touched). These three rules must be practiced as a habit by everyone. This message must reach every house, both urban and rural.

Trade unions must educate their members and insist that management gives the necessary support. The teachers must drill it into the mind of every student. I have published a leaflet in all three languages with illustrations so that even a child can understand. I have published over 100,000 leaflets and distributed them to the best of my ability with the help of my party, the LSSP.

The Health Department could print and distribute that leaflet as it is, or suitably modified. The mass media and social media should be fully utilized for this program.

As this must become a national campaign to eliminate the Covid-19 virus, everyone must be drawn into it. A Committee of Party Leaders must be established, possibly in Parliament, which will make all political parties and their supporters participants in the campaign. We must stop criticizing each other but must come together as one nation fighting a common enemy.

Cooperation should extend down to every village and urban slum. Anti-Covid Committees should be set up at village and workplace levels and the people should help each other e.g. provide food for those who need it. The rest of the village can help those who are quarantined. They can ensure that the maximum support is obtained from the state agencies and services and supplies are distributed to the needy. The PHIs, the PHNs, the midwives and other health staff should play a leading role in health education as they are used to delivering health messages to the people and the people have confidence in them and will listen and absorb what they say. A cooperative spirit must be promoted at all levels.

But, thereafter, wise policies must be carried out. If in addition to Sri Lankan citizens living abroad being allowed to return, tourists are also being encouraged to come as an important source of foreign exchange, then the exclusion of all infected persons must be ensured. If anyone escapes the preventive net, then the cluster control techniques must be strictly enforced. In particular, the entry of the more transmissible strains from abroad must be prevented. This is on the presumption that no animal host exists or appears, but to detect this if it exists, an animal surveillance program must be carried out worldwide, Sri Lanka included, continuously.

But the ultimate solution is the development of an effective and safe vaccine and ensuring that every person is properly immunized. At least 80% of the population needs to be immunized if the chain of transmission is to be interrupted. The fact that this is a new virus to the world, and as there is no herd immunity, more frequent administration of vaccine may be necessary.

The various vaccines that have been developed very rapidly (in less than one year when the usual minimum is about seven years – reflect the advances in new technology) have not had the time to be fully tested. But, it is with time that the duration of the protection given by these vaccines after two shots can be properly determined.

Therefore, it may be necessary to give many more shots and even as frequently as every year if the immunity developed is not sustained. The two mRNA vaccines developed in the USA, besides the excessive cost, are questionable on scientific grounds as mRNA vaccines have never been developed and used before and they may have side effects that could be serious. If we are getting vaccines from the WHO, the best option would be to obtain the Oxford/Zeneca vaccine which uses an Adenovirus as a vector, and there is no danger of untoured consequences. As this is being produced in India by the reputed Indian Serum Institute, it would be safer to get it from them as the price too will be very much lower. This would enable the Government to purchase the added requirement for at least 60% of the population, who do not get the vaccine supplied by WHO.

Finally, I must say something on the controversial question of the non-burial of Covid 19 victims. In my view, as a scientist, I would tend to permit burials as the risk of transmission through water is extremely remote and has as yet not been reported to have occurred. With the death of the Covid patient, the replication of the virus in the dead body ceases. Whatever virus may have been produced earlier would have died in a matter of hours, but certainly within a day. It would appear from the decision been taken by the Minister of Health, she wishes to make absolutely certain that there is no danger to society, even though there is no scientific evidence as yet to confirm that there is a risk to society.

– Prof. Tissa Vitarana

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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims

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The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.

 

 

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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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