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The third wave: Has the horse bolted?

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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



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Opinion

The country they saved

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Many YouTube videos are accessible on the Internet, which show interviews with retired/injured soldiers who were with the Sri Lanka Army during the period 2005-2009. They proudly talk about how they fought, how they got injured, how they re-joined the battle, after recovery, and how they saw their friends and higher officers get killed. Without any sadness in their voices, they show their wounded limbs and blinded eyes. Most of us who were not in the battlefield, too, can be somewhat satisfied by thinking about our much lesser contributions – donation of blood, donation of money towards various funds such as “Api Wenuwen Api” (although not sure what happened to those), helping families of soldiers, etc.  

Many would now feel sad about those injured soldiers and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard this country, when seeing how this country is managed by some politicians, who claim that they were the people who saved this country.

 

B P

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Opinion

Special rules for UK-SL MPs cricket

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The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK, Saroja Sirisena, responding to a call by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, met the Speaker on May 24 at his office at the House of Commons, while the Lion Flag fluttered in front of the House of Commons on the occasion. Our lady diplomat, as per The Island report on 31st May, proposed and, ‘…both agreed that a friendly exchange of cricket between the members of the two Parliaments would be a fine opportunity to celebrate there shared love of cricket.’

Being concerned of the risk of conversion of the gentlemen’s game into a “Parliamentarian’s one”, shall we propose an amended 13-point set of rules applicable only to our legislators.

1. “Scrap retired hurt” phenomenon altogether as they will never dream of ‘retiring’, worse they do not understand what ‘hurt’ means.

2. Out!, and back in the pavilion, can be re-called by the Captain under “National team player” to the middle, to continue batting.

3. Ministers, who rush Bills for speedy enactments are best suited as Pace bowlers, but they will have to compete with ‘swing both-ways’ experts.

4. Talented ‘googley’ bowlers are in abundance, but English MPs are good readers of the googley; more prudent choice would be a specialist ‘Chinamen’, [there is no dearth of them either], further, the opponents do have little experience in facing them and would naturally be extra nervous to hear the first syllable of the word.

5. Sixers should be banned altogether, for they being highly skilled masters of the art will effortlessly hit every ball for a ‘SIX’.

6. Sledging, supported by familiar un-parliamentary vocabulary can be used excessively, as the opponents will not understand them, however, as a precautionary measure, the stump microphone should be disconnected from commentary.

7. Media should be allowed in the field to get voice cuts blaming the opponents, after every bungling by themselves.

8. English team has done their ‘home-work’ using freely available data : will demand free access for Agents of Bookies at the Lanka dressing room, with the idea of winning the game easily. However, such motivation can be countered by displaying 11 ultra-luxury SUVs on the grounds [as prizes for the winners]

9. A special sitting of the House prior to the match, to propose and pass a handsome match-fee for the players, would be an added incentive.

10. To compensate for their lack of experience and knowledge in playing on a level field, a ‘20%’ [a familiar numerical] bonus of runs or wickets can be granted.

11. In fairness to the Englishmen, any attempt to play a Dil-scoop using more familiar hands, minus the bat, should not be allowed.

12. The two field umpires plus 3rd, 4th umpires and match referee should be provided with special security in the event of a loss to the local team.

13. The moment the English side appealed against a Lankan batsmen, before the Umpire delivered his verdict, the bodyguards should rush to the field to prevent untoward incidents happening.

KKSP

 

 

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Opinion

‘Lockdown’ and spraying against mosquitoes

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In the current efforts against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the public has quite rightly been requested to stay at home as much as possible. In this regard, it would help if responsible citizens, who wish to collaborate with the health authorities, are not caused problems by other citizens and officials.

While I was sitting in my kitchen last afternoon reading a book, I was amazed to see clouds of white ‘smoke’ billowing over the boundary wall separating our premises from the adjoining garden, which is known as a source of mosquitos. The ‘smoke’ was part of a pesticide spraying effort to combat the mosquito nuisance. It entered our kitchen and other areas and made them uninhabitable for a time, for fear of the possible damage to our health. Those responsible should be considerate to others in view of the difficult times we live in.

This experience brought to mind the publicised decision of the government to do away with the import of fertilizers and pesticides. These are matters of dispute, but as regards the control of mosquitoes without experiencing the health problems and financial burden associated with the usage of insecticides, one can refer to what has been termed the ‘sterile male technique’. This is based on the concept of producing large numbers of sterile males of the species of mosquito one desires to control, and releasing them into the surroundings. The sterile males will mate with ‘fertile’ female mosquitos but offspring will not result. Have our public health authorities and research establishments looked into the questions of the availability and the applicability of this technology for introduction in Sri Lanka?

Research on this approach to pesticide-free mosquito control was in progress some years ago, but this writer is not aware if applicable technology has been developed and put into use. (A Scottish colleague resident in Pennsylvania wrote to him some time back of spraying being conducted from helicopters to control the spread of West Nile Virus, which is mostly transmitted by species of Culex mosquitoes.)

In this regard, mention may also be made of the important conference ‘2nd Global Health Industry Cooperation Conference (GHICC2021) and China-CEEC Summit for Healthcare Industry Cooperation’ held in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China on the 9th June 2021, in the course of which discussions took place on possible collaborations on projects between Chinese organizations and individuals, and organizations around the world. This conference, to which the writer was an invited participant, offered great hope for developing successful joint collaborations between organizations and scientists around the world. Collaboration on pesticide-free control of mosquito-borne disease would be an ideal area for such joint collaborations. The results of such joint collaborations would be applicable for the control of both disease-vector and ‘nuisance’ mosquitoes around the world.

 

Dr. ROHANA H WICKRAMASINGHE

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