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Dedicated Management of Covid-19 control tasks

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Don’t dishearten or belittle experts, health workers and tri-Servicemen in COVID-19 control tasks!

The feature article, “Failure to Manage COVID-19: Who is responsible ?” of Prof Sunil Wimalawansa, in Thursday’s issue of ‘The Island’ newspaper, critical of strategic approaches of the Task Force for COVID-19 control, spread of the virus, ‘inhuman’ and ‘draconian’ military measures, ‘worthless’ imposition of ‘quarantine curfew’, hiatus in system-thinking, ‘search and arrest’ mentality of the Army, punishing of victims and ‘contact-tracing mechanism’, etc., deserves clarification and correction, since unfounded utterances, and scathing remarks, attribute the increase of the infection to ‘adoption of wrong approaches, both by the Health Department stakeholders and tri-service troops, involved in quarantine work’.

Let me first place on record how the first wave of the attack was brought under control, no sooner than the first COVID patient was traced in March this year, and a necessary control mechanism was brought into effect on a Presidential directive after the President established a Task Force exclusively to work for it, well in advance, even before the first infected ones were reported in the country. The Task Force consists of the Minister of Health, Secretary to Ministry of Health, Director General of Health Services, Chief Epidemiologist, Medical Specialists, Tri- Service Heads, Inspector General of the Police, and a few other relevant stakeholders, for which the Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army was entrusted the task of establishing the state-of-the art National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), at Rajagiriya, for coordination of all preventive roles.

He was invited to man it as the Head of NOCPCO by none other the President himself, most probably because of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva’s well-proven leadership and man-management as the Commander in the largest organization, well-equipped at all levels.   The NOCPCO Task Force was, in fact, the ‘think-tank’ that regularly monitors, reviews, evaluates, predicts, proposes, implements and finally launches all necessary plans of action, after extensive discussions and decisions with all stake-holders. For example, it was the President who at first mooted the notion of establishing hitherto unheard of ‘Quarantine Centres’ across the country, to accommodate first and second contacts or their close associates, which have been very instrumental in isolating family members from infected ones. It was the Tri-Services which took the challenge and established such Centres in record time, and facilitated the evacuation to keep the contacts in quarantine.

It is pertinent to mention here that the NOCPCO and its Task Force, since its founding in March, has worked to-date very closely with each other, and has been accommodating all shades of expert opinions on the pestering issue, and in some instances, by going even to the extent of inviting such expertise to regular NOCPCO Task Force sessions. As such, the Task Force has been burning midnight oil, and succeeded in establishing more than 150 tri-service-managed Quarantine Centres across the island, new hospital wings, makeshift wards and newly converted ICUs for COVID-19 patients, management of Sri Lankan expatriates and foreigners arriving in the country, conduct of health checks on inmates and transportation of such groups. All those preventive measures, mind you, were done effectively on the basis of strategic decisions that were taken during those Task Force meeting sessions, and none of them were adopted as arbitrary or ‘inhuman’ measures, as claimed by the writer.

The question of conduct of PCR tests, en masse, at random and at other vulnerable places, has in fact been repeatedly taken up during those sessions,  and alternative solutions to multiply numbers of such tests were explored, highlighted and finally agreed upon; thus now being able to perform more than four-digit numbers of PCR tests a day. Management of infected persons, for example, found in Suduwella, Keselwatte, Welisara, Kandakadu clusters, etc.,  during the first round of the virus attack, has very well proved that the combination of health officials, tri- servicemen and other stakeholders, in the preventive mechanism, delivered very effectively, as everyone knows with the public support that  was also forthcoming from those in quarantine.

The other baffling task was the maintenance of day-to-day affairs of the country; we still being a country with a majority of low-income groups. Hence, the Task Force while running more than 150 Quarantine Centres with no complaint whatsoever, completed the quarantining of 63,439 persons while providing all three meals and refreshments free of charge at state cost. The Task Force was more focused on the general public and maintenance of normalcy in the country. Those subjected to quarantining for over 14 days or more, at such hurriedly-established Quarantine Centres, have been lavish in heaping kudos on those working at such places at the risk of their own lives, which was well articulated and self-explanatory in video clips, some of which have already gone viral. More importantly, where else in the world are such contacts accommodated, cared, fed at government cost, and transported home after quarantining? Although this practice has now been stalled, and confined to self-quarantining at homes, considering many facets of such programmes, particularly in terms of risks involved in exposing them to new areas, family commitments, etc. While caring for locals here, the government got down a total of 44,245 foreign land-based expatriates, who were also subjected to PCR tests and subsequent quarantining in those Centres. It was Sri Lanka which was among the firsts to fly home a group of 33 stranded students from Wuhan, and facilitated quarantining in Diyatalawa Army camp for the first time in our country.

The question of Quarantine Curfew was another concern to the writer. Quarantine Curfew and isolation of affected areas, was meant to cause the least inconvenience to the public  after positive detections were reported during the current wave, were implemented purely as the only possible alternative in an area where there lives a large concentration of people. The public, though largely cooperative with health and tri-service workers, are seen taking this deadly virus for granted at times, and were going on with their daily business with no concern for others at all, unlike in some disciplined societies. Police were called in to wrest control of such miscreants. A greater responsibility, needless to reiterate, befalls the public, and they are repeatedly urged to maintain basic health guidelines, such as social-distancing, wearing of masks, regular washing of hands, etc., but the reports received unfortunately confirm the contrary. Hence, the imposition of quarantine curfew is just a deterrent to restrict movements for social contacts, instead of going for complete lockdowns, as in other worst-hit countries. For an economy like ours, such total closures would work counter-productive, and affect the community at large in a very negative manner if such closures persist.

 On the other hand, not a single person, taken to state-sponsored Quarantine Centres by tri- servicemen or by coordination of PHIs, has so far complained of any such ‘search and arrest’ mentality or the so called ‘inhuman’ harassing  as far as the NOCPCO is concerned, as claimed by the writer. We would be glad if the writer, although from overseas, is prepared to bring any such instance to our notice where the public has been purposefully inconvenienced or harassed by contributors in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka.

The second wave, with the emergence of the Brandix cluster, at Minuwangoda, and the Fish Market cluster afterwards, of course, has posed a varied threat to us, as the virus itself has unpredictably generated into a new form, according to medical experts. Yet, it is with a collective responsibility that we should face it unlike in the past, since its behaviour patterns, clinical qualities, and perhaps its mode of transmission itself, are still under strict surveillance at medical levels. at a time the whole world awakes to new dimensional threats of the same virus almost on a daily basis. So, the expertise of epidemiologists and other counterparts is constantly used in this exercise and welcomed with open arms.

Finally, it is noteworthy to record here that Sri Lanka could perhaps be the one and only nation that takes so much care of her own citizens, considering multifaceted challenges this deadly virus is creating to the very survival of man, sustenance of society, economy, social contacts, employment, education, health, and to almost every fabric of our society. NOCPC Task Force, having identified those challenges closely and quite accurately, would stand by the nation at this critical hour of our history, in order to salvage all Sri Lankans from this pandemic. which has threatened the whole mankind in the world. To do that, expertise of the writer’s caliber, re-visit of new developments, and scientific research, etc., are also most welcome, in true spirits with concrete and positive work plan, although such support has not reached us or seems to be not forthcoming from our critics; despite attempts, earlier made by the  NOCPCO’s Task Force in that regard.

 

Brigadier

WIPULA CHANDRASIRI

Brigadier Coordinator, NOCPCO

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Opinion

A journalist of courage and deep conviction

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Robert Fisk (12 July 1946 – 30 October 2020) was a legendary journalist and author who penned down meticulously the sufferings of millions of people reporting not from secondary sources or keeping a safe distance from the theatres of the war but from the battle front, endangering his own life. He was attacked many times, once even with the possibility of losing his life.

by SUBRATA MUKHERJEE

During the period of the Cold War, North America and Europe never became war zones and the battle for ideological domination shifted to the non-European world primarily West Asia (Middle East) and Southeast Asia. This led to untold suffering for ordinary people in these areas. Whereas Southeast Asia has now settled for a relatively peaceful order, many regions of West Asia are still riven by strife and uncertainty.

Robert Fisk (12 July 1946 – 30 October 2020) was a legendary journalist and author who penned down meticulously the sufferings of millions of people reporting not from secondary sources or keeping a safe distance from the theatres of the war but from the battle front, endangering his own life. He was attacked many times, once even with the possibility of losing his life.

Fisk’s journalistic career began with covering the conflict in Northern Ireland as a London Times correspondent in 1972. His reports annoyed British authorities as it tilted towards the republicans. He earned in the process a massive following. Out of his reports he published a book The Point of No Return: The Strike which Broke the British in Ulster in 1975. In his Ph.D. thesis he explained the issues connected with Irish neutrality during the Second World War. Later on, he took up Irish citizenship.

He also had a stint in Portugal during the 1974 Carnation Revolution (April Revolution), which not only ended the authoritarian regime in Portugal but also led to the demise of Portuguese colonialism in Africa. But the most important evolution in his journalistic career was his appointment by The Times as its Middle East correspondent in 1976.

For the next forty-four years from Beirut where he witnessed fifteen years of Lebanese Civil War (1975-90), he reflected on the unfoldment of history in the region full of bloody conflicts, ethnic cleansing, wars, revolutions and uprisings. His parting of ways with The Times came in 1988, when he sent a report on the US warship Vincennes having shot down an Iranian civil airline. Fisk’s scoop was not published because by the time the report reached the newspaper editorial office the ownership of the newspaper had gone to media Mughal Robert Murdoch. He was also advised to take up more balanced reporting. Fisk switched to left-leaning British newspaper The Independent, where he spent the rest of his journalistic career (His contributions to both newspapers were re-published in The Statesman.)

As part of his journalistic requirements Fisk travelled extensively. That included Algeria, Libya, the Balkans and Turkey, strife torn homelands of Kurds and Afghanistan. What made his reporting different from other journalistic accounts was his understanding of both colonial and postcolonial history in comprehending contemporary conflicts in West Asia. He was trenchant in his criticism of the Western powers led by the USA and Israel as their policies and machinations had humiliated local people fuelling their anger.

Even when he was grievously injured after being attacked by Afghan refugees in Pakistan he wrote that this “brutality entirely the product of others, of us – of me who had armed their struggle against the Russians, and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the war for civilization” just a few miles away and then bowled their homes and ripped up their families and called them ‘collateral damage’.

In 1982, Fisk was amongst the few journalists to enter the Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila where more than a thousand unarmed people were massacred by pro-Christian, Lebanese militia in the presence of Israeli armed personnel. He described this as a war crime. In 1993 in Sudan, he was the first Western journalist to interview Osama Bin Laden, whom he subsequently met twice. The title of his article was “Anti-Soviet Warrior puts his army on the road to peace”.

Laden in the first interview revealed that he was a construction engineer and an agriculturalist. But instead of taking the road of peace he became the most dreaded terrorist who successfully planned and meticulously executed the killing of 3,000 innocent people in the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. Laden praised Fisk for his neutrality. The latter tried to remain neutral but severely condemned the brutal attack and also reminded the need to highlight and investigate the motivation of the attackers.

Fisk examined in detail the Israeli-Palestinian animosity, the US led invasion of Kuwait and Iraq and the US entry into Afghanistan. He was critical of the former as he pointed out that there were no weapons of mass destruction. The US bombing of Kosovo under NATO auspices and other involvements of the USA in the Middle East were examined critically by him. Though he was critical of the USA, he was a frequent visitor and popular speaker in the USA. He analysed war but despised it as he was a proclaimed pacifist.

Regarding being neutral as a journalist, Fisk had this to say “if you watch wars the old ideas of journalism that have to be neutral and take nobody’s side is rubbish. As a journalist you have got to be neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer”. His magnum opus The Great War for Civilization (2005) chronicled critically the relationship of former colonial powers with the ordinary people of Arabia. His journalistic outpouring was always controversial and divisive. Some even blamed him for self-promotion and for being biased.

The most serious controversy came up during the ongoing civil war in Syria. Fisk accompanied the Syrian army while fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and Syrian independent militias. However, though he was critical and condemned the Syrian army’s atrocities before, he exonerated President Assad in 2018 for lack of evidence of using chemical weapons in Duma. A follow up book to the Great War for civilization would be published posthumously which would cover the period of US intervention in Iraq to present times.

Fisk was winner of many journalistic awards and is widely revered in the Arabian Peninsula. He was a critic like IF Stone. His journalistic accounts were not based on official briefing as these did not fully and properly reflect the actual situation. His account of the protracted civil war in Lebanon was published as Pity the Nation, a phrase that he borrowed from Khalil Gibran (18831931). He referred to reporting that was not based on first hand accounts as ‘Hotel Journalism’. He looked to journalism as search for truth and his enduring legacy is the dedication of his entire journalistic career to search for roots of conflicts and war.

(The Statesman/ANN)

The writer is a retired Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi

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Opinion

Who cares for our dumb friends?

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On 29/11/20 Al Jazeera had shown ‘Kavaan’ being transferred to Cambodia, where he would live the rest of his life in a sanctuary for elephants. Kaavan was a gift from Sri Lanka to Pakistan. I understand he had been very cruelly handled and a certain group had been agitating for some time for his release. Firstly, why should we gift our elephants to anyone? Secondly who owns the elephants in the wild and Pinnawela? Is it the party in power who owns these elephants? Elephants are gifted to countries and places of worship, and most times the treatment meted out to the elephants is disgusting!

I wondered why Kaavan was not brought back to Sri Lanka. We are supposed to be very religious, but the way we treat our animals is shocking.

Recently a dog had been injured by sniffing a “hakka patas” and his mouth was blown off. The dog was a female and pregnant. Fortunately, some kind organization took charge of the dog. It had five pups, and a couple of days later passed away. Fortunately, the pups are taken care of. Cruelty to animals goes on daily, but unfortunately there are no laws for punishment. The existing laws go back to the year dot!

Once again appeal to the President to have the Animal Welfare Bill’ passed as soon as possible. I am aware, Mr. President, that you have enough on your plate, but I am sure some sort of priority will be given to our “dumb friends”

 

SITA UNDUGODAGE

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Opinion

China has overtaken the US – says IMF

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It was expected but not so swiftly, possibly the Covid-19 has expedited what was inevitable. A report published in “The Our Asian Times” on 1st December 2020, titled ” IMF Admits China Has Overtaken The US As The World’s Largest Economy; But Why Is The Media Silent?” says the world has to wake up to the new reality – China is the undisputed new economic super power.

In the past, economists have traditionally been using the index called MER, which means Market Exchange Rate, to calculate the GDP when comparing the economic performance of different countries. This method has been viewed with extreme suspicion as it doesn’t reflect the real figures because it underestimates the buying power of currencies of many countries. More reliable and now widely accepted yardstick called the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which is used by IMF, enables you to compare how much you can buy for your money in different countries.

To explain this further, according to the traditional exchange rate, one US Dollar is equivalent to 6.9 Chinese Yuan, but 6.9 Yuan can buy in China more than one US Dollar in America. On this basis 99 trillion Yuan the Chinese produced in 2019, is equal to USD 26 trillion which is much greater than the USD 21.4 trillion America actually produced in 2019. This is the PPP method which is said to be better than the MER method to compare economies.

The IMF is clear in its report, it says “PPP eliminates differences in price levels between economies and thus compares national economies in terms of how much each nation can buy with its own currency at the prices items sell locally. Using the PPP method, the Chinese economy is determined to be USD 24.2 trillion compared to America’s USD 20.8 trillion”. This is a huge difference, for USD 3.4 trillion is lot of money.

After the IMF, the CIA also decided to switch from MER to PPP in its Annual Assessment of National Economies. The CIA Fact Book notes “The official exchange rate measure of GDP is not an accurate measure of China’s output; GDP at the official exchange rate (MERGDP) substantially understates the actual level of China’s situation, GDP at purchasing power parity provides the best measure for comparing output across countries”

Everybody knows that IMF is pro-US in its approach in matters of global finance and economy. In the 1970s, the IMF and the World Bank were restructured to serve neoliberalism which the US and Europe embraced and forced on the rest of the world, letting loose the market forces which have really ravaged the economies of the poor countries. Therefore the IMF could be considered a tool of the US and Western powers. It would not dare lie regarding the economy of its biggest sponsor. The CIA is the central intelligence service of the USA and it is advising the US government about the seriousness of the problem due to Chinese ascendancy. CIA too , will not give wrong information to the US government.

One cannot be surprised by the Chinese phenomenon. It’s economy has been growing at the mind-boggling rate of 10% in the last 30 years. Only the Covid-19 succeeded in bringing it down and that too, by a small margin. China is expected to contribute 1/4 th of the global growth next year, mainly in the manufacturing sector.

Joseph Needham who had studied ancient Chinese science and technology, has commented on the capability of the Chinese and the uniqueness of their culture.. The methods adopted by the Chinese have bewildered Western social scientists and economists. Some believe that it is the habit of thrift of the people that had contributed to the economic growth as the rate of savings in China ranges around 25%. Others think it is due to the concept of Township and Village Enterprises that has been adopted recently. However, Needham and his associates think the close affinity between the Chinese people and the government to be the secret of their success.

The world has to come to terms with China. The Western countries cannot continue to treat China as an outcast and do its utmost to undermine its development and spread of influence. Australia for instance, supports all such efforts of the US though China is its biggest trade partner. It had agreed with the US policies regarding sanctions on China and implemented similar measures, but complains to the WTO when China retaliates.

One hopes, for the sake of world peace and prosperity that these big powers would stop their childish rivalry and work together. One hopes the new US President Joe Biden would change their policy towards China. He must realize that greater benefit would result to the US, as well as the world by adopting a lesser confrontational approach. If the US and China come to be lesser rivals and greater trade partners the rest of the world could be expected to be more peaceful and conciliatory. Middle East could be less of a cauldron, South Asian rivals may mend fences. China itself would be less belligerent in its neighborhood.

More money would be available everywhere for health and education, employment and culture as the defense budget could be cut as there is no need to spend on weapons as there is no threat of war.

But is this wishful thinking. Would weapons industry allow Biden, even if he wants to, to make peace when their economy, employment, growth and power depends on the perpetuation of a war situation cold or hot in the world.

N. A. de S. Amaratunga

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