By Anton Peiris, Nyon, Switzerland
The tourist season, in Sri Lanka, will comence in November. Tens of thousands of tourists from Switzerland, Germany, Austria and a couple of other European countries, except Ukraine and Russia, will not visit Sri Lanka for the following reason: They hate quarantine in a Level 1 Hotel for 24 – 48 hours because they think that quarantine, is unnecessary and they are right, because they bring their Certificate of Vaccination to prove that they have been vaccinated twice. They have undergone a PCR test in their home country less than 72 hours before departure and they will bring the certificate indicating that the test result is negative. All they want is to leave the airport and go straight to the hotel of their choice in Sri Lanka without undergoing the 24 to 48-hour quarantine. They want the freedom to go anywhere in Sri Lanka immediately after leaving the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). Unfortunately, this is not possible in Sri Lanka. Level 1 Hotels are expensive. European tourists do not want to spend their foreign currency unnecessarily on accommodation in a quarantine hotel. This is another reason they hate quarantine.
Consequently, instead of coming to Sri Lanka, they will go to Zanzibar, Greek Islands, Sharm El Sheik or some other place because those certificates are accepted there and they can leave the airport immediately and go to the hotel of their choice without undergoing quarantine.
The correct method for the BIA authorities is to conduct PCR tests on them upon their arrival, take their contact details including their mobile phone numbers, and allow them to proceed to the hotel of their choice. They are to always wear a mask during their stay in Sri Lanka.
The risk of allowing them go is negligible because they have been fully vaccinated. Letting Sri Lankans who are not vaccinated walk on the streets in the country poses a much greater COVID-19 risk to the population.
Ravi Kumudesh, President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science, has told The Island of Wednesday , that the PCR lab at the BIA has the capacity to test 4,500 people a day and issue reports within 90 minutes. This lab is not operational because the Health Ministry has not authorised it to start administering PCR tests to tourists. The BIA lab has not received a single sample from tourists. Why? Because a group of Health Ministry officials have made large amounts of money from private laboratories and quarantine centres. Some of them are part-time practitioners in private labs. They continue to block the use of the state-of-the-art lab at the BIA premises built by the Airport and Aviation Authority. It is alleged that some of these ministry officials either own or have shares in these quarantine hotels and private labs. They keep sending tourists to Level 1 Hotels and quarantine centres and use their private labs to make money. They continue to maintain the unnecessary 24 to 48-hour quarantine regulation for European tourists to fill their own pockets. Are the Ministers of Health and Tourism aware of this racket?
Question: Who are the losers? Answer: The millions of ordinary people, hotel workers, tour guides, drivers, employees of National Parks, souvenier shopkeepers and many more, who have lost their livelihoods because tens of thousands of European tourists are not visiting Sri Lanka because of the unnecessary quarantine regulations of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Tourism. Quarantine is necessary for tourists from Ukraine, Russia, India, Middle East and some other countries, but not tourists from Europe. More than 75 percent of the people in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and a couple of other European countries have been fully vaccinated.
The Swiss Edelweiss Airline brings 350 tourists per week from Switzerland and neighbouring Germany (Zurich to Colombo non-stop flight) during the period from November to April every year. That is about 9,000 tourists per year. Last year they had to cancel all their flights to the BIA because Europeans hate being subjected to quarantine at a Level 1 Hotel. I booked a flight with Swiss Edelweiss to come to Sri Lanka last March. One month before departure they informed me that the flight had been cancelled because they could not fill even 10 percent of the seats. They got their airfare refunded and I came to Sri Lanka on a Qatar Airways flight. I had to undergo two weeks quarantine in a Level 1 Hotel in Wadduwa despite being fully vaccinated. Moreover, I’ve had two PCR tests, one before departure and another at the quarantine hotel in Wadduwa on the day of arrival, administered by a private lab in Maggona. Both results were negative. You can imagine my frustration, I almost cursed those idiots in the Ministries of Health and Tourism. A spokesman for Swiss Edelweiss Airline says that they will have to cancel their flights to BIA this year as well unless the Ministry of Tourism abolishes this quarantine nonsense. They say that all their passengers have been vaccinated twice, that they agree to take a PCR test at the BIA, they will leave their contact details with the airport and afterwards should be free to go anywhere in Sri Lanka.
The other charter airlines in Germany, Austria, Sweden and a couple of other European countries that brought thousands of tourists to Sri Lanka say the same thing. So, we have lost tens of thousands of tourists from Europe.
This 24-to 48-hour quarantine regulation and the PCR tests administered by private labs for tourists is a racket invented by some unscrupulous officials of the Health and Tourism Ministries. They have turned a blind eye to the fact that Europeans are fully vaccinated. They want to continue to make big money from private quarantine centres and private labs. They don’t care two hoots about the millions of hotel industry workers in Sri Lanka who have lost their jobs.
Dear Ministers of Health and Tourism, please get the PCR test lab at the BIA up and running so all tourists from Europe can be administered PCR tests upon arrival. Take their contact details and allow them to go to hotels of their choice. They hate quarantine. Stop this 24-to 48-hour quarantine nonsense for tourists from Europe thereby opening the doors for tens of thousands of tourists to come to Sri Lanka. When you make things easier, more and more European tourists will come to Sri Lanka. The result: A million people in the tourism industry will get their jobs back. Additionally, take disciplinary action against those unscrupulous ministry officials who have been continuously blocking the authority of the PCR test laboratory.
It has been reported that Sri Lankans arriving at the BIA (those who are fully vaccinated) are now allowed to go home after taking a PCR test at the airport. The report is issued three hours after the test. If the report is negative, they do not have to go into quarantine and can leave home. Why not apply the same rule to European tourists as well?
Fully vaccinated travellers from Sri Lanka will no longer need PCR testing before departure for England. Our Minister of Tourism should apply the same rule to European tourists arriving in Sri Lanka because they will be given a PCR tests upon arrival at the BIA. Make things easier for them thereby gaining tens of thousands of European tourists who will provide the foreign exchange that Sri Lanka desperately needs.
Show some sympathy to non-citizen spouses
(Some errors had crept into this letter, which was first published on 14 October under a different headline. This is the correct version. We regret the errors – The Island)
I have long wanted to lodge a protest against an injustice a dear friend of mine (P.) — and probably many others, too — has been labouring under for over 45 years now.
That is the requirement for non-citizen spouses to regularly — eternally — apply for residence visa renewal.
This must also make one wary of doing anything to endanger the citizenship one is left with and relies upon. When P, a British citizen, first came here, dual citizenship was still not an option, and sole citizenship of an unfamiliar place and people, scarcely tempting.
My English mother came here for the first time in 1955 (with three children). At the time, dual nationality was not allowed here. Naturally, she retained her British citizenship but had to regularly renew the right to residence. And my father’s assent was necessary every time. When, after 23 years of marriage, my parents divorced, my mother had to obtain special permission to remain — her youngest child was not even ten. And my father’s approval was still required. This became more and more difficult, and finally my mother decided to leave Sri Lanka. How life would have turned out for her had she not retained her British citizenship I do not know. Dual nationality was still not permitted. But in England, she had no problem finding a good job and a place to live.
When I returned here in 1975, I had been a British citizen from birth. I needed to work but the first job I was offered required me to be a Sri Lankan citizen. Still no dual nationality. It was a difficult decision to give up what had after all been a valuable asset in so many ways, and to lose certain privileges I took for granted for over 30 years. But this wasn’t a totally strange country for me, and I wanted to commit myself to it in every way. So, I took the risk and to this day I have only Sri Lankan citizenship. But, sadly, there have been many times in the years that followed when I wished I could have escaped the trouble and turmoil.
I don’t know if my friend P. ever contemplated taking SL citizenship only, or even dual citizenship when it became available. And until recently, dual citizenship closed various doors here to their owners — as I believe it should in high positions of politics and government.
P. has thrown herself into life here in every way. She is a much loved and valuable person. Unfortunately, she is not allowed to work, which is also a loss to the country. But naturally she misses her family and goes back regularly to be with them, often together with her solely SL husband.
Were she to take dual nationality now, she could not leave in a time of turmoil/crisis here or to her family in London.
And so, for over 45 years she has had to go through the wretched business of visa renewal — originally every year, but now every two years for people who have been here for a longer period. And this looms large again now, in a few days, amid all the current problems.
Not only that, but forever hangs over her the instant withdrawal of residence rights should her husband predecease her.
I think this last is most inhuman. Just when she most needs the support of people who are close to her here, she is expected to pack up and set up an entirely new home. Not even given time to confront the new situation and decide what to do.
I think that at least two things need to be changed in this matter. The two-yearly renewal should be reduced to at least five-yearly. And the despatch upon the SL spouse’s demise should be changed to a reasonable time, for the bereaved to attend to everything or even consider, at that point, applying for dual nationality. And this should be no less than a year.
I hope this comes to the notice of someone capable of addressing the problem, though it will be too late to make any difference to my now quite “senior” friend, as she stands in yet another queue at the end of this month.
The Fertiliser Fiasco: Discretion is the Better Part of Valour
By Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha
In his novel published in 1891, tiled “The Light that Failed”, Rudyard Kipling wrote the phrase, ‘biting the bullet’ to express the thought that fortitude can be gained by ‘biting a bullet’! As things are, should the President and government continue ‘biting the bullet’ or compromise in sincerity as discretion is the better part of valour.
The farmers have a genuine grievance in that there is no fertiliser, organic or inorganic! And organic fertiliser is not something that can be produced overnight. They are adamantly up in arms, and it would appear most likely that paddy and other arable crop cultivations will incur huge production losses. Farmers in the Mahaweli and other irrigated lands have taken up the unyielding stand that unless fertilisers are available, they will not cultivate this Maha season. Crop losses without fertiliser and other inputs can be as high as 40-50%, if not more, leading to a highly calamitous national situation. The same applies to plantation and other crops. Expert calculations reveal that tea yields too could decline by 50%!
More importantly, there are no readily available organic materials, vegetable, animal or other to meet the nutrient demand of the three million hectares of crops! Most plant–based organic matter has only about 1% nitrogen, if not less. Assuming, however, that together with animal dung and other organic matter sources the figure is increased to 1.5% and on average a hectare of cropland requires 100kg N per year, the total annual organic fertiliser demand should be at least 200 million tons if not more to provide the nitrogen requirement.
The average N demand for tea is at least 200kg/ha/yr, and some vegetables and other crops too, require more N than 100kg/ha/yr. The issue then is, how such a huge demand of organic fertiliser is to be met locally.
The recent fiasco with the attempt to import a seaweed- based organic fertiliser from a Chinese enterprise, Seawin Biotechnologies, is well known. Samples tested locally were reported to be contaminated with a harmful bacterium, Erwinia and the importation was stopped. Incidentally, the local Chinese Embassy had the audacity to contest the report of our quarantine authority, that the culture of the microbe could not have been done in the three-or four-day period as reported, but a senior professor of microbiology of the Peradeniya University and other specialists in the field have debunked the Embassy claim!
The supplier claims that fertiliser is heated to a temperature of 600 degrees centigrade to kill microbes. If so, how was the live pathogen detected. At this temperature not only microbes but also nitrogenous compounds should break down! Then how is the nitrogen replenished?
According to the company’s brochure on ‘seaweed granular compound fertiliser’ there are seven fertiliser formulations available for sale comprising nitrogen (N ) phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O), and nitrogen is replenished as ammonia, urea or nitrate! (Please see Table)
So, evidently, it is a granular fertiliser mixture of chemical and organic materials. The supplier does not claim that the product is organic, and it cannot as other than the ‘organic matter’ and the’ seaweed extract’ the rest are inorganic chemicals! So, clearly, having heated to the high temperature and losing the nitrogenous compounds, inorganic nitrogenous chemicals have to be added to achieve the required nutrient composition. So, the product is no longer fully ‘organic’. Then, who is deceiving whom?
Moreover, these seaweeds are believed to be essentially harvested from the Yellow Sea off the coast of Quindío City, an area highly polluted with metropolitan waste and excessively contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. The status of these heavy metals are, however, not cited in the fertiliser composition table in the brochure. Further, although the supplier has apparently promised a 10% nitrogen content in the formulation, it is impossible to get such a high value from seaweeds! On the whole, then there are grey areas in the fertilizer deal.
The President and the government are apparently now gradually yielding to the countrywide fertiliser demand pressures of the farmers as evident from a recent news item that chemical fertiliser for corn will be imported. Then what about tea and other crops?
As per the ‘grapevine’ there is evidence that some nano (chemical) fertilisers are also to be imported and the Tea Research Institute has been asked to work out how much ammonium sulphate as the nitrogen fertiliser source is needed for the country’s tea apparently because some stocks of the latter being available. Ammonium sulphate has only 21% nitrogen whereas that of urea is 48%. Because of production interferences due to COVID the urea prices have shot up by 35 -43%, from April to September 2021, and the same should be true for other straight fertilisers.
Ammonium sulphate price globally is now reported to be about USD200/ metric ton whereas that of urea is about 450 USD. So, in terms of N contents in the fertilisers, the cost should be comparable except for the haulage. However, over application of ammonium sulphate can be detrimental in that the added sulphur in the soil is reported to inhibit phosphorus uptake by crops affecting growth and yield! Urea is the better option as the nitrogenous fertiliser when large quantities of it are needed.
In conclusion, it is the ignorance and obstinacy of the authorities that has pushed the country into this calamity. Minister after minister are obsessed with the “wasa visa” myth as evident from their utterances both in Parliament and outside! It is the general belief, without evidence that, agrochemicals are the cause of many non-communicable diseases.
No politician speaks about ambient air pollution, the leading environmental health risk factor locally and globally. Records reveal that nearly 3.5 million premature, non-communicable deaths, for example, in 2017, were from stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, lower respiratory infections, and diabetes.
The President should, as a matter of priority, obtain a report from the health authorities on this matter of agrochemicals and health. This false belief was aggravated as a result of the initial suspicion that the chronic kidney disease (CKD) of the Rajarata was caused by agrochemicals but none of the research supported this contention. Research evidence gathered over several years, especially during the period 2010 and 2018 by no less than five groups of researchers established that the most likely aetiolating agent is hard water and fluoride in the some dug wells especially on high ground, as those who drank such water were essentially the ones that contaminated the disease.
Those who consumed water from the streams, reservoirs or dug wells in the plains did not contact the disease! Some of the research conducted by the current coordinator of CKD activities in the Health Ministry too supported this contention!
However, it is sad that the health authorities have failed to brief the President, the Health Minister and the government in general on this vital matter! Had this happened the President would, not have rushed into this decision of ‘going organic’ virtually overnight!
Jealousy: Is it in our genes?
By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana
In making my contribution to the debate on the supernatural, stirred by the faith in astrology and palmistry expressed by three esteemed colleagues of mine, I took the opportunity to highlight the achievements of a Sri Lankan born Cosmologist of international repute. I posed the question, “Do Astrology and Palmistry predict future whilst Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology explore past?” in the title (The Island, October 7), which was tongue in cheek as stated, and was not an article meant to explore the origin of the universe, as I totally lack the expertise in that field. However, I am thankful to Ivor Tittawella for educating me and the readers with his comment’ “The more important and timely question to ask is how the starting material of the Big Bang, the “cosmic egg” if you will, came into being in the first place, coming out of absolutely ‘nothing’” (Understanding of Cosmology and deep physics: The Island, October 12).
I wish Tittawella had expanded on the topic of the ‘cosmic egg’ instead of casting snide remarks: “The anecdotes given are interesting, of course; but is it worth touching at such length on matters which the public are generally aware of anyway? Folk do know the distinction between palmistry and cosmology; they do know, too, and are hugely proud of, a good few Sri Lankans doing excellent research both at home and abroad”. I agree that few folks would confuse palmistry with cosmology but for many Sri Lankans, astrology is a ‘science’ commanding as much respect as astronomy! I presume when he refers to ‘matters the public are generally aware of’, which I am accused of touching at length, he, I believe, refers to my somewhat lengthy reference to Professor Hiranya Pieris. I came to know about her achievements by sheer chance and many who read my article were pleasantly surprised too.
The response I received from someone who works for the judicial service in Canada was interesting: “This is the first time I read about this lady, Hiranya. She sounds like a mini-Stephen Hawking! Sadly, Sri Lankans do not acknowledge their own, most of the time! Is this jealousy?” This got me thinking and made me wonder why we are jealous, instead of celebrating the success of our fellow countryman? I am sure many in the Sri Lanka music industry must be jealous of the tremendous achievement of Yohani Diloka de Silva whose rendition of ‘Menike Mage Hithe’ has gone viral! Is jealousy a trait embedded in our genes?
As a predominantly Buddhist country what we should be practicing are the Four Sublime Attitudes, ‘Sathara Brahma Viharana’: Loving kindness (Metta), Compassion (Karuna), Empathetic joy (Muditha) and Equanimity (Upekkha). Of relevance to this discussion is Muditha, empathetic joy, sometimes referred to as sympathetic joy or vicarious joy, as well. It is the ability to rejoice at others’ success, the cardinal feature of Mudita being that it is pure joy unadulterated by self-interest.
Fortunately, we can have pure joy about many who have excelled in many fields, both at home and abroad. Whilst those at home are well known some who are outside are not so well known. In fact, Ivor Tittawella himself is a distinguished scientist with many papers to his credit published in reputed international journals. As far as I could gather, he is a Microbiologist who worked in Umea University in Sweden.
After reading my article, a friend of mine mentioned Professor Ray Jayawardhana, who is the Harold Tanner Dean of the Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences and a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University. In addition to researching on the formation and early evolution of stars, brown dwarfs and planets, he is an award-winning writer, his best-known book being ‘Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe’. He has won many awards including Rutherford Memorial Medal in 2014 and American Physical Society Nicholson Medal for Outreach in 2018. He also has the honour of an asteroid being named after him: ‘4668 Rayjay’.
I wonder whether the interest of many in Astronomy and related subjects is due to trailblasing by Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe who was a student, and subsequently a collaborator, of the famous British Astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle. They are well known as the proponents of panspermia, the hypothesis that some dust in interstellar space is largely organic. Their joint work over 40 years resulted in multiple publications. Chandra Wickramasinghe has authored over 30 books on Astrophysics and related topics. However, his reputation was slightly dented by the rejection of some of their theories by the scientific community, including the theory that some outbreaks of illnesses on Earth are of extra-terrestrial origin, including the 1918 flu pandemic and certain outbreaks of polio and mad cow disease. They hypothesised that the 1918 flu pandemic was due to cometary dust which brought the virus to Earth at multiple locations, simultaneously, which has been rejected by experts on the epidemic.
Chandra Wickramasinghe comes from a brilliant family. His father, a mathematics graduate from Cambridge, was the Chief Government Valuer. Chandra is the eldest of four brothers and Suneetha, next to him took to medicine; the third, Dayal is Professor of Mathematics at the Australian National University in Canberra and the youngest, Kumar holds the Chair in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in University of California, Irvine.
Suneetha Wickramasinghe entered medical school in Colombo with me and we sat next to each other during lectures, for five years. He used to drive from his house in Bambalapitiya and I was able to get a lift to and from the Buddhist Medical Hostel ‘Jeewaka’ in Turret Road, Kollupitiya, very often. We both got distinctions in Medicine at the final MBBS examination held in April 1964 and he left for the UK, the day after results were out. He did so because he craved research and ended up becoming one of the world’s leading authorities on congenital dyserythropoietic anaemia, a rare inherited anaemia. He became Professor of Haematology in St Mary’s Medical School in London, in his mid-thirties. Unfortunately, he died prematurely of Myeloma, a disease in his own field, in 2009. ‘World authority on diseases affecting red blood cells’ was the headline for the obituary published by The Guardian newspaper of London on 09 September, 2009.
When I attended the Sri Lanka Medical Association Anniversary session in 2003, to deliver a ‘guest lecture’, I met another batchmate of mine who told me that he would be President, SLMA in 2005. He sought my help and asked who the ideal chief guest would be for the Anniversary Session in 2005. Considering that Suneetha was a prolific contributor to scientific journals and has edited eight books on Haematology, in addition to being a speaker much in demand around the world, without any hesitation I recommended Suneetha to be the chief guest. My friend readily agreed and wished me to contact Suneetha and make all arrangements. Suneetha attended the sessions but I was not even invited. When I telephoned to inquire from Suneetha, on his return, it transpired that he was not the chief guest, the honour being accorded, as usual, to a foreigner! With a degree of embarrassment, he told me that he was made a guest of honour. We were to meet over lunch but Myeloma prevented it. Suneetha died without full recognition in the land of his birth. That is Sri Lanka!
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