Open letter to Secretary of Health Dr. S. H. Munasinghe
Currently, the only available method of disposal of COVID-19 dead in Sri Lanka is cremation.
The basis to arrive at this decision when the guidelines were prepared was based on the factor that in January/February and early March 2020, the scientific community in Sri Lanka did not have adequate information on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Based on this lack of knowledge on the part of Sri Lankan experts in Judicial Medicine, Epidemiology and Microbiology, Sri Lankan health authorities decided to recommend measures to take no chances for the virus to spread from the dead to the living, and thus recommended cremation only, in the absence of conclusive scientific, ethical and moral evidence to do so at the time.
The time elapsed since the identification of the virus in late December 2019/early January 2020, and is now 180 days or approximately six months. In this period, there have been numerous scientific publications on the structure/characteristics (virology), epidemiology and pathophysiology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
In this context. it is time to look back at the scientific literature published on the virus with a particular reference to its spread from the dead to the soil, water, and its further spread through soil, water (water table) to the general public, and cause a public health issue in the international and local (Sri Lankan) arenas.
As said before, we do not know the science of the SASR-CoV-2 virus fully. In this massive lacuna of knowledge on the virus, acting in the interest of public health and safety becomes a challenge, and goes beyond hard core science itself. This is because scientists will always have diametrically opposing views with evidence to drive home their hypothesis with passion. This lacuna of knowledge creates a situation where there is a dilemma in terms of the science and the ethics of any and all decisions taken, even with the best of intentions.
In this context, have the decision makers in Sri Lanka paid adequate or indeed any attention to resolve this scientific and ethical dilemma with regards to the issue of final disposal of the dead due to COVID-19 in the accepted ethical scientific manner?
The position of the political leadership of Sri Lanka has always been that they will follow the advice given to them on the disposal of COVID dead by the health authorities. The position of health authorities to arrive at the decision to recommend cremation only has been based on the following three principal reasons:
1. The ‘current’ knowledge on the SARS-CoV- 2 virus is unknown as of now (This statement was made on 13th April 2020 and reiterated on 15th April 2020 at technical meetings held with Health Ministry Officials).
2. The SARS-CoV-2 virus in dead bodies when buried in Sri Lanka can spread to the water table, thus contaminating it and spreading the virus to a large section of the population through water, thus worsening the pandemic situation.
3. Given the militant history of the Sri Lankan Muslims (example sighted was the Easter Sunday Bombings of 21st April 2019) the Sri Lankan Muslims may use the dead body of the COVID-19 person as a Biological Weapon against other Sri Lankan citizens. This statement was publicly repeated by the Health Ministry Official on a BBC television interview a few days later (18th April 2020).
Let’s review the evidence for each of the above as of November 2020.
1. The notion that the dead bodies of Sri Lankan Muslims will be used to extract the virus and weaponize it as Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) has not materialized anywhere in the world. The technological and science to even attempt creating a biological weapon using the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is far too complex and advanced to be attempted by extremist Islamic groups operating in Sri Lanka, as per current available intelligence reports. The process of weaponizing the COVID-19 virus will at the minimal require Biological Safety Level (BSL) 3 or above laboratory facilities, and at present only the Medical Research Institute of the Ministry of Health and Universities of Sri Jayewardenepura, Colombo and Peradeniya have BSL 3 level laboratories. No evidence exists that BSL 3 level laboratories exist outside the direct purview and close supervision of the Government of Sri Lanka, and the intelligence and defence establishments. A literature search of the international databases for weaponization of SARS-CoV-2 virus yielded no results. If such a process is indeed available at international level, it has been kept classified out of reach of potential rouge scientists.
2. With regard to the knowledge of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreading to cause public health issues in countries where burial of such dead bodies has occurred, the international scientific data bases yield no results. The WHO in its “Infection Prevention and Control for the Safe Management of a Dead Body in the Context of COVID-19 – Interim Guidance dated 24th March 2020 and 4th September 2020” clearly recommends burial as an option, after having reviewed all the available scientific, ethical and moral issues related to burial of COVID-19 dead as way back as March 2020. The WHO has not changed its stance on recommending burial as an option for COVID-19 dead to date.
3. A review of the international literature on the mass spreading of the SARS-CoV -2 virus to the ground water table in the international databases, too, yields no results. The WHO and UNICEF publication titled “Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Waste Management for the COVID-19 Virus – Interim Guidance dated 19th March 2020, 23rd April 2020 and 29th July 2020” – gives information and recommendations on the issue of contamination of ground water by SARS-CoV-2 virus. An extract from the interim guidance report is given below; (The WHO and UNICEF have not changed their stance on recommending burial as an option for COVID -19 dead to date).
‘Currently, there is no evidence about the survival of the COVID-19 virus in drinking-water or sewage. The morphology and chemical structure of the COVID-19 virus are similar to those of other human coronaviruses for which there are data about both survival in the environment and effective inactivation measures. This document draws upon the evidence base and WHO guidance on how to protect against viruses in sewage and drinking-water. This document will be updated as new information becomes available’.
Given the above, the three principal factors cited by the Sri Lankan health authorities are in direct conflict with international guidelines, and in the situation that no local data has been made available to the scientific community on Sri Lankan studies to confirm the hypothesis given by the Sri Lankan health authorities, there is a clear case for reviewing the decision for cremation only for COVID-19 dead in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, in an interim guidance dated 4thNovember 2020 tilted Consideration for implementing and adjusting public health and social measures in the context of COVID-19 the WHO has clearly advices member states that such PHSM measures ‘…should be weight against the impact these measures have on societies and individuals. Consideration includes impact on economy, security, mental health and psychosocial well-being, human rights, food security, socioeconomic disparities….’ It summarizes its guidance by stating that ‘the overall health and well-being of communities should therefore be at the forefront of considerations when deciding on implementing phsm.
The continuation of the cremation-only policy for COVID-19 dead is seriously affecting the mental and psychosocial health of 2 million Sri Lankan Muslims, who have accounted for almost 48% of the COVID deaths in Sri Lanka as of 7/11/2020.
The social impact of the cremation of COVID-19 Muslim dead bodies is best summarized by the following statement made by an elderly Muslim gentleman recently:
‘I don’t fear getting Corona at any time anywhere in the world; Nor do I fear dying of Corona anywhere in the world; but I fear of being cremated in Sri Lanka if I die of Corona’.
As we have depicted, and no doubt you as a representative of the people, are fully aware this decision to ONLY allow cremation for COVID -19 death on unsound scientific, medical, ethical and moral grounds, is causing severe mental and psychosocial hardship to the all Sri Lankan Muslims, regardless politics, social status or any other parameter.
We have been making scientific, medical, and political representation since March 2020 to the Sri Lankan government to at the very least review the cremation only policy, and include the burial option for COVID -19 dead, to no avail.
Hence, we as an integral part of the citizenry of Sri Lanka, have now to resort to pleading to the authorities on humanitarian grounds and grounds of sympathy, for the government of Sri Lanka to very kindly consider reviewing the decision to continue with the cremation only policy for the COVID-19.
We sincerely hope that you will facilitate the necessary scientific and administrative process to be put in place to review the current cremation only policy for COVID-19 dead in Sri Lanka, based on the review of the facts presented.
PATRIOTIC SRI LANKAN
Abuse of use of title Professor
I read with much interest the letter by Mr. Nissanka Warakaulle, regarding the above matter, in the issue of the Sunday Island of 18th April 2021. I agree fully with the contents of his letter. He should be very familiar with the regulations as he is a former Registrar of the University of Colombo. I wish to highlight another instance where it is abused. In the 1970s, the title of Associate Professor was created. Until then there were only three categories of Professors. Firstly the holder of the Chair, secondly a co-Professor and thirdly, an Emeritus Professor. There were also, Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and Readers. The title of Reader was replaced with the title Associate Professor, which is meant to be a designation, to be used after the name. However, this category of academics started using it as a pre-fix, dropping the word Associate!
Profesor Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya MBE
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics,
University of Colombo
Vacant seat in Parliament
by Harim Peiris
One of the more interesting features about the current Parliament of Sri Lanka, is that it has the highest number of parties with representation in that august Assembly, mostly through a plethora of small parties, which have been elected with one or two members to Parliament. Most of these parties are regional in scope and represent specific communities, often ethnic or religious minorities from the Northern and Eastern provinces. Generally colourful almost quixotic political characters have been elected from these single ticket parties, with a couple of them, including the EPDP and the ACTC securing two seats each. They certainly add colour and a vibrant diversity to the composition of the legislature.
Also falling into this same category of a single seat party, from among the minor parties, is the former governing United National Party (UNP), which rather fortuitously through its vote tally in all districts, managed to qualify for a single National List seat in Parliament. The UNP is a small party with a big party mentality and blessed with close links to major national newspapers, its unelected office-bearers and defeated candidates, manage to make the news daily, if rather irrelevantly.
The UNP has rather unusually been unwilling to fill its single seat, making the current Parliament a full house at 224 members, rather than its complete complement of 225. However, political circles are abuzz with talk that finally its longest serving and possibly leader for life, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, will have himself nominated to the UNP’s solitary seat in Parliament. It has to be a record in any country with a proportional representation electoral system, for a party to fall from a governing party with 106 seats, to a solitary parliamentary seat in the ensuing election. Leaving that grand old party with a nice head office, a proud history, and some political personalities who made a serious error in political judgement, when they denied its longtime deputy leader and presidential candidate, the party leadership, resulting in the formation of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party.
Just over a year since nominations for the parliamentary elections closed on 20th March 2020 and the UNP thinks about finally getting its act together, to nominate Mr. Wickremesinghe to its solitary seat, and the SJB celebrated the first year anniversary of its formation; it is worth examining the implications to politics and national governance, created by the Rajapaksa political vehicle of the SLPP supplanting the SLFP, and on the Opposition side of the House, the even newer Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, taking over the constituency, the younger generation leaders and the political leadership of the non SLPP/Rajapaksa socio-political forces in the country. The SLPP created its own history in the August 2020 parliamentary elections becoming the most electorally successful political party under the 1978 constitution, securing 145 seats in Parliament, bettering its predecessor UPFA’s result of 144 seats won in the euphoria of the war’s ending in 2010. The SJB also performed approximately comparative to its parent UNP’s 2010 post war performance, securing 54 seats in 2020.
However, the SJB has also made its own mark on the political landscape of the country in its relatively short history. Firstly, by comprehensively wiping its predecessor UNP off the electoral map, and firmly capturing the Opposition political space. It has faced the juggernaut of an SLPP Administration with a super majority in Parliament. In response, the SJB and the Opposition Leader’s approach has been measured, thoughtful and calibrated. Occupying the moral high ground, by claiming that the Opposition should oppose but not obstruct, it has permitted some leeway to the Rajapaksas to implement their mandate; but has been a moral conscience, as well as a check and balance on the government. As a new party it has focused on building up its grassroots capability, and the indefatigable Opposition Leader has been mirroring the President’s own dialogue with the village, by having numerous grassroots level consultations and discussions, albeit without an attendant media circus.
Politically as well, the focus of the SJB has been to bring to sharp focus the shortcomings of the Administration, and accordingly it has been the inspiration for the “sir fail” political concept; a rather direct assault on the performance or alleged lack thereof by the Government and the President, elected as he was among other things as a technocrat who would get things done. Astutely Sajith Premadasa has been careful to refrain from an overly negative assault on his successful rival in the presidential election, focusing instead on the issues and avoiding the personal mudslinging which has been the sorry hallmark of Sri Lankan politics in more recent times. The SJB and the Opposition Leader have sought to adopt a more principled and issue-based politics, rather than on pure personalities and one that is non-sectarian, both distinctions of which are an unusual departure from the norm in mainstream Sri Lankan politics. As the politics of the UNHRC process in Geneva and the cremation issue of the Covid deceased for the Muslim community dominated the political debate in the past few months, the SJB demonstrated remarkable political maturity in taking a principled position opposed to forced cremation based on the WHO guidelines, and then rolling out a newly minted and credible reconciliation policy on the cusp of the Geneva vote, which differentiated it clearly from the Government, arguing that national unity was the best guarantor and contributor to national security.
As a slew of highly charged political issues ranging from exonerating various accused persons from ongoing court cases through a presidential commission, to the controversial proposals for the autonomous Port City Commission come to dominate the political debate in the near future, the SJB will be tested. But Sajith Premadasa took on the Rajapaksas in their home turf of Hambantota for years, and did not flinch from a tough political ask in a local constituency setting. The current challenges are bigger and the setting is the national political stage. One year on, in a game with a five-year cycle, the SJB can take solace and some credit that while the beginning of the end may not have begun for the current Administration, the end of the honeymoon period with the public for the Administration, has clearly already occurred.
How to degrade, dismantle and destroy a country
The current social political and economic decision making and the ‘mysterious’, illogical behaviour of Sri Lanka’s leadership, are classic examples of ‘how to degrade, dismantle and destroy a country’.
What are the essential conditions for a country to be a united, successful, sovereign and independent?
1. The rule of law.
2. A responsible Parliament.
3. An executive totally dedicated to the protection and well being of the country.
4. A vibrant economy that lifts the poor out of poverty.
5. Social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful environment.
6. Awareness of and the love and protection of the country’s ecology.
The rule of law, as ordinarily understood, is a code of conduct that a people and a state accept as their guiding and protective set of regulations for the common good. There are two sides to it; rights and duties. Human rights and civil rights on the one hand, and paying taxes, obeying social rules of human interaction, such as observing traffic regulations, etc., on the other hand are the two sides.
The institution that oversees the whole complexity of the rule of law is the judiciary. The judiciary must be like Caesar’s wife––totally above suspicion. That is what the blindfolded lady with a sword and scales of justice signify. What we see happening now is something worrisome. I am not going to list all the unsavoury happenings in the recent past. But the Presidential Commission on political victimisation has removed the blindfold of the lady, thrown away the scales, and she is wielding the sword against those few who sincerely and competently did their duty.
How can an independent judiciary stop ongoing trials and release the suspects just because the executive or a commission says so?
In other words, they are degrading the judiciary, destroying its independence.
A responsible Parliament is the very soul of a democratic country. A Parliament that behaves with decorum, efficiency and a keen sense of responsibility to the people that elected it is essential for the country’s progress.
People’s representatives are stealing public funds. They get tax free vehicles and sell them for millions! This is stealing the money due to the Treasury. They sell permits for everything, from petroleum to pharmaceuticals, from sand to stone, collecting millions. This is a brazen demand for bribes. When the President concludes his term, he gets a mansion for free in Colombo. This does not happen even in a banana republic. They have no shame to lose the elections and creep back into the Parliament through the back door, called the National List. They get huge commissions for development projects.
Listen to the current parliamentary debates. What are the crucial problems facing the country today? The gigantic external debt is number one. Number two is China, India and the USA nibbling away at the country’s sovereignty. Number three is the worsening situation of poverty. These are the three main problems among many others. Are they discussing and making laws and policies to solve the debt crisis? Are they making statesmanlike policies and diplomatic overtures to keep the three ogres at bay? Are they discussing ways and means of improving agriculture and industry and making our economy vibrant and people friendly? Listen to the gibberish they are mouthing, or rather screaming, at one another. They accuse, scold and insult one another using un-parliamentary words. They call one another thieves. They may belong to various political parties and may be in the government or in the Opposition, but are united “thick as thieves” and protect one another.
An executive totally dedicated to the protection and wellbeing of the country is yet to be found. If such an executive had been there, would there have been an Easter massacre? If such an executive is there, will it tell us only what we already know, after years and millions spent on a Presidential Inquiry into the Easter barbarity? They have shown us only the tip of the iceberg, which is there to be seen even without an inquiry. We want to know what is hidden under. Why is the executive so coy about showing it to us? We can only say with Marcellus in Act I, scene iv of the Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet” – “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark (Sri Lanka)”. We have neither trust nor hope in the executive. It too has gone the way of the Parliament.
A vibrant economy that lifts the poor out of poverty. Isn’t that the main task of any governing body of a country?
But it is not so in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka they only talk about getting loans, more loans and bigger loans. And when they get a loan they crow about it as if it is a great achievement. Any decent gentleman would keep his loans secret, for he would be ashamed of the public getting to know it. We do not have gentlemen. Ours are scoundrels who are happy to get loans so that they can get their cut. They are not worried because they do not repay the loans. It is we the people who have to settle their debts.
If not for the women sweating away in FTZ factories, if not for the women plucking tea buds by the ton in the plantations, if not for the women sold to slavery in West Asia, where will this country be? What have the governing ingrates done for them? Nothing. It is the private small industries and entrepreneurs that are some consolation to the local labour force.
What have they done for the farmers? They do not get water in time, the fertilizer in time and now, as if Sena is not enough, they have the pachyderms! Their habitats are sold to multinationals and they have nowhere to go. They are being massacred more than one a day. This is a national crime against innocent elephants that cry to heaven for retribution. The country is cursed for it, but for our scoundrels it is water on the duck’s back. The farmers suffer, they are protesting in sit-ins all over the country. The politician monkeys see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, and of course do nothing. We are going downhill, getting poorer and will soon end up in bankruptcy.
Social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful ambient, is necessary for people to live happily in a country. It was so sad to watch a popular tuition master, teaching ecology on YouTube, advise the students to leave this country for their own good, adding that he himself is contemplating such action. Can anyone blame him? We who have passed the three score and ten probably will remain and prefer to sink with the ship. But the younger generations certainly have a right to enjoy this short but incredibly beautiful life, instead of getting bogged down in the lawless, fearsome chaos this country will become.
Not too long ago, we lived side by side, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, without any suspicion or antagonism, enjoying one another. We were together in school, in the playground, in the market place and in the neighbourhood. Now we realize how wonderful that was. Then came the petty political rascals. Just to get power and amass filthy lucre, they would sell anything, sacrifice anything. For them there is nothing sacred or invaluable. Even foolish religious leaders were made use of for their benefit. The Sinhala were pitted against the Tamil, then against the Muslim. They pit religion against religion with fantastic canards like bound fallopian tubes, kotthu with impotence pills, female underwear laced with infertility drugs, etc. The media slaves of the petty political scoundrels, and even some political religious, went to town with the incredible stories without checking on their veracity. The gullible public swallowed them hook line and sinker. How much blood have we shed for the last 50 years?
What a waste of life!
When will the people ever learn that they are governed by a coterie of scoundrels––Ali Baba and the 225 thieves? Will we ever have social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful environment? The answer is blowing in the wind, my friend; it is blowing in the wind.
The awareness of and the love and protection of the country’s ecology is the duty of every true patriotic citizen.
Ali Baba and the 225 thieves are hell bent on destroying just that, the ecology. The cunning scoundrels and their bootlicking officialdom are good at shooting the messenger. A young girl declares that Sinharaja is destroyed. And the officers instead of investigating those felling trees ask the girl if she knows where the forest boundaries are. A civil activist exposes the fraud of the Sahana Malla. Instead of verifying the accusation by checking the items in the Malla, he is arrested. You point the moon to them and they cut off your index finger. In the cancer causing coconut oil case, they have shown that they are more interested in protecting the crooked businesses, rather than the vulnerable citizens of the country. They are destroying the forests in Wilpattu, in the Sinharaja and all over. They are destroying our country, they are destroying us.
I’m sure the governing ignoramuses have never heard of Chief Seattle’s almost ‘sacred’ ecological declaration, where he tells the aggressive white invaders that his people and the environment are not two things but one. I’m sure they have never heard of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” on the love and protection of Mother/Sister Earth. They know only their insatiable greed; they see nothing beyond their own navels. They have no love or kinship to the soil and the rocks, the rivers and the seas, the flora and the fauna of Sri Lanka. They certainly have no love for Sri Lankans whom they deceive every five years. They are not the legitimate children of Mother Lanka. Their only goal in life is to exploit this country and its people to the maximum possible and get away, the dual-citizen traitors. There is no hope for our beautiful elephants, our environment and us.
Ali Baba and the 225 thieves know quite well how to degrade, dismantle and destroy our country. They not only know it, they are deliberately committing the heinous crime. Who can stop them? Only the PEOPLE can stop them. That’s why I have been calling for a Grand Alliance of Good People. But I feel I am only a voice crying in the wilderness.
Cannot our people see the cunning deceitful trickery they are perpetrating on us? When the A20 was mooted, before genuine opposition could come up, their lackeys, political, religious and lay, vociferously stood against it. The genuine Opposition was silenced. At the last moment, the bootlicking slaves supported the Bill in the Parliament. The same trick was repeated at giving away of the West Container Terminal of the Colombo harbour to the Adani Group of India. The trick is being repeated for the third time with the Port City. The same bootlicking pack of lackeys is vehemently attacking the draft of the Port City Management. The genuine Opposition has no time even to get organised. The draft is deliberately made worse than what the Chinese imperialists demand. Eventually, they will remove the unnecessary excess and the lackeys will say a compromise is won by them.
If our people still cannot see this traitorous tragic betrayal performed before their eyes, they do not deserve a unitary, sovereign, independent, self-respecting state called Sri Lanka.
Fr J.C. PIERIS
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