Is the cure more deadly than the virus?
Opinions are largely divided when it comes to the nature of preventive measures necessary to stem the further spread of Covid-19.
Decision-makers depend on the guidance and recommendations of medical experts in adopting health safety protocols the public should adhere to.
Interestingly, a prominent group of global medical experts recently initiated a process to specifically focus on the negative impacts on the public health in general as a result of coronavirus related shutdowns and curfews in a country.
Titled ‘The Great Barrington Declaration’, the group of infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists raised grave concerns over the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing Covid-19 policies, and recommended an approach they called ‘Focused Protection’.
The experts claimed that the ongoing lockdown policies in many countries are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice, they claimed.
Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed. The normal time-line for releasing a vaccine to the public is between 8 – 12 years, they opined.
“The vulnerability to death from Covid-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher among the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, the virus is less dangerous than many other viral strains, including influenza”, the medical experts declared.
As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. It’s a known fact that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable. The goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until herd immunity settles in, the experts recommended.
The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally and to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those at the highest risk. This is what medical experts call “Focused Protection”.
Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to Covid-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their homes.
When possible, they should meet their family members outside, rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals, they further said.
The medical experts are of the view that those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home.
Restaurants and other businesses should remain open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity, they said.
On October 4, 2020, ‘The Great Barrington Declaration’ was authored and signed in Great Barrington, United States, by Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, a Biostatistician, and Epidemiologist with expertise in detecting and monitoring infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safety evaluations, Dr. Sunetra Gupta, Professor at Oxford University, an Epidemiologist with expertise in Immunology, Vaccine Development, and Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Professor at Stanford University Medical School, a Physician, Epidemiologist, Health Economist, and Public Health Policy Expert focusing on Infectious Diseases and Vulnerable Populations, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, Physician, Epidemiologist and public policy expert at the Veterans Administration, USA
The other eminent medical professionals who endorsed the declaration were: Dr. Stephen Bremner, Professor of Medical Statistics, University of Sussex, England, Dr. Anthony J Brookes, Professor of Genetics, University of Leicester, England, Dr. Helen Colhoun, Professor of Medical Informatics and Epidemiology, and Public Health Physician, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr. Angus Dalgleish, Oncologist, Infectious Disease Expert and Professor, St. George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, England, Dr. Sylvia Fogel, Autism Expert and Psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Instructor at Harvard Medical School, USA.
Dr. Eitan Friedman, Professor of medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Uri Gavish, Biomedical consultant, Israel, Dr. Motti Gerlic, Professor of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Gabriela Gomes, Mathematician studying infectious disease epidemiology, Professor, University of Strathclyde, Scotland, Dr. Mike Hulme, Professor of Human Geography, University of Cambridge, England, Dr. Michael Jackson, Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Dr. Annie Janvier, Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Ethics, Université de Montréal and Sainte-Justine University Medical Centre, Canada, Dr. David Katz, physician and president, True Health Initiative, and founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, USA, Dr. Andrius Kavaliunas, Epidemiologist and Assistant professor at Karolinska Institute, Sweden, Dr. Laura Lazzeroni, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and of Biomedical Data Science, Stanford University Medical School, USA, Dr. Michael Levitt, Biophysicist and Professor of Structural biology, Stanford University, USA were also among the signatories.
They were joined by the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Dr. David Livermore, Microbiologist, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Professor, University of East Anglia, England, Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson, Pediatrician, Epidemiologist and Professor at Karolinska Institute and Senior Physician at Örebro University Hospital, Sweden, Dr. Paul McKeigue, Physician, Disease modeler and Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr. Cody Meissner, Professor of Pediatrics, Expert on Vaccine Development, Efficacy, and Safety. Tufts University School of Medicine, USA, Dr. Ariel Munitz, Professor of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Yaz Gulnur Muradoglu, Professor of Finance, Director of the Behavioural Finance Working Group, Queen Mary University of London, England, Dr. Partha P. Majumder, Professor and Founder of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, India, Dr. Udi Qimron, Professor of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Matthew Ratcliffe, Professor of Philosophy, Specializing in Philosophy of Mental Health, University of York, England, Dr. Mario Recker, Malaria Researcher and Associate Professor, University of Exeter, EnglandDr. Eyal Shahar, Physician, Epidemiologist and Professor (emeritus) of Public Health, University of Arizona, USA, Dr. Karol Sikora, Physician, Oncologist, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham, England, Dr. Matthew Strauss, Critical Care Physician and Assistant professor of Medicine, Queen’s University, Canada, Dr. Rodney Sturdivant, Infectious Disease Scientist and Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Baylor University, USA, Dr. Simon Thornley, Epidemiologist and Biostatistician, University of Auckland, New Zealand, Dr. Ellen Townsend, Professor of Psychology, Head of the Self-Harm Research Group, University of Nottingham, England, Dr. Lisa White, Professor of Modelling and Epidemiology, Oxford University, England and Dr. Simon Wood, Biostatistician and Professor, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
– Dr. Dietmar Doering
(The writer is a Social Scientist and Head of AGSEP Research)
Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill
… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory
Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.
Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.
Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.
The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.
Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.
Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.
The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties
Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.
Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.
Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander
An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.
Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.
“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.
The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.
“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.
Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”
‘UNHRC missive exposes UK duplicity in grave accountability matters’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the United Kingdom’s policy of double standards has been challenged by no less a person than UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
Bogollagama said that the Bachelet warning couldn’t have been issued at a better time as the UK stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The former FM was responding to Bachelet’s declaration on April 12 that the proposed new Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, in its current form, would undermine key human rights obligations that the UK has committed itself to respect.
The UK is a member of the UNHRC. Bogollagama pointed out that Bachelet had called for amendments to the proposed Bill to ensure that it didn’t protect British personnel deployed overseas for acts of torture and other serious international crimes.
The Bill is now reaching its final stages in the legislative process, and will shortly be debated again by the House of Lords, the UK’s upper chamber, where amendments may still be made.
In the run-up to the Geneva vote on a resolution spearheaded by the UK on March 23, SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof G.L. Peiris questioned the rationale in British actions. Prof Peiris asked how the UK sought protection for its armed forces deployed outside their territory whereas it sought punitive measures against Sri Lanka for fighting terrorism in its own land.
Bogollagama said that British double standards should be examined taking into consideration the UK’s current membership in the UNHRC as well its role as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group. The Core Group members include Germany and Canada.
Bogollagama who served as the Foreign Minister during the fourth phase of the war (2007-2010) alleged that the UK adopted an extremely hostile position primarily because of domestic political reasons. Wikileaks disclosed the true extent of Tamil Diaspora influence on the British political establishment, Bogollagama said. So much so, the UK allowed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to announce its formation in the House of Commons in early 2010, the former Minister said. Would the UK accept Geneva advice as regards the proposed Bill, Bogollagama asked, those who voted for the resolution moved against Sri Lanka and abstained to realise that the UK’s stand in respect of Colombo was political.
The UK succeeded the US as Sri Lanka Core Chair in 2018 after the latter quit the Geneva body in a huff calling it a cesspool of political bias.
The purpose of the controversial British Bill is stated as being “to provide greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to claims and potential prosecution for historical events that occurred in the complex environment of armed conflict overseas.” British Forces played significant roles in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill seeks to achieve this, in particular, by introducing new preconditions for the prosecution of alleged offences covered by the Bill.
“As currently drafted, the Bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes,” the UNHRC statement dated April 12 quoted Bachelet as having said.
It stated that in its present form, the proposed legislation raises substantial questions about the UK’s future compliance with its international obligations, particularly under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the 1949 Geneva Conventions. These include obligations to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts such as torture and unlawful killing, and make no distinction as to when the offences were committed.
Responding to another query, Bogollagama said that Bachelet’s statement exposed the British hypocrisy. While demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lankan military on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, the British deprived Geneva of wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from its High Commission in Colombo in a bid to facilitate the campaign against Sri Lanka, former minister Bogollagama said.
The British exposed their hostile intentions when London turned down Sri Lanka’s request to hand over those dispatches to Geneva, the ex-lawmaker said, urging the government to continuously highlight the need for examination of all available evidence by the proposed new Geneva inquiry unit appointed at a cost of USD 2.8 mn.
Bachelet’s request to the UK was interesting, Bogollagama said. The former minister was referring to Bachelet’s appeal: “I urge UK legislators in both Houses of Parliament, and the Government, to take these concerns fully into account when reviewing the Bill, and to ensure that the law of the United Kingdom remains entirely unambiguous with regard to accountability for international crimes perpetrated by individuals, no matter when, where or by whom they are committed.”
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