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Steep increase in Covid deaths and cases demand urgent action by whole community

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The Covid-19 pandemic is gathering momentum at an alarming rate. There has been a steep rise of deaths and cases specially after the Delta strain became widespread not only due to the more rapid spread but also the increased severity of the Delta strain. But efforts are being made to downplay this danger.

The Government report of July 29 states that up to then the total confirmed cases was 304,202, and that 26,448 active cases were in hospitals. On that day, there were 2,329 new cases and 66 deaths. The total deaths recorded up to then was 4,324.

Even the daily figures up to then showed an increasing trend of both deaths and new cases. But as everyone knows many more people are falling ill and dying at home, without going to hospital. One can speculate that the real number is two or three times more than the official figures. It is also estimated that about 80% of those who are infected are asymptomatic (that is they do not show any illness), but they too are infectious. Thus, the situation is explosive, but our society is functioning near normal, and people are collecting in large groups at parties, weddings, meetings, and public transport like buses are overloaded. This is mainly in towns, specially in Colombo and the Colombo district.

In the last 10 days, the tendency for people to gather in groups of 10 or more has also increased. If this is allowed to continue, there will be an explosive pandemic with many thousands of deaths.

Suitable Plan for Sri Lanka – The situation will get out of hand unless the whole Sri Lankan community and the Government act with vigour strictly according to a precise plan. Everyone will have to fall in line with this plan. Given below are some highlights of a suitable plan.

 

(a)

Make everyone aware that the virus is in the whole community and that each person can be infected by any other person. Therefore, each person is in danger and must protect him/herself. To get this across, an intensive program of health education must be carried out by every available communication channel.

(b)

To achieve this objective every person must avoid crowds. (10 people or more)

(c)

Social distancing – ensure that the distance between any two people exceeds one meter (preferably two meters).

(d)

Ensure that everyone wears a proper mask whenever he/she leaves their home. Even at home, if there is a visitor the mask should be worn.

(e)

Any article touched by another person may have live virus. Anyone else who touches that article should promptly wash his/her hands applying soap for at least 20 seconds.

(f)

To ensure that the above objectives are observed, Covid Committees should be set up in all villages, groups of slum dwellings, offices and work places.

(g)

The above Covid Committees should also spot any sick persons who might be having Covid symptoms and promptly dispatch them to a doctor or hospital. They must obtain the PCR report as soon as it is ready and if it is positive ensure that all contacts are quarantined in the house.

(h)

The Covid Committee must carry out intensive health education among all the people. This should be supported by colorful easily understood messages about the virus and its behavior and how to safeguard oneself illustrated by cartoons.

Vaccines

– If an effective safe vaccine becomes available, it should be used widely and selectively. Unfortunately, this has not yet been achieved because, on an average, it takes 5-7 years of research to produce an effective and safe vaccine.

(a)

As there was a big demand for vaccines, many have been put into the market within a short period of less than one year without adequate safety and efficacy testing.

(b)

Vaccines like AstraZenica, Covishield and Sputnik-V use a proven vaccine technology based on the Adeno virus as a vector, and should be safe and have reasonably high efficacy.

(c)

The Chinese vaccines are based on use of killed virus or attenuated virus like Sinopharm, which use the whole virus but without there being alive or able to cause infection. These are safe but the efficacy may be lower. This is also a well tried technique in vaccine production.

(d)

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines produced in the USA are mRNA vaccines. This is a new technology which has not been used before in vaccine production and also transfers viable genetic material. These have been shown to give good protection. But their safety is questionable. The introduction of genetic material through the vaccine may lead to and have an effect on our genes, even several generations later, that can be harmful. I am not in favor of their use.

4. Vaccine schedule for Sri Lanka- if Sri Lanka was a rich country, it could have given two doses of any of the above recommended vaccines. However, we have limited resources. The WHO gave us sufficient recommended vaccines as a gift to immunize 20% of our population. It would be best to give these vaccines to the vulnerable groups (that is the groups that are liable to develop severe disease and even die). The vulnerable groups are,

 

(a)

Frontline workers – such as doctors, nurses, attendants, ambulance drivers etc. (b) Those over 60 years of age. (c) Those with comorbidities (severe chronic lung & heart diseases, diabetes etc.)

There may be those over 60 years, over 30 years, under 30 years or children in that order according to availability of vaccine. (The above vulnerable group of three categories must be given the vaccine even if it is necessary to be bought from the manufacturers).

5. Non-vulnerable group – All the others need not be vaccinated at state expense. Those who can afford could get vaccinated. But for children under 12 years vaccination is not indicated.

Prof. Tissa Vitarana



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President instructs officials to vaccinate kids with Pfizer

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Health Ministry still deliberating pros and cons

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed health officers to inoculate children between the age 15 to 19 with Pfizer vaccine, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said yesterday.

General Silva added that the President had also instructed officials to inoculate children with special needs above the age of 12, with the Pfizer vaccines. He there are around 50,000 children with special needs.

General Silva said Sri Lanka would receive adequate Pfizer vaccine doses in the coming weeks. During the Presidential Task Force meeting, on Covid-19, it was decided to allow the Department of Motor Traffic, and the Land Registry to operate during the lockdown, which was extended until 01 October. However, a few hours before this statement was made, Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath told the media that no decision had been taken on vaccinating children.

He, however, said that discussions were ongoing about vaccinating children.

“There are a number of discussions on this because this is a serious matter. We have also decided that when we vaccinate the priority will be given to children with comorbidities. Then the rest will be vaccinated based on age groups. But we have not decided on anything else,” he said.

The dates, the brand and other details would be announced once the Health Ministry was done with consultations with experts. Once the decisions were taken the Ministry would prepare guidelines which would then be made available to the public, he said.

“So, I urge the parents not to worry or panic. They can vaccinate their children once we issue guidelines. We will ensure that this will be done safely and with virtually no side-effects or shortages,” Dr. Herath said.

The Deputy Director General of Health Services also urged people not to be misled by claims that those who had been double jabbed and being treated at home were dying in increasing numbers. Some people with serious underlying issues could die even if they were double jabbed, he said.

“However, as we vaccinate an increasing number of Sri Lankans, the deaths and those who need ICU treatment will decline rapidly. Don’t be fooled by various unscientific claims. We are a nation that has universal vaccine rates and we should maintain that tradition with COVID,” he said.

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Sumanthiran demands immediate due process against Lohan

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Immediate legal action including arrest and prosecution must be taken against Lohan Ratwatte and others who were involved in the incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said on Thursday. He said Ratwatte’s mere resignation from one portfolio would not do.

“The Presidential Secretariat has issued a statement that Lohan Ratwatte has taken responsibility for the incidents that transpired at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. Although Ratwatte is said to have resigned from his post as Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, he continues to be a minister in charge of other subjects. This is not something we can accept,” he said.

The TNA MP said that the State Minister should be removed from all his positions immediately and the pistol he carried with him should be taken away from him.

“Otherwise, it’s a grave threat to the public at large,” Sumanthiran said. There had been other incidents where Ratwatte brandished his weapon in public spaces, he added.

The TNA MP said that an independent investigation should be held with regard to those incidents and Ratwatte and others involved in entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons should be arrested and charged.

“The police have still not taken any action in this regard. The question that must be posed is how he was able to carry his personal firearm inside the prison premises. Prison officials must answer these questions,” he said.

MP Sumanthiran said that given that the prisoners were wards of the state, their security was in the hands of the state.

“Therefore, this is a very serious incident. Action must be taken accordingly,” he said.

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Taking contradictory stand on 2015 Geneva Resolution

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‘Govt. seeking credit for accountability mechanisms set up by previous administration

UNHRC 48th sessions:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena has alleged that the government’s stand on accountability issues at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council is contradictory to its much publicised opposition to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the previous administration.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015. The then Foreign Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera is on record as having said that the UNP-led government had President Maithripala Sirisena’s consent to go ahead with the co-sponsorship.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s media spokesperson Gunawardena yesterday (17) pointed out that the government, at the ongoing 48th sessions of the UNHRC, has reiterated its commitment to key accountability mechanisms set up in terms of the Geneva Resolution.

Civil society activist Gunawardena, who also functioned as the Director General, Information Department during the previous administration said that the assurance given by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last Tuesday (14) should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from 30/1 resolution.

Prof. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena announced Sri Lanka’s withdrawal at the Feb-March 2020 sessions.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation, Gunawardena stressed, urging the government to take the public into confidence. “Stop playing politics at the expense of our international relations,” Gunawardena said, underscoring the need for what he called a national consensus on the post-war reconciliation process.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that FM Prof. Peiris in his address to the Geneva sessions discussed the progress in what he described as a domestic process in respect of accountability issues. Reference was made to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR) and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). However, the FM conveniently failed to acknowledge that the OMP, OR and ONUR had been established in keeping with the 2015 Geneva Resolution that covered broader understanding of transitional justice.

The SLPP, while taking credit for the ongoing transitional justice process, continued to publicly reject 30/1, the very basis of the solution, Gunawardena said. “In other words, the SLPP’s actions are very different from their pledges before the electorate in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Referring to the assurance given by Prof. Peiris at the UNHRC that Sri Lanka Human Rights Council was carrying on its mandate, Gunawardena challenged the government to prove its sincerity by allowing no holds barred investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons on Sept 6 and 12, respectively.

The announcement made by the HRCSL regarding its decision to initiate an inquiry of its own in the absence of police investigation received public attention and appreciation, Gunawardena said.

Commenting on the declaration that Sri Lanka was engaged in an integrated process to bring the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with international norms and best practices, lawyer Gunawardena urged the government to study the work done by the previous government in that regard. Referring to statements made by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in that regard, Gunawardena said that the then Joint

Opposition quite maliciously rejected the move. “They should be ashamed of theirconduct,” relevant ministers and the Attorney General Department couldn’t be unaware of the agreement on new anti-terrorism law.

Gunawardena said that the SLPP administration shouldn’t hesitate to appreciate the previous government’s achievements. “We are quite pleased that mechanisms accepted by the previous government continue to be in operation even though the progress seems slow. However, the SLPP cannot deprive the UNP-led administration of the credit it deserved,” lawyer Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena urged the government to examine the report of the Committee appointed by then Premier Wickremesinghe to develop what he called the policy and legal framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka. He said that a politically motivated campaign derailed that effort whereas the Opposition propagated the lie the yahapalana government intended to deprive Sri Lanka of anti-terrorism law.

Asked to comment on the revelation of the SLPP government having talks with a group of civil society activists to explore ways and means to strengthening the reconciliation process, Gunawardena said that a 13-page Foreign Ministry note dated Aug. 31, 2021 addressed to Colombo-based diplomatic missions acknowledged the pivotal role played by the civil society. Having always accused the civil society of being part of a Western strategy, the same lot exposed their duplicity by meeting a group of civil society activists.

Gunawardena was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ministers, Basil Rakapaksa, Prof. Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Ali Sabry, PC, and Namal Rajapaksa having separate meetings with SLCC (Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus) in the run-up to the Geneva confab. SLCC comprises 16 individuals.

Gunawardena noted the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, too, in her hard-hitting Sept 13 statement on Sri Lanka referred to President Rajapaksa’s meeting with the SLCC.

Gunawardena said that in addition to the SLCC, another group styled itself as the Civil Society Platform (CSP) in a statement issued on Sept. 13 made its position clear on a range of accountability issues as well as stepped up pressure on the civil society. CSP consists of 30 organizations and 36 individuals.

Responding to declarations by FM Prof Peiris and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage that external investigations wouldn’t be acceptable, lawyer Gunawardena said that instead of rejecting the investigation the government should furbish whatever information in its hands or had access to the new investigative mechanism. The government couldn’t ignore the fact that the UNHRC authorized the fresh investigative mechanism at the 46th session with an overwhelming majority with 22 countries voting for the resolution, 11 against and 14 missing the vote.

Gunawardena urged the government to take a realistic view as Sri Lanka didn’t have time and space to engage in silly maneuvers. The bottom line was that the March 2020 announcement that Sri Lanka withdrew from 30/1 was nothing but a farce, Gunawardena said.

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