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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

The Wickremesinghe Presidency Response to Dr Mahim Mendis

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By Anura Gunasekera

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common; it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership- J.K. Galbraith.Dr. M.M., through an inexplicable thought process, has seen it fit to classify my writing as – quote- “…. A reflection of a segment of the English-speaking middle class of Sri Lanka, confused and burdened by the state of flux, or the terrible uncertainty that engulfs the nation at large. They often confine their criticism to private gatherings, while a few others express themselves through newspaper columns with hard-hearted sentiments against politicians like Premadasa, whom they love to undermine”- end quote

Firstly, my viewpoints on national issues have been exposed in the public domain, through newspaper articles, fairly frequently across the last couple of decades. I cannot quite understand what he means when he says, “members if this social class, going by the contents of Mr. Gunasekera’s column, never believed in ousting Rajapaksas or Wickremesinghe, as they easily embrace the status quo”. To clarify, I have been a steadfast critic of the odious status quo that successive Rajapaksa regimes have represented since the day Mahinda Rajapaksa was first elected President, and I maintain that position to this day. I can also state with total confidence that I represent the viewpoint of a large mass of people, not all of them part of the so-called “English-speaking middle class”. If Dr. MM is in any doubt about my credentials, I suggest that he check out the blog, ‘Rilawala Reflections’, or my medium account – if he can find the time and the inclination.

I do not “resent” (Dr MM’s word) the militant outlook of the university student federations and the other participants of the Aragalaya. It is not possible to confront repression without militancy and steadfastness. But my concern, as an average, law-abiding citizen, was the descent of justifiable civil protest in to violence, particularly after the 9th May. Violence is frequently an outcome of civil protest, the world over, and Sri Lanka was no exception. The occupation of Temple Trees, the President’s house, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s office were unnecessary, and the physical damage caused within those premises, unacceptable. The countrywide damage and destruction of private property was criminal and the murder of two men in Nittambuwa abhorrent, as was the torching of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house. As far as I am aware, none of the leaders of the Aragalaya, insofar as it has a defined leadership, has publicly condemned those incidents.

Irrespective of the righteousness of the original purpose of the Aragalaya, which I endorse without reservation, those responsible must be made accountable for those crimes. To endorse the Aragalaya unequivocally is to endorse all those unacceptable acts. Dr. MM perceives this position differently. Quote- “Anura Gunasekera has taken the typical position often repeated by the English-speaking elites …”- end quote. The call for law and order is common amongst all right-thinking people and certainly not confined to “elite” groups. If Dr. MM wishes to explore the evolution of my views on the Aragalaya and connected events, I suggest that he reads my articles in The Sunday Island editions of April 11, April 17, April 25, May 15, June 05 and July 17. It is not necessary for me to go in to detail in this writing.

As for the “fatherly advice to these militant youth”, (Dr. MM’s words) let me illustrate my position with a detailed, real-life episode.

In or around 1992, R. Paskaralingam, Secretary of Finance in the R.Premadasa regime, summoned all private company corporate heads and directors, seeking from them a solution to the issue of unemployed graduates. He requested the assembled corporates to provide suitable in-house training, without remuneration, for a minimum period of six months, to make those graduates—in his own words—”employable”. However, Ken Balendra, then Chairman of John Keells, insisted that all trainees be paid and in order to maintain uniformity, it was agreed that each trainee would be paid an allowance of 3,000 per month. Paskaralingam’s ministry supplied around 6,000 names of unemployed graduates to the private companies represented at the meeting. I was present at the first meeting as well as all the meetings which followed.

At the final meeting, six months later, the late Lyn Fernando of the apparel sector submitted the graduate training programme details to Paskaralingam. Of over 4,000 graduates given training appointments, fewer than 10% completed the training programme. On behalf of my company, of which I was then the Head of Human Resources, I interviewed over two dozen candidates and did not employ any, as none of them were prepared to report for training on a Saturday. Exchanging notes then with many of my contemporaries in the private sector, I found that my experience was mirrored right across the sector. The project was a failure entirely due to the reluctance of the greater majority of unemployed graduates, despite being provided with employment opportunity, to conform to the diligence expected by the private sector. Hence, my ‘fatherly advice” to unemployed graduates.

In the last five decades, till retirement in 2020, I have been directly associated, in every organization that I worked in, with Human Resource Management. During this period, I have interviewed thousands of candidates. Therefore, I am fully aware of the issues regarding educational standards, especially in outstation areas, and the difficulties faced by graduates seeking employment. Contrary to Dr MM’s assumption, I speak with reasonable awareness and knowledge of the relevant issues, especially from the perspective of an employer. My knowledge is derived from direct interaction with every level of employment, from manual workers to senior corporate managers.

My criticism of Sajith Premadasa is not an attempt to undermine him. I have no party affiliations but I have voted at every election since 1977, casting my ballot on the basis of strongly held views on major national issues. I voted for Premadasa at the last presidential election as I considered a Gotabaya presidency abhorrent, for reasons I have explained in detail in other writings which pre-date the Yahapalanaya regime. In this instance, promoting Dullas as opposition to RW was, to me, and to many other people who expected greater things of Premadasa, a great disappointment for a number of reasons.

The rationale behind the promotion of the Dullas candidacy was probably the result of a think-tank deliberation, which, judging by Dr MM’s observations, he himself may have been privy to. Given the content of my article at issue, even without reference to any of my previous writings, it is quite absurd of Dr MM to pose the question, “Is Anura Gunasekera an appeaser of the Ranil-Rajapaksa regime to have a serious grouse with Sajith Premadasa for not accepting the Prime-Ministerial post under Gotabaya?” Frankly, that proposition does not merit debate.

Dullas A has been a Rajapaksa loyalist, which means a Rajapaksa lackey, for over two decades. He was the regular spokesman for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the most incompetent leader this country has ever had. Until he suddenly developed a conscience and defected from the Rajapaksa ranks- though only when the writing on the wall was clear to all- Dullas endorsed the Gotabaya inspired tax concessions, the money-printing, the organic fertilizer fiat, the sugar scam, the ban on agrochemicals and the 20th Amendment.

In the above context, within a few short weeks after switching a decades- long loyalty, what makes him a better candidate for the presidency than Premadasa? The nation was confronted by the most crucial leadership vacuum since independence and, in my view, Dullas was not a choice. In his writing, Dr MM has detailed many of the issues Premadasa has been involved in, and the initiatives he has launched, as an Opposition leader. But that is exactly what an Opposition leader is expected to do. Weighted speeches and impressive rhetoric in parliament and at other forums are, at best, poor substitutes for concrete action at opportune moments. The ground reality, as far as I am concerned, is that he has faltered twice when confronted with the final hurdle. Ordinary citizens like me are not privy to what goes on in the minds of our leaders. We only see the results and, obviously, weigh those against our expectations and arrive at our conclusions. Sajith cannot expect to win by lying low, limiting his profile and interminably biding his time. In the words of another great crisis manager, “The nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders, who are keeping their ears to the ground.” ( Winston Churchill)

Dr MM’s writing suggests a preoccupation with the segment of our society which he labels as the “English-speaking middle class” and, in a sweeping generalisation, attributes to this group all manner of socio-political and ideological inadequacies. There is also a confusing reference, seemingly irrelevant to the context, “to those who have proved that they have not read any decent books in their own libraries.” As for me, although I now habitually write in English, I am quite fluent in Sinhala and reasonably so in Tamil. I also, calculatedly, seek the views of all linguistic groups in the country and many of my views are informed by such discussions.

I understand Dr. MM’s compulsion to reinforce his leader’s position and I respect his views, whilst holding firmly to mine. As for Sajith Premadasa, I pray, on behalf of a nation desperately in need of a viable leadership option in troubled times, that before long he is presented with that perfect opportunity he is awaiting. If it comes to a people’s ballot Sajith is assured of mine.

Dr MM has concluded his writing with a quotation on the “significance of compromise in politics,” attributed to Kevin Spacey, American actor and film producer, currently embroiled in a major sexual misconduct controversy. Let me conclude mine with a quote, attributed to another American, celebrated for genuine greatness; “Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”- Abraham Lincoln.

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The Chinese Ship; enough is enough of protest marches

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The most pressing occurrence of now is the arrival of the Chinese ship Yuan Wang 5 with sophisticated scientific/astronomical/electronic equipment, which is said to be able to study satellites spinning around in outer space. What is not said is its other capabilities like monitoring electronic communication, etc. It was to arrive on 11th and depart on 17th this month.

Hence India’s howls of protest about its docking in the Hambantota Harbour. Sri Lanka placated it with the sop of postponing the arrival. There is a world of difference between postponement and cancellation/dis-allowing. Even a Grade 5 student should know that. Not our big bugs in the Foreign Ministry. In the first place, did the Ministers of Shipping and Defense grant permission for the ship to enter our waters and the harbour down South or did China not bother to seek permission having a 99 year lease over the harbour? Debt-trap tactics. The ship’s claim for docking is merely to ‘replenish and refuel’. Surely, such a high-tech sailing lab would want to do more. Thus, India’s justified concern, which is “the possibility of the ship’s tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian installations while being on its way” and over here for seven whole days.

Neighbour or Friend

The last thing poor, bankrupt, battered and shattered Pearl of the Indian Ocean needs is a international scuffle in its waters or over its head. Experts from various fields have spoken about this; written about it and novice Cassandra cannot analyse the problem nor deal with it expertly. But she has a very definite opinion or two as to who or which country Sri Lanka should be more loyal to. Her answer is: Who do you feel more loyal and obliged to – your friendly neighbour or your friend? We are on the doorstep of India and she is our Big Brother – or Big Sister – no two words about that. We are closely linked to her racially: Aryan and Dravidian descent; culturally with close relations forged from long long ago; we were given the teachings of the greatest Asian who lived and preached in India. And during our recent troubles, the worst crisis Sri Lanka has faced, India was the one country who came fast and substantially to our aid and actually saved us from anarchy when fuel ran dry, paralysing the country.

China is rather disapproved of by the likes of Cassandra since that great country, in its drive for its Belt and Road Initiative, acceded to our Prez of then, MR, consumed with egotistic hubris and accommodated his grandiose Oxymandias non-productive buildings getting us into colossal debt. China of decades ago with Chou en Lai, Deputy Head, helped us very much: first with the Rubber-Rice Pact (1952) and thereafter fostering close relations and supporting us in international forums; also gifting us a magnificent conference hall – the BMICH.

Of course, it will require absolute tact and finesse to balance the two almost super powers and also very cleverly but subtly, consider first and last Sri Lanka’s interests and welfare. Cass feels that our Minister of Foreign Affairs – Ali Sabry – is equal to the mighty task of maintaining balance and exertion of Sri Lanka’s rights too. No better person really in appearance, tongue, manners and keen reasoning intellect.

Enough is more than enough!

Cassandra refers here to the protests – marching or standing, but all shouting, nay blasting forth slogans, the women shrilly. Most look rather wild, individually and collectively. Now, protests are past their date; passé, boring, and actually to be looked askance at, if not disdainfully. What are they shouting about? ‘Pointless to shout ‘Go Home Ranil’, though some called him by his second given surname. He should, for goodness sake, not live up to that name. Friendship and back-scratching have their place but not in Sri Lanka of now, so perilously poised. Additionally, absurd and most unrealistic to call for an instant general election and Cass supposes THE Prez election too since a new constitution has not come into force with no Exec Prez for this country. There they were, the men hairy and angry faced. Much energy, much steam wasted along with the day – 9 August. None want a commemoration on the 9th of each month; May 9 was bad enough and the two following with all the destruction that was caused along with protests.

Cass did not spy the Field Marshall with a ragtag of protesters as he promised. She is sure he will be congratulated by most on his restraint and not breaking ranks with the SJB. We want him to remain the admired and respected foremost war hero.So was this 9th a bit of a pusswedilla? Hope the igniters get the message and drop their country disturbing protests even though HR organisations back them. Utterly pointless and senseless now. Let the government, good or bad, work hard and unhindered by civil disturbances to at least get on the path of economic recovery. Political recovery and punishing of the political mega-corrupt can come later.

Thus, our repeated advice: Stalin and other like leaders, stop parading the streets with conscripted teachers and firebrands who know no better and return to your career if not vocation. (Pedagogy not protest marching and demanding unreasonably.) If you no longer are a teacher, then get teachers who are members of the trade unions you lead to be better teachers – dedicated to their pedagogy; kind and tolerant to their students and considerate to parents.

Damitha Abeyratne, who looked victorious when released from remand on bail, just go back to your acting and film career, that’s if you still have that option. University students go back to lectures, sit and pass your exams and come serve your country in jobs instead of giving vent to your hooliganism pretending nationalistic pride and loyalty.

Trump at receiving end

The FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Largo residence in Florida on Monday August 8 and even prised open a safe from which they got government papers which Trump took with him when he was made to leave the White House after he lost the presidency to Biden. Retrieved were sensitive classified government documents in his possession. Trump accused the FBI of an unannounced search and the Democrats of a witch hunt. But what an outsider feels is if he did wrong he has to pay for it. Trump is actually going to pay for his sins committed as an ego-centric, obstinate president of the US. He is getting his just deserts and after not much long since alleged crimes were committed.

Protesters shout the government should bring back stolen wealth. This shout is justified but not now; later when a firm government is in place with the economy of the country guided to stand on a surer footing.

Belated commendation

The protesters who found a big bundle of cash in the President’s House and handed it over to the police need to be congratulated and patted on their backs since they could so easily have spirited it away and shared the loot. We disapprove of their invading official VIP residences and offices, but this act must be commended. It is in sharp contrast to the grossness of sleeping on beds and diving into the pool at President’s House.

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Sunil, your slip is showing!

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It is rarely that veteran JVPer Sunil Handunetti leaves room for criticism. Perhaps, the JVP’S refusal to join the proposed all-party government had to be explained by a senior respected member – Handunetti being the obvious choice.

To an independent observer, he did not fare in a recent interview. Quite innocently, he trotted out a very puerile explanation, which could, perhaps, be applauded by school-going children in the lower grades. The tendency to be jealous, inability to appreciate the good, even in a bad situation, and the unwillingness to give credit where credit is due, coupled with age-old theoretical bug-bears and prejudices , perhaps, provoked him to quote trivialities; such as President Ranil W is on a journey to consolidate his Party and to gain kudos as the saviour of the Nation.

This exposes himself and his JVP as anti-national and narrow-minded in a situation where the country is now at its lowest depths, where everyone is expected to put his or her shoulder to the wheel. It comes ill from a JVPer who has proved himself as a useful and capable politician, and a member of a party that actively and gleefully participated in the notorious FCID outfit, organized by the then PM, Ranil W.

What a world!

I.P.C. MENDIS

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