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The COVID-19 Pandemic in Sri Lanka: Contextualizing it Geographically

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By Dr. Nalani Hennayake and Dr. Kumuduni Kumarihamy

(Continued from Tuesday)

Part III

The mapping of COVID-19 cases at the local level (preferably at the GN division level), but at least at the MOH level, is essential for future planning. It is commendable that such a map has been produced at the Divisional Secretariat Division level for the Kandy District.

In Map 06, the DSD/MOH areas are categorized, based on the number of patients detected up to November 11, 2020, into six categories. Such mapping again runs the risk of the ‘modifiable areal unit problem’ since the data are aggregated to the DSD/MOH level. However, the dot density map of the Kandy District (Map 07) is more useful as it randomly marks the locations of positive cases within the GN division. Compared with the previous choropleth map, such a density map allows us to see the geographical patterning of COVID-19 to a certain extent and to identify the ‘hotspots’. If the density map is overlaid with the GN boundary map, the spatial heterogeneities will be highlighted more than at the DSD/MOH level.

We produced a new map (Map 08) of Kandy District with the limited data available for the GN level to see the spatial dispersion of COVID-19 as a sample exercise. By November 21, 2020, there were only 14 positive cases in the Medadumbara division, and they are distributed only in six GN divisions (Udatenna – 4, Vilamuna – 3, Waradiwela – 1, Randeniya -1, Karalliyadda 1, Kandegama 1, being updated 1), as shown in map 8. In map 06, the entire Medadumbara division is marked in red as a high-risk area giving a very different spatial impression.

If the spatial heterogeneity can be depicted at the GN division level, we can identify COVID-19 clusters/hotspots more accurately in a given area. Moreover, we can further investigate the relationship between the COVID-19 clusters/hotspots and the socioeconomic and ecological determinants such as road density, education level, poverty and connectivity (using road network). It is clear that high population density, high accessibility, and poverty, to a certain extent, correlates with the spread of the pandemic. We have done this exercise using Kandy as an example to show how such mapping and the resulting geo-visualization can be a powerful tool in understanding the severity of the situation and enabling decision-makers and implementers of control strategies. If such maps can be propagated through media, as we do with elections and weather reporting, and given their visual effect, people themselves may enforce their spatial restrictions.

If such maps can be developed for all MOH areas taking the GN division as the spatial unit of analysis, Sri Lanka would have a much better representation and geo-visualization of the COVID-19 pandemic situation, which in turn would enable one to envisage its severity and be guided by anticipatory actions. The determination of the COVID-19 positive cases’ location, for mapping, can be based on any one of the following; where it was contracted, the person’s place of work, and place of residence. The critical information needed here is not any identity-related information of the infected, but the geographical locations, the possible spaces and places of contact. Therefore, marking any one or all of the above or whatever available data would provide a map of potential localities and places for contracting the coronavirus. Travel restrictions can be enforced either by the government or exercised voluntarily by individuals when such information is provided at the GN level. Identifying such spaces and places with a potential for spreading the disease and clusters of locally developing cases is extremely important to prevent further escalation of the coronavirus. Our argument here is that mapping geographies of infection at a micro-scale, such as GN divisions, is vital. It provides a visual outlook of the crisis and its localized nature.

 

Geographies of vulnerability

One of the most important results of such mapping, especially if it can be done at a micro-scale level such as the GN division, is that such spatial patterns guide us to understand the social vulnerabilities. We already explained how the COVID-19 pandemic correlates with high population density, high road density, and poverty. In other words, this allows us to denaturalize the pandemic within the local context and to recognize the social, economic, and political contexts that engender the pandemic situation. Those who were infected were infected not because they were at ‘the wrong place at the wrong time,’ but have inherited or made to live/work in ‘wrong places’, socio-economically downtrodden places.

The national data provided by the Ministry of Health on the distribution of the total number of COVID-19 patients at district level and the information released from the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 (NOCPC) allows us to speculate that several communities are in danger. COVID-19 has become severe in certain types of localities and spaces at the outset. For example, in Colombo, high density, low-income (we prefer to call these poverty-stricken) localities are worst affected by the pandemic. Such localities are locked down to prevent from spreading outwards.

Even in Kandy, one of the localities where a higher number of cases have been reported is a poverty-stricken, high-density urban locality that provides essential labor to the city. Thus, it is clear that the urban high-density and low-end social category is a straightforward victim of this pathogen.



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Features

Sohan…adapting to the ‘new normal’

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Surprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic seems to have galvanised our entertainers into action.

True, most of the big bands are finding the going pretty tough, these days, as most public shows, like concerts, sing-along, and dances, have been put on hold.

Fortunately, we do have artistes who capitalise on unexpected situations to continue to keep the public, and their fans, entertained – of course, doing it differently

Band leader Sohan, of Sohan & The X-Periments fame, who is always innovative, when it comes to music, has hit upon a novel idea, in order to keep his band occupied, for the next three months.

He has decided to put The X-Periments into ‘recording mode.

Says Sohan: “I’m getting them involved in doing in-house recordings at my home studio.”

And, what’s more, I’m told that Sohan has found a secret sponsor, so the boys will be paid, too. Obviously, it’s a win-win situation and that makes Sohan extra happy!

The veteran artiste/entertainer went on to explain that the main CD will contain cover versions of his favourite songs, and will also include a duet with his daughter Erandika who is scheduled to be in Sri Lanka, hopefully, in May. She is currently in the States.

The song, Sohan has in mind, is that immensely popular golden oldie, made popular by the late Nat king Cole (and daughter Natalie Cole) – ‘Unforgettable.’

Clifford Richards will be seen in a virtual concert, along with Corrine Almeida, and Sohan

The second CD will feature Sohan’s original songs, both western and oriental. 

Sohan will be working with Shobi Perera, Kumar de Silva, Rajiv Sebastian, Roshan de Silva, Chrys Wikramanayake, Rukshan Perera and Damian Wikkramatillake on his novel project, while Krishantha de Silva, who manages Sonexco Enterprises, will take on the role of coordinator.

Although this project will keep The X-Periments, busy, one day of the week will be designated as ‘recording day’ and they have a deadline of three months to complete this project, said Sohan.

There is also a possibility of Sohan inviting a few of his friends to join him in the vocals but that will depend on the materiel he decides on.

“There is no point in hanging around, waiting for work. Musicians have to innovate and create work to keep going, during these challenging times.”

 Sohan is also working closely with Corinne Almeida  and Clifford Richards and has an idea of doing a virtual concert, with the same line up that was featured at the Valentine show, called  ‘Love at the Edge.’

Rajitha, of Misty, is helping them with the technical details of the show,

No doubt, things are looking a bit rosy for Sohan & The X-Periments, and Trishelle.. 

The guys are also working with Benjy and Aquarius, on a mega event, for Richard de Soysa, to be held at Nelum Pokuna,  which is scheduled for mid- May, of 2021, and will feature 10 leading artistes ..

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Remembering Dr. Neville Fernando

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This tribute is in remembrance of my father-in-law, the late Dr. Neville Fernando who would have celebrated his 90th birthday on 9th March 2021. He passed away unexpectedly on the 4th of February 2021 due to the deadly COVID-19 virus.

His birthday will be remembered with an almsgiving to the priests at the Kotikawatta temple to invoke merits on him to attain the Supreme bliss of Niravana. Religious observances on his birthday were an annual occurrence even during his lifetime.

As I ponder his memories, being ‘no more’ is the saddest thought that crosses my mind. I suspect that if you are reading this you understand what I mean logically. Death means that our loved ones never grow a year older, although logic does little to clear up our confusion when his birthday continues to happen year after year.

His memories and deeds throughout his life brought back towards the day I joined his family, when I was just a medical house-officer at the Nawalapitiya Hospital in 1982, through the marriage to his only daughter. Even then he was known to be a real legend and an honest politician. Today, I am in this position as a cardiologist due to his encouragement, loving care and continuous assistance in whatever means. My mind is full of memories of those loving moments shared together. He was a loving, kind and straight gentleman. I may also use the words handsome and charismatic leader. He will inspire us throughout our lives. His pleasant disposition will charm anyone and uplift our mood.

He led a good life and now has a left a good legacy of four children( three boys and one girl) whom any father would be proud of, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren loved by everyone. He is now no more and no one can fill the void nor bring back the warmth and love he exuded.

We all have courage and we have our convictions, but rarely have the courage of our conviction. His kindness and compassion were his key attributes that made him so special. He had been a good general practitioner before coming to Parliament defeating a formidable leftist politician Leslie Goonewardene who represented Panadura for decades. It was a landmark victory for the UNP in 1977. He was a kind and compassionate doctor who served the rich and poor alike in Panadura for many years and was sought after by his patients for his well known ‘athguna’ (healing hands). This is where he earned his loyal fan base to enter into politics.

Among many things he achieved in Panadura establishing the “Kethumathi” Maternity Hospital, the only one of its kind outside Colombo, helping Sri Sumangala Girls College expansion programme, starting Agamathi Girls school and Janadhipathi Boys School and self funding the Sri Saugatha Vidyalaya Pirivena building at n the Rankoth Viharaya temple in Panadura. Likewise he helped many Buddhist temples during his tenure.

He also started an industrial zone in Modarawila, Panadura which was an abandoned marshy area before that. He had provided the first computer lab and two acres of additional land to expand the Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya which is spoken with gratitude by the students of his alma mater. He did not expect anything in return.

He was a fearless ,principled and honest man who opposed JRs’ motion to takeaway Mrs.Bandaranaikes’ civic rights as he never wanted to compromise his basic human qualities over politics. Very soon he left the Government before any attempt to expel him and formed a small party with few other honest politicians. Later he joined SLFP on the invitation of Mrs.Bandaranaike and worked in the party as an Assistant Secretary for the progress of the country.

He was a maverick par excellence ,an entrepreneur ,extraordinaire and a businessman with a foresight. As one of the pioneers in the hospitality industry, he built hotel Swanee, subsequently he started JF and I, one of the most modern printing and packaging factories in the country to date. He also pioneered a porcelain factory called “Royal Fernwood Porcelain” in Kosgama. Which provided so many employment opportunities and in time to come, helped to economically develop the area.

Continuing his political career, he entered Parliament again as an SLFP opposition member. Later on in 1994 he decided to give up politics.

His divestments in the Porcelain factory enabled him to purchase Asha Central Hospital which was developed with latest equipment and brought to international standards. This is the time I had to take a difficult decision to leave the Government as a Consultant Cardiologist and join Asha Central Hospital in 1998 to help him in his endeavour. He developed and managed Asha Central Hospital till 2007 and subsequently sold it to start his new venture SAITM or South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine with the encouragement of the then Min.of Higher Education Wishwa Warnapala.

Infact I was very much concerned about the new development because of the past experience in the country with the North Colombo Medical College. He always used to tell “every child should have the right for a decent education either in a government or non-government organisation”. His main vision was to give a higher education opportunity for the students .Therefore apart from medicine he also established nursing, engineering , IT, management programmes with the help of esteemed academics who believed in his vision. He established the Dr Neville Fernando Teaching hospital (NFTH) in Malabe to provide clinical training for his students at the medical faculty .It was a impressive state of the art hospital with 1002 beds and latest medical equipment . All of this was done during his 80s which was a remarkable achievement.

SAITM gave him immense pride and a lot of pain at the same time. He was very proud of the fact that he was able to give so many scholarships to deserving students (close to Rs.600 million scholarships during his time).In addition to saving a tremendous amount of foreign exchange he was also able to give an opportunity to students to stay in Sri Lanka with their parents, without having to go overseas for their education leaving behind all family and friends.

However, he had to face many obstacles during this period and was socially and politically crushed due to SAITM. With time, he made a decision to give the NFTH to the Government in return for the clinical training of the medical students of SAITM. In 2017 SAITM was closed down by Maithripala Sirisena who gave in due to the heavy opposition made by the unions against private medical education.

At 89 years of age he was an avid Facebook warrior and used to keep abreast of what was going on in the social media. He was a big cricket fan and never missed watching a cricket match day or night.

Writing about this unique personality cannot be limited to a few words. His life is a monumental story full of new chapters. He dreamed big and his dreams were of public service, even when he was no longer a politician. He yearned to make this country a better place for people to live in, even in his eighties.

May his journey of Sansara be a short one and may he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!

 

Dr Mohan Jayatilake

Consultant Cardiologist

 

 

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Boogie Night with Suzi

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Yes, music lovers, get ready to boogie the night away, this Saturday, March 13th.

From 9.00 pm to 10 pm, you would be given the opportunity to see Friends’ former female vocalist, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger) boogie away on Facebook, on Talent Network Group (TNG).

Suzi is excited about this new scene, which will be live streamed, worldwide., and she plans to belt out songs from the Friends’ era (’80s and ’90s), country, and rock ‘n’ roll.

She is already working on her repertoire and says she will make ‘Boogie Night with Suzi’ a real exciting event.

TNG is a Dubai-based project, administered in Dubai, with moderators, worldwide.

And, that means, the whole world is going to see Suzi boogie away.

Several local artistes have already been featured on TNG.

 

 

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