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Opinion

Proper procedures to fight Covid pandemic

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by SUMINDA S S DHARMASENA

With Covid-19 on the rise again, the people, businesses and government should take necessary steps to curtail it. Everyone involved should assess the risks of contagion and put measures to mitigate the risk. In addition, steps should be taken to traceability of an infected person to an establishment. Also, the public should be empowered to take additional preventative steps, based on the risk. 

The government has put in place a legal policy framework to manage the pandemic situation. This merits some improvements. Here are policies and procedures to follow given the threat level. The epidemic threat level advisory for infectious diseases could have the following levels:

Severe (red) – severe risk – full curfew – spread to multiple areas, 5+ level separation from patient zero

High (orange) – high risk – travel is permitted only for essential services, partial curfew hours – on detecting multiple clusters or significant spread, with 3 to 4 level separation from patient zero

Elevated (yellow) – significant risk – in addition, travel is restricted using passes to go to work, restricted travel by ID number for shopping – on detecting 1st cluster with 1 to 2 levels of separation from patient zero

Guarded (blue) – general risk – advise public to curtail travel, disinfection at all establishments, visitor tracking, checking for symptoms of visitors – initially a person is detected in the country

Low (green) – low risk – areas with no threat of infectious disease, hence normal life can continue – no disease in the country or internationally

Each area, district, province should get a threat assessment and the public should be made aware of it through media.

The threat levels and government, organizational and civil procedures should be later codified systematically into pandemic and epidemic preventions laws, taking into account how diseases spread. This should include procedures for airborne, waterborne, contact-based, social and other methods for further disease prevention. 

 

Procedures to Follow

All private and publishing establishments should follow preventive and traceability best practices based on the regional threat assessment.

The best practices that each establishment can follow:

 

Disinfection

Floors should be moped regularly

All establishments should have a sanitizing footbath mat

All large establishments where people frequent like shopping malls, supermarkets, offices, ministries should have sanitization chamber fitted at the entrance

The door handles should be sanitised after each touch

Pens in supermarkets, banks should be sanitised after each touch

If the establishment has A/Cs or other ventilation systems, disinfectants should be continuously added to the ventilation system so this does not become the means of spreading disease

In shops and stores, customers should be advised to touch only what they intended to buy, and any products which are touched needs to be disinfected. In the case of food products, these should only be handled by staff. For packaged items in shelves, they should be regularly sprayed with non-toxic sanitisers like pure alcohol.

Shopping carts and baskets should be disinfected after each use

Countertops should be disinfected after each customer

Seats should be disinfected after each use in public places and transport

All public vehicles should be fitted with disinfectant misters/foggers at the doors. Supermarkets should ideally be fitted in the aisles with motion sensors or periodic spraying. Similarly for public building and enclosed areas 

All taps and disinfectant dispensers at entrances should be by foot or motion or proximity detection

 

Social Distancing

1m markers should be placed for each queue. The separation between queues should be 1 metre also

For sitting arrangements, there should be an empty with an unmovable dummy box placed on it to promote social distancing. Extra chairs should not be removed. This prevents people from moving the chairs closer to each other, in social gatherings like weddings

Seating areas should be fully partitioned to avoid respiratory droplets spreading and accidental contact. This should extend under the tables as well so there is no accidental contact when once stretchers one’s legs

Retail shops should be encouraged to move to contactless payments and banks replace current cards with contactless cards

Though there is no strong evidence, cash can be a source of infections spreading, hence before recirculation, they should be disinfected using UV lamps

Validations and Calibration – in order to prevent a false sense of safety and the following procedure

All disinfectants should be quality checked to see if they are not adulterated and effective

All equipment should be calibrated to see if they are functioning properly

 

Tracking

The recording of visitors should be done by a designated person, otherwise, the logbook and pen could be a source of spreading infections

Supermarkets and shops with loyalty programmes can easily use this to track visitors. Therefore, no need to record this in books. But each time one enters and exists one should swipe the card. Shops can work to upgrade the cards or issue new replacement cards to do the tracking

 

Testing

The testing should be made systematic balancing cost and coverage. Employees and building owners should compile a list of people per floor in the building. At least one person on each floor should be tested per day. Similarly for shops, where each individual gets tested at least once every other month

People taking the same route using public transport should be similarly tested every other month in a systematic way

 

Information

In order to be extra vigilant and take additional precautions, the public should be given information on which street and area patient lives and

what areas each patient has frequented

The government and media should publicise the best practices followed by various establishments to curtail the current pandemic

Any violation of safety precautions and actions taken should be publicised also

 

Government action

The government should be swift to take action against any violations of public safety standards

Lack of proper disinfection

Lack of enforcement of social distancing

Lack of contact-free washing facilities

Lack of proper responsible record keeping

Lack of proper calibration checking

The government should expand field offices in the Public Health Inspectors services with latest technologies body cams and ensure most establishments are frequently checked

Checks and raids by Public Health Inspectors should become and common occurrence in schools, government departments, offices and shops

This should continue even after the pandemic situation ends as public safety has no compromise

Lack of public safety should be made a criminal offence

In cases of infectious people visiting a certain place, cellular data can be used to find who else was there at the same time to curtain spreading

 

Organisational responsibilities

Organisations should be at the forefront of trying to curtail the situation and make aware of the innovative procedures they are follow as a reassurance to workers and the public. Any organisation not following the procedures they purported to follow should be made liable.

All institution should have checkers to visit branch offices and premises to see that the whole organisation adheres to public health standards

 

Civil liabilities

Make it a civil fundamental right to be in a safe environment at work or as a customer. The public should be given the right to take action if any establishment does not provide a safe environment. Implementation of this right should be well publicised. This would keep more businesses and establishments in check.

Also if anybody gets sick by visiting any establishment which does not provide a safe environment, it should be made liable for damages

These cases should be swiftly dealt with and settles through an appropriate establishment and tribunals bypassing the court system

Having the proper procedures implemented along with the legal framework would to a certain extent help combat the current Covid situation. The government policy at this crucial juncture will decide the fate of the country and its people. 



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Opinion

Territorial mindset, a recipe for disaster!

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By Chani Imbulgoda

I recall a documentary on animal life on a TV channel. Describing the behaviour of lions, a caretaker said, “These lions are from the Dehiwala zoo. They are vigilant of other lions entering their territory, if one crosses the boundary they fight to death. They won’t like other lions entering their territory.” The announcer remarked, “Just like humans!”

Exactly, just like us. In the animal kingdom the survival of the fittest is the norm and not crossing others’ territory is a rule of thumb. Since the beginning of human civilisation there have been tales of battles. The Trojan war, Alexander’s, Caesar’s, Napoleon’s wars degraded human values. Saddled with cynicism, hostility and jealousy, we humans, like beasts, are at war with ‘others’ who do not fit into our ideologies or our comfort zones. History is a storehouse of tales of human battles over territories in the guise of civilisation. So-called civilisation itself was won over battles. In the local context, the native ‘Yakkhas’ were massacred by Prince Vijaya to develop ‘Sinhale’. America, Canada, Australia inherit a dark history of looting territories of indigenous people in the name of civilisation. Portugal, Spain, Britain tasted the blood of their ‘colonial slaves’. Centuries later, we have not yet shed our primary animal instincts. We battle tooth and nail to protect our territories, our autonomy, values and interests all in the guise of civilised behaviour.

We rarely welcome outsiders into our territories. In the 40s and 50s, women were kept out of men’s territory. Late British Prime Minister aka Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, had to struggle many years to break through another of man’s territories, the Parliament. In the movie ‘Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley’, she sobs to her husband that contrary to what she previously believed, despite hard work she cannot win on merit and that dedication and passion are irrelevant. One-time Prime Minister, Edward Heath condemns Thatcher’s outspoken nature to force her out of politics. Heath says that the Parliament is akin to an orchestra made up of many musicians and Thatcher is a French horn more loud than appropriate, that threatens the orchestra’s harmony.

This is how men and also women of the same flock air their resentment towards outsiders, in their own words ‘intruders’ who are colourful and loud in action. Insult, indifference, suspicion, suppression, oppression are not uncommon experiences of pioneers in anything in history or at present. I once heard a senior Professor advising a young colleague attempting to change the system for the better, “Lady, look, do not swim upstream, people would not like it.” Yes, despite good intentions any novel act breaks the harmony…That is why the Buddha had many foes. That is why the notorious thief Barabbas was chosen by the crowd over Jesus.

I tried to uproot a tiny cinnamon sapling that grew through my interlock pavement blocks, failing which I crushed it. It made me realise that this is what happens, no matter how valuable you are. If you crop up in a place where you would not be accepted, every effort is made to root out, failing which, crush you, to ensure that you would not resurface. I suppose many of us had faced similar circumstances at work places, in politics or within social circles. Why does this happen, because of ego, envy, distrust or insecurity? Or because someone deemed a threat by another individual, a leader or a group enters their territory?

A pack of wolves has a leader; the protection of lions’ territory is the responsibility of the leader; the leader is the first to announce danger. No outsider can cross the boundary. We see certain lions, wolves and foxes as alphas. The mentality ‘I am the boss, I know everything’ blinds them. They live on ego, with a superiority complex, under the assumption that no one can challenge their power. If the newcomer is meek and sucks up to the leader, he or she survives and can slowly squirm their way into the pack.

I have heard parents complain about how difficult it is to enrol their kids into various sports clubs in schools. I have worked in private as well as public sector organisations, local and overseas. I have experienced antagonistic behaviour in these organisations. Driven by their insecurity, superior or inferior complexes, they would go to any lengths to harass the outsider and go to any extreme to protect his or her territory. They are myopic to the point of rejecting ideas foreign to them no matter how good they are, as they see ‘danger’ in ideas alien to them. Some group ideologies are thicker than blood. Certain professional groups rarely welcome females. They believe that women cannot meet challenges as men do and can be fiercely territorial. Many qualified and capable individuals are ostracised from organisations or industries or expelled from positions because of this territorial mindset.

A person with a territorial mindset is often overcome by thoughts of safeguarding or enhancing his or her power, control, influence and self-proclaimed status. These are primitive emotions. Taking ownership and defending what people believe belongs to them is a positive trait. But it is this mentality that subjects newcomers to agony when they grow too smart for their own good. They are stifled when the power of those with a territorial mindset is threatened. Many novel ideas and skills go to waste while some newcomers or ‘misfits’ are forced to leave their workplaces, others would continue the fight or be forced to conform.

We talk of harmony, reconciliation, tolerance and unity in diversity. Why cannot we synergize each other’s differences? A French horn would add glamour and at least amuse the audience. A garden consisting of a variety of flowers is more awe-inspiring than a garden of roses alone. Poet Khalil Gibran said that when a river enters the sea, the river is no more, it is diluted in salt water and one cannot trace the river in the sea, but the river grows larger and so does the sea. When we come out of our confining shells we are exposed to greater opportunities as well as benefits for both the newcomer and those already in that society.

(The writer holds a senior position in a state university and has an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management [PIM], Sri Lanka and is currently reading for her PhD in Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Sector at PIM. She can be reached at cv5imbulgoda@gmail.com)

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Opinion

Faulty decisions

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Farmers protesting against the prevailing fertiliser shortage. (file photo)

The importation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides was banned by a Cabinet Memorandum, dated April 27, 2021, to promote the use of organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. As a result, inorganic fertilisers such as urea, Triple superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and other agrochemicals (insecticides, fungicides etc.) became scarce. Agriculture Ministry in the meantime promoted manufacture of organic fertilisers (OF) but they were unable to get sufficient amounts of organic fertilisers manufactured. Most of what was available were of low quality with high C/N ratios. Agric. The Ministry is yet to produce natural insecticides, fungicides, etc. Thousands of farmers, all over the country, started to protest demanding that inorganic fertilisers and appropriate pesticides are made available, because they knew that these agrochemicals are necessary to get better yields from the crops they cultivate. The Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, representing mostly the Soil Scientists and Agronomists of Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association, the professional body representing the agricultural economists of Sri Lanka predicted massive economic losses due to potential yield losses, with the implementation of the import ban on fertilisers and pesticides

In spite of all these protests, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) continued to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, This caused immense economic and social problems to the people in general and to the farmers in particular. Farmers who cultivated Paddy in the current Maha complain of a reduction in the yields, and those who cultivated vegetables and other crops had to bear up a substantial decrease in quantity and quality of their produce. Production of maize decreased, resulting in a drop in poultry feed.

Reduction in local rice production made the government importing large quantities of rice from China and Burma. Food prices have increased causing thousands of people mainly the poor, going hungry resulting, health and social problems. Incomes of nearly two million farmers got reduced which affected their buying capacity resulting in numerous undesirable effects such as increasing unemployment, poverty and related issues. Tea small holders complained of reduction in quantity and quality of tea affecting their income, and also a decline on foreign exchange earnings which those in the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and other relevant institutions are frantically searching. All these are the result of the ban of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, a faulty decision.

In August, the Cabinet removed the ban probably realising the utter foolishness of the decision to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. However, it is too late as it takes time to import fertilisers and other agrochemical which were in short supply due to the ban.

The main reason given for banning importation of inorganic fertilisers was that it caused chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDU). Several research studies have been conducted since the year 2000, when it was reported to occur in some parts of the country. The findings of these studies do not indicate that there is any relationship between CKDU and fertilisers. CKDU has not been reported in many countries such as China (393 kg/ha) India (175 kg/ha) and United Kingdom (245 kg/ha) where the amount of fertilisers used per hectare is much larger than that of Sri Lanka (138 kg/ha). Note- the fertiliser consumption data given are for 2018 and are based on values given by Food and Agriculture Organization.

The growth rate of Sri Lanka has declined after 2015 . It dwindled to 4.5% in 2016 and 3.1% in 2017 and in 2020 it was -3.6 %. The Trade Deficit ( the difference between exports and imports- TD) shows a decrease but at present it stands at 6.1 US$ billion. Exchange rate continued to increase from Rs. 111 to a US $ in 2010 to Rs, 186 in 2020. Currently it is around Rs. 200. According to Central Bank, External Debt in Sri Lanka increased to 51117.43 USD Million in the third quarter of 2021. These figures indicate that Sri Lanka is heading towards an unprecedented economic crisis. Hence, the government need to implement appropriate strategies to increase exports and reduce imports.

Sri Lanka annually imports food worth Rs. 300 billion. Most of the food imported such as sugar, milk food, lentils, onion, maize, etc., involving around Rs. 200 billion can be locally produced, thereby reducing expenditure on food imports. In view of the current shortage of foreign exchange, it has become extremely important to promote the production of food locally which hitherto have been imported. The plantation sector, which includes tea, rubber, coconut, cashew, sugarcane and minor exports crops such as cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa ,plays a very important role in the economy of the country earning a substantial amount of foreign exchange, Hence, it is important to implement strategies to increase the productivity of the food crop and plantation crops sectors. Inorganic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides play a very important role in this regard.

However, the Government is emphasizing that organic fertilisers (OF) are used in the coming yala season as well . Those in the government who made this faulty decision need to realise that OF can never replace inorganic fertilisers and that it can only be supplementary. They need to give serious consideration to the bitter experience of the farmers who applied OF to their crops during the current Maha. The Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider this faulty decision if they want to increase local food and export crop production.

In the year 2022, there will be a severe shortage of food negatively affecting food security, unless the government implements a realistic and effective programme from the beginning of 2022 to solve this issue. Implementation of foolish decisions such as to replace inorganic fertilisers with organic fertilisers, as done in 2021 is not going to solve this problem. Among the 17, he Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, several are related to increase crop production. The Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka has a responsibility for coordination, facilitation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the implementation of strategies related to development of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka.

As indicated by Edgar Perera, a former Director of the Dept. of Agricultural Development (Ref. The Island of 17 Jan, 2022) the most appropriate thing to be done is to use OF as a soil re-conditioner along with chemical fertilisers, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in adequate quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

csweera@sltnet.lk

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Opinion

Have pity on Afghans

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A camp sheltering displaced Afghans.

Is there no end to the torment inflicted on the ordinary people of Afghanistan, by the United States?

Having being defeated militarily, and decamping ingloriously within 24 hours, like thieves in the night, the USA now inflicts starvation and destruction on Afghanistan from a “safe distance”.! Money that rightly belonging to the Afghan State is being withheld by the American dominant Financial system. Let this be a lesson to us.

A report in The Island of 17 January revealed that Afghan families were selling children and their organs in order to survive.

After all, what crime did the Afghans commit in resisting an invading foreign power? Sri Lanka should seek ways of offering direct Aid at least in small ways, to Afghanistan, whether the Americans approve or not.

JAYMAN

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