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Opinion

Covid19-The second wave

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BY RAJITHA RATWATTE
fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

Well it is here in Aotearoa, the dreaded 2nd wave of the virus. After over 100 days of no infections within the country, a worker in a frozen food import facility has been diagnosed. He has apparently had symptoms since the 31st of July but got tested only on the 6th of August. Now his whole family and a number of contacts have also tested positive. To compound matters this family has travelled on holiday to a number of resort towns in the North Island, and it gets worse, they have visited a relative in an age care facility! One of the Children goes to a school that has 3,000 students. The husband and the wife’s work places have transmissions of the virus, and the school and the age care facility we don’t know about.

These people live in what is considered the poorer areas in the south of Auckland. Judging by this and the type of work done by the husband and wife it is very possible that they belong to a minority race. However, they seem to be rather affluent as the holiday they have enjoyed does not seem to have suffered from financial constraints. The holiday has included visits to museums, art galleries, Thai restaurants, boat trips and of course fast food outlets! Unfortunately, this makes the possibility of a spread of the infection greater. Sometimes, people of the minor races prefer to live among their own people and in areas where the shops and restaurants cater to their tastes and needs. This is no reflection of their financial status.

The news broke to the general populace about 8.30 pm on Tuesday the 11th of August. Auckland which is the main area affected was put into level 3 lockdown. This means no restaurants and bars, only take away food and gathering only within your bubble and a maximum of 10 people. The rest of the country into level 2, which means gatherings of a maximum of 100 people only. All supermarkets and pharmacies are open and only essential workers can go to work. Everyone else works from home. Face masks are advised and social distancing of course, prevails.

An interesting fact is that the genome of this new infection is apparently different to the one that prevailed earlier. The genome of this germ seems to be more closely related to the disease prevalent in the UK. From there we proceed to the question how did this infection start. The initial and logical theory was that the imported frozen food handled by the worker contained the germ. We have no details of this. Accepted facts broadcast regularly on BBC says, this infection can live on plastic and glass for 72 hours and extreme cold or heat cannot kill it.

Meanwhile, Winston Peters the outspoken deputy prime minister and leader of the Maori party has given an interview to Australian Television, saying that he has reliable information that this infection is due to a quarantine violation. We have no further evidence on this either.

The cabinet met again on Friday (15th) afternoon to review the situation and decide how to proceed. The opposition was waiting to pounce. There is general election due soon remember and the opposition looks like they are going to lose on similar lines to that which happened in the Pearl. They are desperate, and they represent the rich white people of NZ. If the lockdown level was increased to a higher level, they would have started screaming about the economic damage. It was a tricky decision, handled beautifully; the present level of lockdown is to remain for a total of two weeks. A review will be done on the 21st of August depending on, if the available data is better or worse than expected, the lockdown level will be increased or reduced.

A great decision I say because now the people know what to expect. If they wish to be foolish and abuse the freedoms available at level 3 and consequently the lockdown level has to be increased, well, it is their problem. The resulting economic damage cannot be blamed on the government. Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry is extending the benefits offered to meet wage payments for affected businesses. It seems they had plans in place and had not spent the full allocation of funds approved. I guess in retrospect and hindsight, it would have been only a miracle that would have stopped the second wave. There will also be increased paid leave available for those who are required to self-isolate.

There are loud requests for the postponement of elections from the opposition as certain immediate defeat is worse that possible later defeat! Governance in these turbulent times makes the possibility of mistakes higher and an opposition waiting on the sidelines to capitalise on mistakes can only benefit. I say postpone the elections and let the opposition live in hope. Because when they lose after all excuses have been removed, it makes the victory sweeter! This is the civilized decision to make and I hope it prevails.

Well, it has been done. The election has been postponed by 4 weeks. The reason given by the PM include the need to have a “safe, accessible and credible” election, an election that “delivers certainty for the future” and an election held in the “best interests of the voter in our democracy”. When delivering this decision, the PM mentioned 3 countries that had held elections without postponement, when “managing” Covid19. Sri Lanka was NOT mentioned!

The total of infections due to this second wave is no 56. All but one has been identified as coming from the one source. The doubtful one is also probably linked to this source, but the patient is in hospital and I guess final confirmation will come when that patient can be approached. The plan is to identify the perimeter of the full cluster in two weeks and if it looks like it can be contained, the level of lockdown will be eased. Testing continues at a furious pace, with a record number of 15 thousand tests being done on the 14th of August.

We are in the last weekend of the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament. The cup has already been won by the South Island based Canterbury Crusaders with a match to spare. However, this weekend game was a complete sell out with over 40 thousand tickets sold for the game between the Crusaders and the Auckland Blues. The Auckland Blues have shown a resurgence of form after many decades, their fans were hoping for great things. Beating the Canterbury side which has now won 3 Super Rugby tournaments in a row was something all of us were looking forward to. This was to be played at Eden Park stadium in Auckland and is now cancelled. Level 3 lockdown does not allow such a large amount of people to gather in one place. In fact, it does not even allow the teams to gather, without spectators!

Most of us went to at least one match and enjoyed some fantastic quality rugby and the atmosphere that goes with a full stadium. Again, we have been luckier than most and should be grateful, here in Aotearoa.

It is “interesting times ahead” for us in Aotearoa and all we can do is stay within the rules and be kind to each other!

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Opinion

Cattle slaughter ban and common sense

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By Rohana R. Wasala

It was reported in the media (September 8, 2020) that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s proposal for a ban on cattle slaughter received cabinet approval, as well as the approval of the government parliamentary group. Some Buddhist monks, and allied groups who have long been agitating for such legislation to be enacted, raised euphoric cries and invoked blessings on the Prime Minister and the President. I don’t know how the two privately reacted to the acclamation they received on the basis of a controversial measure, tentatively proposed, but not finally agreed upon: Did they accept the still unearned accolades with a feeling of exultant self-vindication or with a sense of gnawing doubt that the whole thing might misfire? They are more likely to experience the latter state of mind, because this ban cannot be imposed without harmful repercussions, given the unalterable ground realities that must be recognized and accommodated before enacting and implementing the proposed ban. This is so particularly in relation to the prevailing economic and political crises in today’s globalized world, of which Sri Lanka is a small member, hardly noticed, except for her strategic location and her beleaguered state due to the same circumstance, trapped between three superpowers – two global and one regional. The domestic fallout could be even more critical. This is the worst imaginable time for such a radical measure to be implemented, however popular it could be among a section of the people.

But let’s not be too alarmed. Media Minister and Cabinet spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella (a good choice for the latter job, in my view) managed to assuage the fears of sceptics, like me, who are not convinced about the actual benefits, but are really concerned about the possible unsavoury economic, socio-cultural, and political consequences, of a ban being imposed on cattle slaughter, when Rambukwelle told the local media that Prime Minister Rajapaksa ‘hopes to ban cattle slaughter’ and that ‘he  would decide when to submit the proposal to the government’. The government announced that a final decision will be delayed by a month (as reported in the online Istanbul/Turkey based TRT News Magazine). Rajapaksa’s cautious non-commitment hints at the possibility of  a reassessment of the pros and cons of the move and points towards the likelihood of sanity finally prevailing. But this will need a lot of reverse convincing to do among the convinced (I mean, among those who are for the ban).

From my point of view (for what it is worth), it is vitally important to be mindful of how the ban would be viewed abroad, as well as among domestic non-Buddhist religious minorities, though it might go down well with a majority of Buddhists and Hindus. There is no question about trying to assert our rights as an independent sovereign nation and to pursue political and economic policies that we believe serve the best interest of our people. However, divisive party politics of the recent years have landed Sri Lanka in such a vulnerable situation, globally, that any government  that even occasionally dares to defy undue superpower pressures in order to accommodate the legitimate demands of its own people, gets labelled as undemocratic, autocratic, oppressive, and therefore ripe for replacement. For a Sri Lankan government to be on its best behaviour is no guarantor of its survival in a context where India, China, and America are each looking after their own national interest in a competitive relationship with one another at the expense of Sri Lanka’s very survival. But what can we do about it?  I think that the present government, under the joint leadership of the President and the Prime Minister, is doing what it can in these internationally beleaguered  and internally treacherous times. Insisting on passing potentially divisive legislation is no way to help them. 

Today, with Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President, we have the first executive head of government since independence who has found a way to consult with the Maha Sangha as a monolithic entity through non-political, non-sectarian interaction. He appointed a board of monks called the Bauddha Upadeshaka Sabhawa (the Buddhist Advisory Council) to advise him, and had its first meeting on April 24, 2020. It consists of the Mahanayake Theras of the Three Nikayas and a group of prominent scholar monks, who are specialists in various fields, connected with the Buddha Sasana, in which they have time-honoured claims and commitments. The monks meet with the President on the third Friday of every month. In their last meeting, on September 18, they commended the President for taking steps, in accordance with their proposals, for, among other things, the protection of historical sites of archaeological importance, development of Pirivena education, designing of a national educational policy, control of the drug menace, etc. But, as far as the Derana TV news coverage was concerned, there was no mention of the cow slaughter ban proposal. Can’t this be an indication that it is not being perceived as such a pressing issue? 

There is no gainsaying the fact that Buddhist monks worked tirelessly for the victory of the nationalist camp, and they did not do so for any personal benefit. There are a number of activist monk groups each articulating different issues of broad national interest such as environment protection in addition to the central issue of the threat to the Buddha Sasana, the predominantly Buddhist nation (the people) and the unitary state that comes from the handful of foreign-sponsored separatist racists and religious extremists among the peaceful mainstream Tamil and Muslim minorities, respectively. These traitorous elements dominated the previous regime. The President appointed the Buddhist Advisory Council, partly in recognition of the service they did in helping to save the country from misgovernance, but primarily in fulfilment of the constitutional requirement of giving foremost place to Buddhism. We can expect nothing but good from this interaction between the prominent Nayake and scholarly monks and the President. Is it likely that they will  fail to understand the problematic nature of the proposed ban on cattle slaughter?  

Be that as it may, we can’t overlook the fact that some well known leading activists, heads of some animal rights and public health maintenance-related organizations, welcomed the proposal with great enthusiasm, despite the principal proponent’s non-committal stance. These included such prominent personalities as the Justice for Animals and Nature Organization Chairman  Ven. Dr Omalpe Sobhita Thera, founder of Sarvodaya Dr A.T. Ariyaratne, and GMOA head, medical specialist Dr Anuruddha Padeniya. They  published a public announcement-cum-invitation to ‘all professional and civil organizations’ asking them to attend a meeting  at the ‘Sangha Headquarters,’ on Alvitigala Mawatha, on September 20. They are urging the enforcement of the ban proposal. An announcement-cum-invitation was issued on September 17, the day that marked the 156th birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala, who had pioneered the agitation for putting an end to cattle slaughter. In his time, probably, it was more meaningful and less controversial to do so than today. This announcement appeared in the online Lankaweb Forum page the same day, where I read it. It must have been published elsewhere, too. The author and principal signatory to the document, Ven. Sobhita, wrote (in translation): ‘It need hardly be stressed that the principled, determined and fearless enactment of the praiseworthy decision taken by the government MPs, headed by the Prime Minister, requires the approval and support of the general public. We believe that we are going to get your fullest cooperation in this regard. We intend to call a meeting of delegates from such organizations and take decisions in connection with organizing the relevant future activities to achieve this aim.’

Personally, I have the highest respect for these three eminent persons (who have already done much commendable service to Mother Lanka in their different capacities), and the others mentioned in the document, and also empathize fully with their commitment to the cause they believe in,  but I do not share their conviction about the feasibility, the functionality, or the actual benefits, of the proposition that they are wholeheartedly supporting. I would support a movement with the same devotion to stop animal slaughter in general, not just cattle slaughter, if there was such a movement, but I know that it is an unlikely initiative, an impossibility even. I don’t see any rationality in such a project. The kind of free rational thinking that the Buddha advised the young Kalamas to adopt without blindly following him – the way to Enlightenment, budh,rational intelligence, that Narendra Modi identified some months ago, invoking the common intellectual heritage of India which we, too, share through Buddhism,  as opposed to yudh, war/conflict, as the best way to resolve problems – seems to be at a premium, i.e., there is paradoxically little available of it – in the sacred Treasury of Theravada Buddhism that Sri Lanka is often claimed to be. Occasional submergence of practical rational thinking as in this case – our rational faculty sometimes becomes manifest in its humblest form of common sense – could prove costly in more than one sense for the whole country.

Rational minds can conceive of alternative ways of dealing with a problem, when sometimes the most direct solution is likely to create worse problems than the original problem itself like the cattle slaughter ban, if implemented, will certainly do. It is not likely to contribute towards enhancing intercommunal goodwill as already implied above. Many Muslims are employed in the meat industry, and there are secondary industries, like tanning (making leather out of animal hides), shoe making, and the manufacture of leather products, such handbags, waist belts, saddles, some percussion instruments, etc. Import of beef from abroad will lead to increase in prices, in addition to the loss of jobs, and the drain on scarce foreign exchange that it will entail. We may easily imagine the problematic implications for the important dairy milk industry, the development of which is essential for stopping the import of toxic milk powder. 

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Opinion

Youth battle against drugs needed

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Twenty-one-year-old student Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul read a 10-point manifesto aimed at reform of Thailand’s politically powerful monarchy

If our university students are daring enough to challenge the government for their rights for a clear-cut education policy, that no government could change, according to their whims and fancies or for the benefit of corrupt ministers, and state officials, then our university students’ unions could also challenge the government, regarding the drug mafia.

They should follow the 21-year-old. Thailand girl, from Thammasat University, who stood up against Royalty and called for a monarchy change, saying all humans have red blood and called for various reforms, as she fearlessly delivered the manifesto, including the call to change the constitution and education. This speech could have sent her to jail for 15 years, but she stood her ground.

Our university students, for the sake of our young generation, and those to be born, could challenge the government to take genuine action, as promised at the recent election, against all those who are involved in the drug mafia, be they ministers, officials or relatives. It is a well known fact that such an amount of drugs, etc., cannot be imported without the help of VVIPs.

Only the challenging from the young generation of all fields could induce positive action to expose the culprits. Mr. President, you asked the people to give you the strength to fight all corruption. You got it, but the people are worried about the outcome. Was it an ‘election gundu’? Do it, though you may not get the goodwill of corrupt ministers and officials, but the people, the honest and the hard working parents will be thankful to you.

Save the children before introducing any long term plans. Remember this drug mafia is very much worse than terrorists, because ministers did not get commissions from the war, but drugs bring in millions of rupees.

 

Barbara Seneviratne

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Opinion

Reduce number of vehicles on our roads

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Please allow me a short comment on the perceptive article by George Braine, in The Island ( 4th September, page 6), on renationalizing the private bus service. I hope it catches the eye of our President.

Firstly, his observation about how in Hong Kong and (Singapore too), buses are washed every day, and trains are comfortable and clean. Let alone comfort, couldn’t the “higher powers” provide us AT LEAST with CLEAN public transport, despite the now ingrained lack of hygiene in Sri Lankan society (it’s now part of Sri Lankan culture!). We have become an unhygienic people immune to uncleanliness – if you doubt this, tell me the name of ONE South Asian country which is as filthy as us. (Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Hong Kong …?). Habits such as spitting betel leaf in public, onto the pavement, throwing “Buth Parcels” on to it for the purported purpose of obtaining “merit”, by feeding the disease- infected stray dogs and cats (I almost forgot to include the rats) – this is us!. If you still doubt, go have a look at the state of our Public Toilets ANYWHERE, including the “international” Airport. Our children should be taught at an early age, how to use a toilet correctly – obviously most parents don’t know this skill.

Forty years ago, the belching buses with people hanging onto the footboard for dear life, were a common sight. It remains so today – in what aspects did we lopsidedly “Develop”? Highways – for whom?

Recently I travelled from Colombo to Galle, and last week, from Colombo to Nuwara-Eliya by car. On the Galle trip, I saw private buses tearing along, racing each other on the wrong side of the Galle Road. It was reported the following day that three had died in a head-on collision. On the Nuwara-Eliya trip, even up in the dangerous winding hills, private buses were engaged in a permanent roadrace to gather passengers.

In the very same newspaper (September 4th), on page 3, headlines read – “Three persons killed, three others seriously injured in car mishap”. It goes on to say that due to speeding, two young men sent themselves to a premature death. At least three die every day in fatal road accidents. The country’s Traffic Police are out of touch with reality. Dishing out parking fines (for the ulterior motive of collecting revenue!), watching idly as trishaws (a law unto themselves), cut across the line of traffic, allowing motorcycles to “short-cut” along the pavement, Mr Braine’s suggestion that vehicle imports should be BANNED (including Duty Free ) for five years is absolutely right! I hope the President will firmly refuse to bow to pressures in this regard, in the public interest.

He will receive fervent thanks from the public at large if he can reduce the number of vehicles on our already clogged roads. By prohibiting vehicle imports he also creates jobs for the numerous vehicle repair shops needed to keep existing vehicles in good order.

 

JAYANTA KURUKULASURIYA

 

 

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