The third wave: Has the horse bolted?
Sri Lankans are well known to have a short memory. Since March 2020 the country had to face two waves of Covid-19 epidemics and the second one was more devastating than the previous one. In the first wave all were interested in preventing it further spreading, and despite three small spikes in April, May and July, we managed with just around 3400 patients and 13 deaths until the end of September 2020. Then the so called Brandix-Minuwangoda outbreak occurred in the first week of October. Unfortunately, although local measures were adequate with lockdowns and movement restrictions, hospitalizations, PCR testing, contact tracing, etc., we missed the bigger picture. In fact, some health officials had a brazen disregard to sentiments expressed by local politicians who envisaged that the outbreak could spread to Colombo by declaring that it would never come to Colombo. In the history of epidemics, it is well known that travellers carried the disease even across continents.
What should have been done, at that time was to press the panic button in Colombo to alert the public and private institutions so that they would not allow anyone to come to work not only from Minuwangoda but from the whole Gampaha district. That did not happen and then the disease moved to Peliyagoda and then to the opposite shore of the River Kelani i.e., Colombo North. There too the authorities were too late to identify the magnitude of the disaster until the total number of patients reached 1000 in Colombo. So why is Colombo important. For all the communicable diseases Colombo can be a centre through which the disease could spread to other parts of the country through passengers to the outskirts. If measures were taken to mitigate the damage from the beginning when it was in Minuwangoda we would not have ended up with 98000 patients as of now and nearly a hundred of patients mostly from poorer quarters in the city would not have to die from the disease inside their homes without any medical help. However, the numbers came down gradually as any epidemic goes away with time and all were happy: Masks were forgotten, social distancing a thing of the past, handwashing-well the basins were there but no one was using. It is not the PCR testing or the vaccinations that can stop a third wave but proper mass communications, strict travel regulations from one area to another, masks, social distancing and handwashing, etc.
Just before the New Year in April there were reports of a new mutant variant circulating in the city. But who cared? Lack of experience in handling epidemics was shown in no uncertain terms again. What the authorities should have done was to put an immediate ban on festivities, travelling to other areas, social gatherings etc. Leading clothing stores in the city, had people pushing each other to get in with no crowd control. Where were the PHIs? Outside the city for example Pamunuwa, Nuwara-Eliya has mass influx of people from various areas either for shopping or holidaying and precautions were hardly taken. This was the time when in the UK, the lockdowns continued as it is a known fact when spring starts more people are susceptible to viruses. Now weeks into April,in this country we find that the numbers of Covid-19 patients are on the increase, the ICUs are full, the younger ones are admitted more than the over 50s, the latter because it is these people who were more mobile during the past two-three weeks.
Is this the beginning of the third wave? May be as the Sri Jayewardenepura University says the variant is different from the previous ones and is the same UK variant B 1.1.7. which has a greater transmissibility of 40-80% than with the previously identified variants and with a bigger death-rate. It has been in this country since February this year and detected from various parts in the country. How did that happen? With the numbers of patients increasing and the symptoms more severe, the question is whether this the beginning of the third wave. If this is the case then the horse has bolted and maybe it is too late to close the stables. Time will give us the answer.
Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam
Former Chief Medical Officer of Health/CMC
Simple rituals replaced at Buddhist temple
The other day I had gone to our temple to do a Bodhipooja for my granddaughter who was ill. This is is an age-old Buddhist practice to invoke the blessings of the triple gem and pray to the gods for the speedy recovery of the sick.
As I was walking from the Vihare to the Buduge, I saw this fantastic sight of a handful of beautifully dressed women in silk, satin and lace walking into the temple. They were not carrying the usual malwatti of homepicked flowers but ornate arrangements straight from a florist.
I was taken aback. I had not seen such a sight before, certainly not in a temple. I paused to see what was happening and found they too were doing a Bodhipooja, whether for a sick relative or not I did not find out. But it was done in grand style.
In retrospect, I wonder, what has happened to the simplicity of Buddhist religious practices of going to temple in simple white clothes, carrying a malwatti to worship at the main shrines, lighting oil lamps and saying our prayers softly or in silence. It seems that at most Buddhist events, this simplicity has been replaced by unseemly ostentation.
NUCLEAR POWER FOR SRI LANKA?
Apparently there has been a proposal that our country’s plans for future energy requirements, has, among its options, included nuclear generation also as an alternative to fossil fuels (coal and petroleum).In an open letter to the President0 as published in the The Island of Mar. 30 Emeritus Prof. Dharmadasa (Sheffield), has extensively cautioned against any precipitate action in pursuing the nuclear option for Sri Lanka. His is a voice to be heeded. He has, comprehensively supported his viewpoint. The basic points are:
It is a fallacy to regard nuclear as “green or renewable energy.”
The installation costs are beyond our means.Technically qualified and expert operators are required and we do not have them. Competence and discipline are imperative.
Nuclear accidents are difficult to handle. Corrective measure are urgent and costly. Large areas have to be abandoned after such accidents and remain so for decades (or even centuries or millennia) before they can be safe again. Major accidents have already occurred, Three Mile Island (USA), Sellafield (formerly Windscale) (UK), Chernobyl (USSR/Ukraine) and Fukushima (Japan). Damage to plants can be triggered by cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes and tsunamis.
In a telling remark, Professor Dharmadasa makes reference to the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a Ph.D in Physics,) decided to close down all 17 operational nuclear power plants in her country following the Fukushima accident.
Nuclear fuels are expensive and demand special safety protocols.Nuclear waste is difficult to dispose. If buried, they require heavy, concrete “Sarcophagi”. Even then, the land cannot be farmed or inhabited for a very long time.
Symptoms or illnesses (like cancer), show features suggestive of exposure to nuclear radiation.These are very valid reasons for older installations in rich countries to be abandoned as reliance on nuclear energy is no longer seen as an option; nor even long established facilities retained. No new installations would be considered by them.
India meanwhile, have operating nuclear power plants in the South (Kalpakkam and Kundalkulam). Hopefully, this would not cause problems for us. On the other hand, would they have surplus power which we could buy?.
In regard to the difficulty in handling a nuclear accident, we have an experience which may be indicative. In Seeduwa on the Negombo/Colombo Road was the Milco powdered milk factory. This caught fire sometime in the late seventies. The destruction was horrendous and he fire lasted for days.
Needing to pass this site, virtually daily, I could see it smoldering for weeks. There were many fire trucks standing by, apparently inactive. I was prompted to ask why they remained inactive and was given the shocking answer: “There is no water available for the fire hoses”.Tells us something about the suitability of nuclear plants for us, does it not?
Winning hearts and minds of community
‘Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Community’
Author: Dr. Kingsley Wickremasuriya
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police – (Retired)
by Major-General (Retd) Lalin Fernando
This is an interesting memoir of a police officer who having served in the Volunteer force may have done equally well, in either the army or the police. He chose the police and was an exemplary if reserved senior. This is not an action-packed adventure book of daredevils or roller coaster recollections of the sharp end of police life but more about human relations with the public. Sadly and regrettably, he states that he was deprived of the highest command by the frailties of politicians. The choice of the politicians was a travesty, abnormal but not unusual. In this case, the chosen person, mentioned in the book had deserted the police years before and left the country when posted to Jaffna but had the audacity to claim political victimisation years later when the government changed. A silly claim, stupidly upheld. A chapter on political interference would not be out of place.
The book would have been much more interesting and relevant if it had recorded the terrible events of that time from the JVP terror and atrocities (1971 and 1988-9) to the murderous Eelam conflict.Here was a police officer whose mission appears to have been to build up public relations as practiced elsewhere in a terrorist setting as in Jaffna and later Batticaloa by setting up “Community Oriented Policing Programmes” to bring about law and order and harmony when relationships were under heavy strain.
This is pleasant, well-written, and easy to read. It shows in equal measure both the vicissitudes and skullduggery of the worst and best of humanity during his service in the police. It is an honest, moving, and personal insight into an eventful career with defining moments that affected the lives of many. It was a life of tackling not only lawbreakers but careerists among his own ilk while having to bear, not exceptionally, the burden of interference by power-mad, smooth-talking, corrupt politicians, their slights, and machinations. It finally ended his career prematurely.
It has fascinating tales that are humane, enlightening, and informative. It is a studious book by a prolific writer. It is a compelling story with a lively and not-too-subtle style of writing, with considerable research material included. It is close to real life, relaxing, entertaining and not too heavy. It should be made available in Sinhala and Tamil, not only in the Police Training School and Academy, police stations, zones, districts and divisions but in the reading lists of schools.
His was also an attempt as by many others to change the mentality of the police from a colonial to a national one. Colonial police would use firearms freely. National police should not. A Colony would use the army to buttress the police. A national army should only be used as a very last resort. The police are a country’s first line of defence. For this to be workable, SL’s police force should first be made independent of politicians by law as reasonably possible. A greater strength (presently nearly 75,000), higher pay, better equipment and facilities, imposing office buildings, good accommodation, improved communications, reliable transport including access to helicopters and high standards in recruitment are essential under knowledgeable leaders whose integrity is impregnable.
The book is also heartwarming, sad and at the end, maddening. It is opportune too as the author’s life work to keep the peace is falling to pieces thanks to the incorrigible, venal, mainly poorly educated and therefore easily misled and misleading, utterly corrupt and cowardly politicians the people have bred for their own selfish, cruel, greedy and bullying interests. They portray the police as aliens. The people must realise that the police reflect society and never the other way around. They will then accept their own faults, just as the police would wish to do whatever correct thinking people want them to do. If spectators rush onto the field of play to question the referee bringing the match to a halt, the police if in attendance do not arrest the referee. They disperse the mob.
It is only the police that prevented total anarchy in the country last year (2022) as those who promoted it well know. This book should be a clarion call to the police to lift themselves up by their jock straps. They, possibly one of the first (1866) if not finest police forces in the region have so far kept the country far safer than many others as even their worst critics must admit. This is despite carping criticism by those who are no better or worse than the police. There is no dearth of respected, tough-minded, well-disciplined, and fearless police officers as good leaders at all levels. They have proved themselves as fearless guardians of the law, especially when all others have failed. Thanks are due to the standards set by senior police officers, like the author and others he identifies in his book, who was affectionately known to older generations.
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