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Waiting for a vaccine

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The world has been thrown into a spin as never before by the Covid virus. The high and the mighty are fighting a raging battle, while hundreds of thousands of their citizens die like flies, cemeteries are running out of burial ground and crematoria are working round the clock. This funereal sepulchral picture no doubt rivals what may have existed during the times of World War 11, the Plague and the 1918 flu pandemic. Yet the cold war attitude lingers on in Covid politics. Covid, though successful in teaching several lessons, has not succeeded in bringing warring factions, both cold and hot together, even when the world is at death’s door. Maybe billions of dollars are at stake. And what have the billionaires been doing; sixteen of the US billionaires have doubled their net worth since March 2020 despite Covid. Elon Musk’s (business magnate billionaire) wealth has tripled, while poor people in the USA die due to unavailability of ventilators.

The Covid-19 virus has the right characteristics necessary for the immune reaction to be successful. So there is hope. The latest progress reports say 240 candidate vaccines are in their early stages of development, 40 are undergoing clinical trials, and nine of them are in the final stage of human clinical trials. The UK , China and the USA vaccines have reached the final stages, while the situation regarding the Russian vaccines are uncertain. The vaccine being developed at the Oxford University is in the final clinical trial stage, and an order for hundred million doses for the UK have already been placed. Several US pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer have produced vaccines which are now in stage two trials. Scientists involved in this work say a safe and effective vaccine hopefully would be available to everybody by mid-2021. The health workers involved in the management of Covid may be given a vaccine by the end of this year in the US and the UK.

Several methods have been employed to produce vaccines, and some of these methods are being tried out for the first time. The earliest method was to use killed or weakened viruses, the first vaccine used for Smallpox was similarly an attenuated virus. Genetic material of the virus carried in a harmless vector virus is another method used in these trials. The spike protein that protrudes out of the spherical Covid-19 virus, and which plays a role in the disease causing process, has also been used either inside a vector virus or directly. The latter method where the spike protein is used directly is a novel innovative method supposed to be successful in the trials. This protein, when directly injected into humans the body cells, produces more of the protein which induces the immune system to produce antibodies.

Our neighbour India has the largest vaccine manufacturing institution, the Serum Institute of India. Oxford University vaccine when ready may be produced in commercial scale in this institution. Would that be of some use to Sri Lanka, would India make a special case of Sri Lanka and make it available to us? Perhaps, India with a population of 1.3 billion and a rampaging pandemic needs it more than anybody else. Anyway there is a fear that the poor countries may be left in the lurch as the rich countries would grab as much of the vaccine as possible. WHO is trying to prevent this and 80 rich countries, except the US, have pledged their support for this effort.

The other question is, if the availability is limited, who would be considered as priority to be given the vaccine first; would it be the most vulnerable or those in the forefront of the battle against the infection or those who are capable of reviving the economy? The WHO and the UN may have to develop criteria and guidelines in this regard, and also it would be the responsibility of the WHO to see that poor countries are not forced to be at the mercy of the pharmaceutical industry. But would these international bodies have the necessary power to carry out such a meritorious act?

China has said it will give Sri Lanka the vaccine when it is available. A friend indeed. Therefore, it is worthwhile to see how China is progressing in vaccine making. The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal (Oct. 2020 issue) carried an article reporting that a well controlled clinical trial in China had shown a vaccine consisting of an inactivated whole SARS-CoV-2 virus to be safe, and that it elicits an antibody reaction. Other reports in health journals say that China has produced 11 candidate vaccines, and several of them are in their final trial stage. These are being tested on volunteers in the UAE, Bahrain, Peru and Argentina.

Indonesia, with 350,000 cases and 12,000 deaths, has sent a team to China to inspect the safety and efficacy of these vaccines and the capacity to supply Indonesia’s requirements. Three companies, Sinovac, Sinopharm, and CanSino have promised Indonesia to supply a total of 40 million doses by 2021 and the first shipments are to start in November 2020. Chinese premier has also promised to supply vaccines to the Philippines, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. No doubt China is determined to capture the global vaccine market. A country which has the technology to create the Huawei 5G phone, perhaps has the capability to produce a safe and effective vaccine against the elusive Covid-19.

China has already started giving vaccines to its citizens. People in thousands are queueing to get vaccinated. 350,000 people outside the normal clinical trials are said to have received it by now. The ethics of this act is being questioned by Western scientists, as the knowledge about the efficacy as well as the possible serious side effects is lacking. However, serious side effects have not been reported.

China is a true friend of Sri Lanka and it has promised our Prime Minister that it could give us our requirements of the vaccine when it is ready. Let us wish the Chinese success in their endeavour.

 

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

Save us from our govt.!

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When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.

One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.

Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!

Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.

The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.

BUDDHI PERERA

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Opinion

Challenges, and need for an all-party govt.

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Whoever wants to take charge, must first disclose how they are going to set about it. making statements that ‘WE WILL PUT IT INTO ORDER’ is not acceptable. Even SJB, the main Opposition party, hasn’t put forward at least an outline plan as to how they will set about it.

What did the current President promise? What did the current PM promise.? What are their results? Can the country afford more of such vague promises? Three months have gone and still there is no plan from any Party in Parliament. How can any country or institution assist one who has no plan?

Challenges are many and very unpopular decisions have to be made. Resistance from entrenched interests, such as trade Unions, including the GMOA, some corrupt business interests, political interests, mafias, monopolies, etc., has to be countered. Are they prepared to overcome them?

Why go far? Are they prepared to reduce the Parliamentary allocation substantially, and even reduce the number of MPS from 225 to about 150 – on par with countries of similar size, population, GDP, etc.

Parties trying to form a Govt. must first agree amongst them on their Plan, at least on the following:

(i) on their strategy to get Foreign Exchange to purchase limited quantities of fuel for essential services, food, medicines. and fertiliser for the next 6-9 months. Their strategy to increase exports, foreign employment and foreign investment so as to increase Foreign Exchange in the short and medium term. With current conditions it is futile to expect tourists to come to Sri Lanka.

(2) as to how to balance the budget. Are they unitedly prepared to close down or privatize CEB, CPC, AirLanka and Water Board, etc.? Budgetary Allocation for Defence is another, which has to be drastically reduced, the developed countries spend only 2 to 3 % of their GDP on Defence. What does SL do? Out of the Defence allocation, Navy must have the major component for they have to patrol the sea area, which is many times larger than SL land area. SL sea resources are at risk from illegal fishing, human smuggling and illegal dumping, etc.

 (3) Are they prepared to close down unnecessary Ministries, Corporations, and Departments, most of which were created for the benefit of politicians, especially for Ministerial Positions.

(4) Staff levels in Ministries, Departments. Corporations that are to function, have to be drastically reduced, so that they could function efficiently and cost effectively. Reducing staff will also reduce the need for large office spaces, electricity, telephone cost etc.

(5) What are their plans to support and or rehabilitate the staff so retrenched.?

(6) Their plan for distribution of essentials? Rationing?

(9) Can they agree on a small, efficient and capable cabinet? Let not the country have too many Ministers and or Officials telling the country different versions, confusing the people as to which is correct, and that too hoping that at least one will be correct.

(10) How will they source the revenue? Are they prepared to increase the direct tax component to 60% or even 75 % for the present? The majority of the population have been badly affected due to the current crises. Their only crime being they misused their votes. They should not be burdened further with indirect taxes. To reduce their burden indirect taxes have to be the lesser component of the revenue, at least for the present.

(11) Can they do away with duty free cars, and all other special privileges given to some sections of the society. All Laws must be equally applicable to all. Other than the First citizen of the country, all others (be it state employees or Parliamentarians) must be taxed on the same basis as others.

All Parties joining must undertake that they will no longer do politics with these issues, nor will they withdraw from the interim govt when it undertakes unpopular decisions on above issues. They must all commit to swim or sink together.

None of those who served as Ministers in failed Governments, or who were Ministers in MR’s Govts which decided on vanity projects, should not be given Ministerial positions. Same should apply to those Parliamentarians who voted for the 17 ,18,19 and 20th amendments should be excluded, as it shows they neither have principles, nor care for the country. Corrupt and convicts too should be kept out. KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITY should be the criteria in the selection of the Ministers. Those who are unable to deliver within 3 months must be made to stand down.

To the party leaders who want to form the government, may I say, first divulge your plan to the country.

Please, do not tell the country that you have a better plan. You can afford to fail but not the country or its people at large!

A. K.RATNARAJAH

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Opinion

Fuel tokens, a big farce

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A file photo of fuel tokens being issued

The Minister of Power and Energy who covers a very responsible Ministry, was selected by the President probably due to his membership of the ‘Viyath Maga’, has undoubtedly proved to be a very inefficient Power and Energy Minister, and a complete failure without any doubt.

He is very capable of giving false hopes always of fuel and gas laden ships arriving on Sri Lanka shores, which have proved to be absolutely wrong. One wonders whether it is a gimmick to keep the fuel and gas starved motorists happy, and avoid the unending queues at fuel stations. This has proved to be a wrong system.

In order to control the daily queues, and knowing there will be no fuel ships for some time, he introduced the fuel token system out of the blues, and with no proper organizational effort. The policy announced regarding the token system, was to enable vehicle drivers to enter the fuel stations on a pre-selected day of the week, allocated to him/her, and dependent on the last digit of the vehicle number plate. This was again to avoid the long queues, according to the Power and Energy Minister.

With the latest innovative fuel token system announced, I visited the petrol station, in close proximity to my home on Monday 27th June, with much hope, and was among the first hundred with the details of my address, profession, NIC Number and contact mobile number. The relevant officer, who recorded the details, informed me that this was a pilot project, from Ratmalana to Moratuwa, and that when the fuel arrives at the petrol station, I will receive an SMS requesting me to report at the petrol station, at the allocated time, once again to avoid queues. But I did not receive the fuel token as it was not available. I was told that there was no necessity to have the token, as I will receive the SMS on my mobile phone.

The following day I received news that the fuel tokens are being issued. When I visited the fuel station, to obtain the token, there were four different long queues, along the road registering three-wheelers, motorcycles, vehicles needing diesel, and cars needing petrol. I met the S LAF officer, registering the cars queued up on the Galle Road, and told him that I am already registered in the book he was entering details and requested the token, which was denied to me. As the queues were there during the next two days, I visited the fuel shed on day four (30th June) when the officer was registering a few people. When my turn came, I showed the serial number and my name registered therein. I was told to wait until the SMS was received. He said that my registration will be cancelled if the token was given at a later date! Then I met the SL Air Force official and explained my position. He then approved the issue of the token. The delay in obtaining the token was nearly 15 minutes. By this incident it was evident that the advice given to Air Force officers to register and issue tokens was not properly given.

I was surprised to receive the token which was a slip of paper, with dimensions only 10cm x 6 cm. Inside it there were printed, Name of the Fuel Station, Type of fuel, Contact Number, Name, NIC Number, Vehicle No, , Date , Time, Signature of authorized Officer and Signature of vehicle Owner. With a microscopic piece of paper, it was with great difficulty that the necessary details were entered.

However, congratulations to the Minister of Power and Energy for drying up all the CEYPETCO FUEL STATIONS in The Island, without fuel for another three weeks or more, without queues, due to lack of fuel. Also causing unending long queues by supporting the LANKA IOC Fuel Stations, to issue your Fuel without Tokens at a higher price.

I politely ask you, Minister Kanchana, is not this another gimmick of yours to handover the CEYPETCO fuel stations to LANKA I O C?

So, we now know the reason for the latest gimmick of the Minister of Power and Energy to issue fuel tokens.

Do you now realise in your conscience, the problems created by you, especially to three-wheeler drivers, who are dependent on a daily living for their families by earning from hires, and now completely out of any earnings to feed their children, to give even a single meal?

Without creating further problems please resign from your post as the Minister of Power and Energy.

Eng. B.R.O FERNANDO

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