When the first wave of the Covid-19 receded, people started to make up for the lost time and have been caught in the second wave. People did not know about the nature of Tsunami (2004), that there were repeated waves and had to learn the hard way. Similarly, people did not know that Covid could mutate and come in a second wave, faster than the first. Could anybody be blamed? Human nature is such that they would not like to be bound and restricted in movement in their endeavor to live and enjoy a glass of whisky or a coconut shell of toddy. This is why there were riots against the close down enforced in Paris recently.
In June 2020 a research team led by Hyeryun Choe at The Scripps Research Institute in Florida, USA, published their results of a study on the strain of SARS-CoV-2 spreading in the US and Europe. They found that the strain was different from the original strain that spread in China and Asia. They dubbed the new virus strain G614 to differentiate it from the one that spread in China, which had been named D614. The mutant variety G614 was found to be more infectious, that is, its ability to infect people was greater compared to the strain D614.
Ability of a Corona virus to infect humans depends mainly on the ability of its spike protein that protrudes out on the surface of the spherical virus, to bind with the ACE2 receptor which are molecules present on the surface of human cells in several organs, particularly in the lungs. The researchers had found that the D614 virus often broke off during the process of binding with ACE2 receptors, but the G614 variety was less likely to do so. In other words SARS-CoV-2 has mutated to be able to bind with human cells more effectively. This is a natural process for the survival of the virus. This mutant variety is supposed to be ten times more infectious than the original virus. The researchers say their results are consistent with epidemiological data.
What about death rates, are there more deaths due to the mutant virus? Hyeryun Choe says no, the mutation has not made the virus more lethal. How could that be? If the virus could enter more cells due to its greater ability to bind with host cells, more cells would be affected and more damage could be caused. But the findings are that the spike protein, though it could bind more effectively, has nothing to do with the ability to replicate and there may be other factors that limit intra-host replication. Choe also says that the optimal evolutionary strategy for a virus is to be infectious but non-lethal so that its host population doesn’t die out! If this is the case with the Covid-19, the virus may mutate to produce a strain that wouldn’t mind being symbiotic with humans! Let us hope so.
For the first time in Sri Lanka a group of scientists in Sri Jayewardenepura University, led by Prof. Neelika Malawige, has been able to decode a virus genome. They have done a complete sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is spreading in Sri Lanka at present, and have found that there are four different strains and all four are from Clade A, which is the clade that has spread in Australia and the US. A clade in virology is a group of similar viruses based on their genetic sequence. This is excellent work because genome sequencing can help trace the origin of infection, and also help in the development of methods of management of the pandemic.
These findings raise some important questions. Obviously, the second wave virus may not have originated from the first wave virus. The first virus was similar to the one in China, and the second is similar to those in the US and Australia. Epidemiological data support these findings. The daily count of Covid cases in the first wave was about 10 – 20, and in contrast the daily count in the present wave is 400 – 500, which seems to agree with the findings of The Scripps Research Institute. This mutant variety must have come from the US, Europe or Australia. People who are coming back from these countries may have brought the virus.
However, the death rate in Sri Lanka due to the new strain doesn’t seem to have increased and reached the levels in the US or Europe where it is about 1.5 – 3%. In Sri Lanka, thank God, it is still about 0.2%. But as more numbers are affected more deaths could be expected, though the death rate has not changed. Therefore Health Authorities will have to enhance their capacity to manage a larger number of Covid patients and also those who need critical care. The government in its effort to strike a balance between the need for mobility restriction and economic recovery may have to pay greater attention to strict isolation of small affected areas, rather than lock-down of larger areas.
N. A. de S. AMARATUNGA
Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library
Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.
It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.
With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.
As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.
The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.
At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.
When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.
The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!
H M Nissanka Warakaulle
Ali Sabry bashing
Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.
M. A. Kaleel
What do Northern political parties seek?
Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?
Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.
India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.
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