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Covid-19 pandemic spreads due to lack of a people-based campaign

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The Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread at an alarming rate in Sri Lanka and in most countries world-wide. This is mainly due to the lack of a people-based campaign with proper leadership. In Sri Lanka the corona virus was introduced into the country by identified individuals coming from abroad. By identifying each case and the contacts who formed a cluster and isolating each cluster for the required period, the spread to the community was prevented.

This was done effectively by Sri Lanka’s good Public Health Service well supported by the Armed Forces. But with a high percentage of those infected not showing any symptoms (maybe as much as 80%), the virus began to spread among the community.

But that stage is well passed and today there is extensive spread among the community island- wide. Community spread began in the Western province with Colombo as the focus. Had there been early recognition of this change, a campaign to create awareness among the public and effective action to perform effective crowd control measures, the spread could have been controlled to a considerable extent. For some strange reason, this was not publicly accepted, as if a natural epidemiological effect was a sign of failure, and the campaign was continued on the basis of the cluster concept.

The Health Service backed by the Police and Armed Services is bearing the brunt of the present campaign. Fever cases are being tested with the PCR and RAT and positives are being hospitalized. Due to shortage of hospital beds, some milder patients are being isolated in their homes. Other public health measures are being implemented. But the epidemic is spreading fast. This is not surprising with the large number of asymptomatic infections in the community. This calls for a community based approach which is carried out nationally. We have a multicultural society and the practices of each community should be accommodated in the campaign.

My first suggestion was that all political leaders be brought into a Covid control committee so that it becomes a National Campaign. This Committee should interact with the Minister of Health both within and outside Parliament in a supportive manner. The most important step is to ensure that the whole community, every household is involved and made fully aware. Intense health education using all media would achieve this in a week or two, from children right up to the elderly. The core message should be that one has to presume that everyone in society is infected, and that for one’s own protection, the three health practices must be carried out: wearing a face mask properly at all times, especially when one goes outside the home, and even at home when any outsiders come in, practice social distancing (two meters is better), and frequent hand washing, especially when touching any object that someone else may have touched.

Avoid crowd gathering. This should be practiced by everyone, with political and social leaders setting the example. The reaction of people in the country should be that if anyone is seen to break the rules, others should point this out to him at once. This practice should prevail in town and village, at home and workplace. Sharing of towels, handkerchiefs, pillows, sheets etc. should stop. Everyone should carry one’s own small hand towel in the pocket or handbag.

A Covid Committee should be established in every village, at street level in every town, and in all workplaces. Besides its preventive role, it must help the family of an infected person, e.g. supply food and other needs, and give moral support. The Committee must ensure that the contacts do not infect anyone else. If any person develops any possible symptoms, the patient should be shown to a doctor at once. The Covid Committee should have a health official like a PHI or Midwife to be in contact.

The Committee should ensure that people do not crowd together. All social and political meetings should not be allowed. Essential meetings should be confined to the smallest number of essential people, who must observe the health guidelines. At the entry and exit to all public places, soap and water with washing facilities must be provided and their use made compulsory. If possible hand washing facilities with 80% alcohol sprays could be provided.

All Government officials, especially the Police, should prevent people crowding together e.g. at shops, bus stands and buses etc.. They should ensure that the three health practices are observed. Stern action should be taken against violators.

The Covid 19 virus is new to the world and there is no herd immunity. We have much through research to learn about it so that we can better control its spread and treat it. The Coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is fairly large (80 to 160mm) and generally multiplies in the human respiratory tract cells. As other coronaviruses can enter our body through the mouth and then multiply in the bowel, this is a theoretical possibility, but any indications to that occurring have not been established to my knowledge. It is generally transferred from an infected person to another person from the nose, mouth and possibly from the eyes through sneezing (nasal secretions) coughing (saliva and respiratory secretions) and tears.

Recent mention has been made of a new variant that can be airborne i.e. be carried by air (currents) just as virus particles. If true, this means that the masks should be able to block the small virus particles, and the social distance rule needs to be further lengthened. But as a single or a few virus particle are unlikely to transfer the infection, we can let events justify the need to take these extreme steps.

As is well known viruses multiply and grow only in specific living cells, in this case those of our respiratory tract. If they fall elsewhere, in a matter of hours they die. Therefore, let us focus on practicing our health rules. But everyone must do this as a habit. In this way, we can protect ourselves and at the same time, protect everyone else. If everybody does this the virus will die out.

Much effort and money is being spent on obtaining vaccines to protect our people. But it usually takes several years, about seven years on an average, before the ideal vaccine that is safe and effective, is developed. What is being offered may or may not work, or be safe considering the short period.

The duration of protection is unknown. It may need to be repeated in a year or two. Even the best vaccine only protects that particular individual (as this is not a live virus). To protect everybody, it must be given to each and every one. Then only will transmission stops. With luck, it may stop with about 80% coverage. Vaccinating those who run the risk of dying (vulnerable people) like the elderly and those with heart and lung disease or debilitating conditions like diabetes, is to be recommended. Those who are exposed to repeated infection like doctors and nurses should be covered. Taking our financial situation as a country and the outcomes, limiting vaccination to vulnerable groups is more sensible.

Prof. Tissa Vitarana



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Lift restrictions on 21 June, and be prepared for dire consequences – Medical Specialists

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) President Dr. Lakkumar Fernando yesterday urged the government to reconsider its decision to lift the travel restrictions on 21 June on account of the detection of the Indian or Delta variant of COVID-19 in the country.

Speaking to The Island yesterday, Dr. Fernando said: “The Ex-Co and COVID committee of the AMS met on Thursday before it was announced that the Indian variant had been found in the community, and we decided to ask the government to continue the travel restrictions until 28 June.”

The AMS President added that the detection of the Indian variant from Dematagoda was an alarming development as the Indian variant was more transmissible than the UK variant.

“Reopening the country even after this detection is a very bad idea. We detected the UK variant on 08 April 2021 but we allowed people to celebrate the New Year. I feel that the government is repeating the same mistake,” he said.

Dr. Fernando urged the government to have discussions with a broad section of experts in the coming two days and take a more informed decision as we are likely lose more valuable lives if we are not careful enough in our decision making. “I don’t think the government has sought advice from experts,” he said.

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SLPP will not let disputes with Gammanpila undermine govt.

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…will vote against SJB’s no-faith motion

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (18) said that whatever the differences the party had with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, it would not undermine President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government. A senior SLPP spokesperson said so when The Island sought their response to Samagi Jana Balavegaya planning to move a no-faith motion against attorney-at-law Gammanpila over the recent increase in prices of fuel.

The SJB early this week declared its intention to hand over a no-faith motion against Gammanpila to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. Already, the JVP and the UNP have questioned the SJB’s exercise.

The SLPP stood solidly with the stand taken by its General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, in respect of Minister Gammanpila, the official said. According to him, SJB’s certain defeat at the forthcoming vote should not be considered an endorsement of the energy minister.

However, the SJB would not be allowed to exploit the dispute between the party and Minister Gammanpila, under any circumstances, party sources said. The SLPP has been in touch with SLPP strategist Basil Rajapaksa, currently in the US, throughout the conflict, sources said.

The SJB’s no-faith motion would be easily defeated, sources said, pointing out that the SLPP group in the government parliamentary group accounted for 115 excluding the Speaker. The SJB parliamentary group comprised 54 members, including seven National List appointees. One of the NL members, Diana Gamage has switched her allegiance to the SLPP.

Sources revealed that on behalf of the SLPP group, the General Secretary of the party, lawmaker Kariyawasam discussed the developments with SLPP leader Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The SLPP group is expected to meet coming Monday (21) to reach consensus on a settlement. Sources said that a no holds barred discussion was with MP Kariyawasam getting an opportunity to explain his stand.

Referring to a statement dated June 12 issued by MP Kariyawasam demanding Minister Gammanpila’s resignation, SLPP underscored the need to set the record straight.

The SLPP General Secretary did not challenge the fuel increase announced by Minister Gammanpila as the party realized the government had no other option, sources said. However, there was no change in the SLPP’s stand in respect of Minister Gammanpila as he did nothing to improve the energy sector coming under his purview, sources said. The SLPP alleged that Minister Gammanpila had done nothing except taking advantage of gullible media.

Responding to another query, sources questioned the rationale in a recent statement issued by eight political parties, affiliated to the SLPP, in support of Minister Gammanpila. Except one political party therein, other parties comprised just one lawmaker each. There were two National List members, too among that eight-member group, sources said, adding that PHU, was represented in parliament by just one MP (Gammanpila.)

Sources said that the SLPP felt that there should be a consensus among the main party and its constituents on major policy decisions. Sources questioned the National Freedom Front (NFF) and the PHU pursuing an agenda inimical to the government. How could they take a different stand on some contentious issues publicly having been members of the cabinet of ministers, sources asked, accusing them of sabotaging key policy decisions.

The SLPP emphasized that the ruling coalition would have to reach a consensus on a common agenda or face catastrophic consequences.

Sources alleged that Weerawansa-Gammanpila led group sabotaged an agreement the incumbent administration worked out with India on the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Harbour.

Asked to explain, sources said that the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe had finalized agreements in respect of Mattala airport, ECT, remaining tanks at the Trincomnalee oil tank farm and LNG plant at Sampur with India. Following the last presidential election, the incumbent government decided to go ahead with only the ECT project in the Colombo South Harbour.

The SLPP said that the agreement on ECT was certainly not a popular one though it could have helped efforts to revive the national economy. But, Weerawansa-Gammanpila group as usual played politics with the issue at hand and took credit for stopping the project.

Sources said that the country would have faced eternal blackouts if the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave into pressure meant to stop Norochcholai coal-fired power plant.

 

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1,390 more lockdown violators arrested

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The police had arrested 1,390 persons who violated lockdown regulations on Thursday (17), Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said. The bulk of the arrests numbering 172 were made by the Kuliyapitiya Police, 133 by Matale Police and 121 by Kandy Police.

The police have arrested 38,311 people so far for violating quarantine regulations since 30 October 2020.

About 6,797 people were questioned at checkpoints set up at 14 entry and exit points in the Western Province on Thursday and 108 of them were warned and sent back for attempting to cross provincial borders in violation of the current travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Police are planning to carry out a special operation during this weekend to arrest those who violate health regulations by increasing mobile patrols, roadblocks and motorcycle patrols, DIG Rohana added.

Drone operations too will be conducted in Colombo and suburban areas to identify individuals who violate lockdown rules and regulations.

 

 

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