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Covid Vaccines: Are they cure-all for pandemic?

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MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL) 

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

It is not all that necessary to point out the global and local impact of this coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. It is now well known that Infection rates are mounting, deaths are increasing and many variants or mutants are emerging all over the world, as well as the fact that the onslaught of the blight is affecting very many countries in the world. In a concerted effort towards responding to the pandemic, several countries of the world have produced several vaccines of different types. Many of these are in the testing stage still and a few have been approved and licensed for use. Quite a few countries have gone far with their vaccination initiatives and we, in our little Paradise Isle, have started our vaccination programmes.

Many people are under the impression that vaccines are the panacea for all ills in COVID-19 and that it is the God-given gift to mankind against this pandemic. It has been promulgated fervently and assiduously as the ONLY solution to the problem. Even top statesmen have gone on record to say that this is so. However, it is as far away as we can get to the truth and reality. Vaccines are NOT the ONLY solution to all the woes of COVID-19. Let us get one thing quite straight: at best, it is just one of the strategies that are a part of a multi-faceted and multi-pronged onslaught against the vagaries of this nasty little virus.

The most serious pandemic in the last century, now known as Spanish influenza or Spanish Flu, occurred in the West in 1918/1919. More than 40 million people, perhaps approaching 50 million, from all over the planet, died from an infection with an influenza A virus of the subtype H1N1. The exact origin of that pandemic influenza A virus strain is still not known. There were no anti-viral drugs, no vaccines and people were advised to avoid crowds, wear masks and wash their hands. It killed loads of people but those who survived had no long-term problems. Then the virus went away EVEN WITHOUT A VACCINE. In the most likely scenario of that cataclysmic pandemic, more than 70 per cent of those who were alive had immunity following infection with the virus; the so-called “Herd Immunity”. There were no susceptible humans for the virus to tag on to, and it was not able to survive and propagate. So, Mother Nature got rid of it.

Now then…, let us get one thing straight. To get herd immunity to the current coronavirus, over seventy per cent of the population have to be either people who have recovered after contracting the disease or those who have been vaccinated. So far only one country seems to have achieved that magic number of over 70 per cent; that is Israel. Today, the Israelites have the disease well under control. Of course, there are a few new cases detected every day but things are under control and their scientists are convinced that there is no major threat, at the present time. People have been set free. Bars and restaurants, the beaches, the cinemas, entertainment sites etc.., all are open freely to the public PROVIDED they can show the vaccination certificate. The schools are run as usual and their scientists believe that there is no serious threat to the children, although they are not vaccinated. Yet for all that, the health authorities are keeping a very sharp eye on the situation and they will act pronto if things get out of hand or deteriorate.

However, what is not generally appreciated is that the Israeli authorities did some other things, even well before the vaccination process was even started. At the very onset of the pandemic, they sent out all their commercial aircraft and got all the Israelites who wanted to come back, into the country without any hassle. Then they paid up-front for sufficient doses of the vaccine for the entire population. Following that, they instituted and enforced very strict public health measures like avoiding crowds, wearing masks, physical distancing and washing of hands. These were implemented to the letter. People were fined for violating the health guidelines. Even the top politicians, the rich and the powerful simply had to comply. Then only, and quite recently at that, they employed their vaccination programme where ALL adults over 18 years of age were virtually compulsorily vaccinated. Now they are reaping the benefits of all these measures. So, it is not ONLY the vaccine but a conglomeration of all these measures that helped the Israelites.

The second country is New Zealand. Their Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern imposed very strict health guidelines from the very outset. No holds were barred. In a landmark event, even the Prime Minister herself, and her partner, were refused entry to a restaurant because the place was full-up to the maximum allowed under her health guidelines. She did not throw her weight and accepted the decision of the restaurant management. Then they started their vaccination campaign. They are going well but so far are quite short of the 70 per cent coverage of the population. However, the strict health guidelines and lockdowns have managed to control the disease. It was statesmanship, perhaps we should call it ‘stateswomanship’, at its very best, with empathy and kindness, added as the icing, if at all it could be called a ‘cake’.

There is another consideration regarding the vaccine that is vitally important. We do not know for sure how effective the vaccines are against mutant strains of the virus. At the moment India is reeling under the onslaught of a new variant of the virus that is claimed to have a triple mutation in the new strain; a kind of three-in-one phenomenon. It certainly looks like a rather nasty type which is making people severely ill and killing many who are affected. India has not been able to vaccinate sufficient numbers as well. The current catastrophe in our immediate neighbour country probably implies that the violent spread of this deadly mutant is due to the general population completely disregarding the health guidelines.

Finally, the contention that vaccination is the only final solution may institute a state of complacency in those who are vaccinated in Sri Lanka. Besides, they have only had the first dose and their protection may not be all that complete. Although we have managed to vaccinate just under a million people, such an erroneous idea might induce the vaccinated people to run riot. As far as numbers go, and just as an example, even if 100,000 of those vaccinated go berserk, it would surely lead to further woes for the health authorities and the government. There is no room at all for complacency in our resplendent isle. Whatever anyone says, scholarly science dictates very clearly that vaccination is not the ONLY solution and the ancillary public health measures are as important. It would be best to admonish our populace, constantly and firmly; again, and again, to avoid crowds, wash their hands repeatedly, maintain a physical distance of at least one metre and wear masks properly, and for that matter, even double-mask, if at all possible. We cannot stress this any more than this. The responsibilities lie firmly at the doorsteps of our people.



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Features

TNGlive relieving boredom

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Yes, indeed, the going is tough for everyone, due to the pandemic, and performers seem to be very badly hit, due to the lockdowns.

Our local artistes are feeling the heat and so are their counterparts in most Indian cities.

However, to relieve themselves of the boredom, while staying at home, quite a few entertaining Indian artistes, especially from the Anglo-Indian scene, have showcased their talents on the very popular social media platform TNGlive.

And, there’s plenty of variety – not just confined to the oldies, or the current pop stuff; there’s something for everyone. And, some of the performers are exceptionally good.

Lynette John is one such artiste. She hails from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and she was quite impressive, with her tribute to American singer Patsy Cline.

She was featured last Thursday, as well (June 10), on TNGlive, in a programme, titled ‘Love Songs Special,’ and didn’t she keep viewers spellbound – with her power-packed vocals, and injecting the real ‘feel’ into the songs she sang.

What an awesome performance.

Well, if you want to be a part of the TNGlive scene, showcasing your talents, contact Melantha Perera, on 0773958888.

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Supreme Court on Port City Bill: Implications for Fundamental Rights and Devolution

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The determination of the Supreme Court on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill was that as many as 26 provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Court further determined that nine provisions of the Bill also required the approval of the people at a referendum.

Among the grounds of challenge was that the Bill effectively undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and infringed on the sovereignty of the people. It was argued that several provisions undermined the legislative power of the People reposed on Parliament. Several provisions were challenged as violating fundamental rights of the People and consequently violating Article 3, read with Article 4(d) of the Constitution. Another ground of challenge was that the Bill contained provisions that dealt with subjects that fall within the ambit of the Provincial Council List and thus had to be referred to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon as required by Article 154G(3).

 

Applicable constitutional provisions

Article 3 of our Constitution recognises that “[i]n the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable”. Article 3 further provides that “Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”. Article 3 is entrenched in the sense that a Bill inconsistent with it must by virtue of Article 83 be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the people at a referendum.

Article 4 lays down the manner in which sovereignty shall be exercised and enjoyed. For example, Article 4(d) requires that “fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided”. Article 4 is not mentioned in Article 83. In its determinations on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002 and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002, a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court noted with approval that the Court had ruled in a series of cases that Article 3 is linked up with Article 4 and that the said Articles should be read together. This line of reasoning was followed by the Court in its determination on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

Under Article 154G(3), Parliament may legislate on matters in the Provincial Council List but under certain conditions. A Bill on a matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon. If every Council agrees to the passing of the Bill, it may be passed by a simple majority. But if one or more Councils do not agree, a two-thirds majority is required if the law is to be applicable in all Provinces, including those that did not agree. If passed by a simple majority, the law will be applicable only in the Provinces that agreed.

 

Violation of fundamental rights and need for a referendum

Several petitioners alleged that certain provisions of the Port City Bill violated fundamental rights. The rights referred to were mainly Article 12(1)—equality before the law and equal protection of the law, Article 14(1)(g)—freedom to engage in a lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise— and Article 14(1)(h)—freedom of movement. Some petitioners specifically averred that provisions that violated fundamental rights consequently violated Articles 3 and 4 and thus needed people’s approval at a referendum.

The Supreme Court determined that several provisions of the Bill violated various fundamental rights and thus were required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The question of whether the said provisions consequently violated Article 4(d) and thus Article 3 and therefore required the approval of the People at a referendum was not ruled on.

The Essential Public Services Bill, 1979 was challenged as being violative of both Article 11 (cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment) and Article 14. Mr. H.L. de Silva argued that a Bill that violates any fundamental right is also inconsistent with Article 4(d) and, therefore, with Article 3. The Supreme Court held that the Bill violated Article 11 but not Article 14. Since a Bill that violates Article 11 has, in any case, to be approved at a referendum as Article 11 is listed in Article 83, the Court declined to decide on whether the Bill offended Article 3 as well, as it “is a well-known principle of constitutional law that a court should not decide a constitutional issue unless it is directly relevant to the case before it.”

A clear decision on the issue came about in the case of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution Bill; a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of the decisions of the Constitutional Council from the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Court was inconsistent with Articles 12 (1) and 17 (remedy for the infringement of fundamental rights by executive action) and consequently inconsistent with Article 3, necessitating the approval of the Bill at a referendum.

When the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill sought to restore the immunity of the President in respect fundamental rights applications, the Supreme Court determined that the “People’s entitlement to remedy under Article 17 is absolute and is a direct expression of People’s fundamental rights under Article 3 of the Constitution.”

In the case of the Port City Bill, however, the Supreme Court only determined that certain provisions of the Bill violated fundamental rights and thus required a two-thirds majority, but did not go further to say that the offending provisions also required approval of the people at a referendum.

Perhaps, the Court took into consideration the Attorney-General’s assurance during the hearing that the impugned clauses would be amended at the committee stage in Parliament.

However, Parliament is not bound by the Attorney-General’s assurances. In the absence of a clear determination that the clauses concerned required a referendum as well, Parliament could have passed the clauses by a two-thirds majority. The danger inherent in the Supreme Court holding that a provision of a Bill violates fundamental rights and requires a two-thirds majority but makes no reference to the requirement of a referendum is that a government with a two-thirds majority is free to violate fundamental rights, and hence the sovereignty of the People by using such majority. It is respectfully submitted that the Court should, whenever it finds that a provision violates fundamental rights, declare that Article 3 is also violated and a referendum is necessary, as it did in the cases mentioned.

 

The need to refer the Bill to Provincial Councils

The Port City Bill had not been referred to the Provincial Councils, all the Provincial Councils having been dissolved. The Court, following earlier decisions, held that in the absence of constituted Provincial Councils, referring the Bill to all Provincial Councils is an act which could not possibly be performed.

In the case of the Divineguma II Bill, the question arose as to the applicability of the Bill to the Northern Provincial Council, which was not constituted at that time. The Court held while the Bill cannot possibly be referred to a Council that had not been constituted, the views of the Governor (who had purported to express consent) could not be considered as the views of the Council. In the circumstances, the only workable interpretation is that since the views of one Provincial Council cannot be obtained due to it being not constituted, the Bill would require to be passed by a two-thirds majority. Although not explicitly stated by the Court, this would mean that if the Bill is passed by a simple majority only, it will not apply in the Northern Province. The Bill was passed in Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The Divineguma II Bench comprised Shirani Bandaranayake CJ and Justices Amaratunga and Sripavan, and it is well-known that the decision and the decision on the Divineguma I Bill cost Chief Justice Bandaranayake her position.

It is submitted that Article 154G (3) has two requirements—one procedural and one substantive. The former is that a Bill on any matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred to all Provincial Councils. The latter is that in the absence of the consent of all Provincial Councils, the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the whole country. If such a Bill is passed only by a simple majority, it would apply only in the Provinces which have consented.

The Divineguma II determination accords with the ultimate object of Article 154G(3), namely, that a Bill can be imposed on a Province whose Provincial Council has not consented to it only by a two-thirds majority. It also accords with the spirit of devolution.

A necessary consequence of the Court’s determination on the Port City Bill is that it permits a government to impose a Bill on a Provincial Council matter on a “disobedient” Province by a simple majority once the Provincial Council is dissolved and before an election is held. What is worse is that at a time when all Provincial Councils are dissolved, such as now, a Bill that is detrimental to devolution can be so imposed on the entire country. It is submitted that this issue should be re-visited when the next Bill on a Provincial Council matter is presented and the Supreme Court invited to make a determination that accords with the spirit of devolution, which is an essential part of the spirit of our Constitution.

 

 

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‘Down On My Knees’ inspires Suzi

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There are certain songs that inspire us a great deal – perhaps the music, the lyrics, etc.

Singer Suzi Fluckiger (better known as Suzi Croner, to Sri Lankans) went ga-ga when she heard the song ‘Down On My Knees’ – first the version by Eric Guest, from India, then the original version by Freddie Spires, and then another version by an Indian band, called Circle of Love.

Suzi was so inspired by the lyrics of this particular song that she immediately went into action, and within a few days, she came up with her version of ‘Down On My knees.’

In an exclusive chit-chat, with The Island Star Track, she said she is now working on a video, for this particular song.

“The moment I heard ‘Down On My Knees,’ I fell in love with the inspiring lyrics, and the music, and I thought to myself I, too, need to express my feelings, through this beautiful song.

“I’ve already completed the audio and I’m now working on the video, and no sooner it’s ready, I will do the needful, on social media.”

Suzi also mentioned to us that this month (June), four years ago, she lost her husband Roli Fluckiger.

“It’s sad when you lose the person you love but, then, we all have to depart, one day. And, with that in mind, I believe it’s imperative that we fill our hearts with love and do good…always.”

A few decades ago, Suzi and the group Friends were not only immensely popular, in Sri Lanka, but abroad, as well – especially in Europe.

In Colombo, the Friends fan club had a membership of over 1500 members. For a local band, that’s a big scene, indeed!

In Switzerland, where she now resides, Suzi is doing the solo scene and was happy that the lockdown, in her part of the world, has finally been lifted.

Her first gig, since the lockdown (which came into force on December 18th, 2020), was at a restaurant, called Flavours of India, with her singing partner from the Philippines, Sean, who now resides in Switzerland. (Sean was seen performing with Suzi on the TNGlive platform, on social media, a few weeks ago).

“It was an enjoyable event, with those present having a great time. I, too, loved doing my thing, after almost six months.’

Of course, there are still certain restrictions, said Suzi – only four to a table and a maximum crowd of 50.

“Weekends are going to be busy for me, as I already have work coming my way, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to going out…on stage, performing.”

In the meanwhile, Suzi will continue to entertain her fans, and music lovers, on TNGlive – whenever time permits, she said,

She has already done three shows, on TNGlive – the last was with her Filipino friend, Sean.

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