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“Self-Isolation” and “Growing from Home” is the best option for COVID19 in Sri Lanka

At this threatening time the public can contribute to the production of vegetables by at least growing in their own compound or on their windowsill

by Professor N.T. Sohan Wijesekera

Scary Times

COVID 19 is still a mystery. We do not know how it came; we cannot recognize its carriers; we do not know how to tame it. We can only hope for the best. The point is, “Are we expecting the worst?”

Even China and Hong Kong who appear to have had a control, are having a threat of a second wave. Just take a look at the statistics: 60 days for the first 100,000 patients, 10 days for the next 100,000 and 4 days for the last 100,000 shows the speed at which CORONA 19 is spreading. The reasons are quoted as delay in state response and the carelessness of the public. Once the spread takes place then we face the crisis of resources. Even USA and Italy with commendable hospital facilities are grasping for breath.



So it is important for us to be very clear about the danger we are facing, unless we are careful. We must be thankful to the HE and government for their lockdown and associated actions. These are not just difficult times. These are scary times.

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… if we are to ensure a risk free Sinhala and Tamil New Year, then we need to extend the physical lockdown to ensure at least three continuous weeks plus an observation period of one more week
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In Sri Lanka, we have identified only 100 persons infected with corona virus. This by no means can be a factor to take it easy. In Sri Lanka we do not have wide testing capability. Some argue that the lesser numbers could be either due to the absence of infected, or due to low testing capability, or because testing is limited to an identified group only. Let’s hope that it is the first. We have come to the conclusion that a two weeks in self-isolation is worthy of a certificate. How good are the assumptions? I am yet to see a document stating that the immunity would be developed within two weeks. Why not three weeks to be on the safer side allowing the virus and the humans to work within a wider buffer.

These are scary times. Let us make it a 3 weeks shut down. After 14 days of observation, let us release those in immunity centers but we need to keep them in self-isolation for another week. We have only about 550 ICU beds. A simple mathematical back-calculation would show our position with respect to the normal beds and then about the possibility of having dedicated COVID wards. We desperately need to stop the new patients. It is better to be safe than sorry. I do not think that an additional week would starve us to death. I do not think that we need to think of the economy at this point of time. These are scary times, time to take desperate measures. These are not just difficult times.

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We have come to the conclusion that a two weeks in self-isolation is worthy of a certificate. How good are the assumptions?
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Growing from Home.

We will have to fall back to our own resilient systems. We must consider our country as a family. We need to find enough food and shelter. Then and only then we can evade the forthcoming desperate situation.

The rice millers say that we have sufficient rice for two months and the next crop is being harvested. We have salt but Sugar will be an issue. It is time to revive our sugar and tree-tapping industry. We need to take steps to harvest more fish from the sea and promote freshwater fishery. Vegetable growers are continuing with the cultivations.

The only way general public can contribute to Rice, sugar, and fish would be through restrained consumption. This is mainly because of the scale of logistics associated with their production. At this threatening time the public can contribute to the production of vegetables by at least growing in their own compound or on their windowsill. Green leaves would be the best and the easiest. Then comes short term crops. Sweet potatoes and Manioc have edible leaves. We need to look at jak and bread fruits, ash plantains and banana. We must convert “Working from home” to “Growing from home”. We can overcome a forthcoming food crisis by promoting a cultivation drive.

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Just like a good school principal musters his teachers and the students, our rulers should ensure a state supervised mechanism that is doing the right for producers, the middle men and the consumers.
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Goodwill and Justice must be Dictated

The main consideration with regards to the medium to large scale operations such as rice, sugar, fish and vegetables would be the distribution. This must be by ensuring a fair price for the producer and for the consumer. Presently the middle men appear to take advantage. The prices are skyrocketing.

We all know that during times of difficulty, we must be fair and should be fairer than when normalcy prevailed. However, we must expect a normally distributed population and not a distribution skewed towards correct, just and sympathetic attitudes. Humans are selfish and greedy. They like money and will take every opportunity to make money. So at this time of need, the government must step in. The goodwill and justice must be dictated. Just like a good school principal musters his teachers and the students, our rulers should ensure a state supervised mechanism that is doing the right for producers, the middle men and the consumers.

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The recent messages about the tea as a cure, recommendation of Coriander, Venivelgeta and Peyawa as remedies, Use of Wel-mee and red onions for sore throats etc., hint that….
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Western and Native

Medicine will be a major problem for the government. If drugs are available, then the distribution of medicine for common illnesses may pose less problems. The doctors and the pharmacists will have to think outside the box and be willing to bend backwards. We have become a group that rely mostly on western medicine though we have a very high faith in our traditional and Ayurveda treatments. Either our media does not know about these systems, or they do not care or the traditional and Ayurveda professionals are not active. The recent messages about the tea as a cure, recommendation of Coriander, Venivelgeta and Peyawa as remedies, Use of Wel-mee and red onions for sore throats etc., hint that there should be a channel for the public to get the inputs other than from western medicine.

Conscious Ignorance and Meta Ignorance

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We have to have a heart; but when making decisions at critical junctures, the head and the heart must be separated.
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In this scary situation we need to ensure self-isolation and encourage others to do the same. However, we can see that the government is pleading but still some humanitarian actions make public to panic and crowd at service centers. These humanitarian actions are essential to demonstrate our upbringing, tradition, culture, and concern about other humans, animals and the environment. However, such actions must be taken with care because we do not know about the situation and repercussions. In climate change uncertainty analysis, we call this as conscious ignorance which means that we know about our lack of knowledge and then we have meta ignorance which means that we do not know that we do not know. This is where we have to be careful. Our taskforces must be well balanced. There is no doubt that we need well-disciplined well experienced task executors. We also need educated, and experienced visionaries to foresee the human behavior. The uncertainties of this nature cannot be handled by small groups alone. What is important is that there is a necessity of many sub groups that parallelly work on various angles to allow balanced brainstorming in the main task force.

One can argue that unforeseen situations require trial and error solutions. Yes, there is no argument about it. But the first trial should be by using the vision and experience about the local communities. We have to have a heart; but when making decisions at critical junctures, the head and the heart must be separated.

Issues that lack visibility

We are engrossed in COVID 19. In the meantime, other activities in the surroundings would not rest. We need to carefully evaluate imbalances and repercussions in such systems. Let me give you an example issue that we may have to carefully consider. In urban city centers, near food stores, hotels, restaurants, boutiques etc., there is a huge mice community. When a lengthy lockdown is in place and when these locations are deserted, then from where would the mice get food. We know that mice breed very fast. When mice find out that our stores are closed and deserted, they play havoc in such places, build nests and destroy materials and machinery. Also when the mice do not find food, then what would be their next move. Where will they migrate to find food? This is only an example. There are many more and we should be vigilant. It is simply because if such systems also start creating trouble, then from where would the government get resources to suppress a situation?

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We are engrossed in COVID 19. In the meantime, other activities in the surroundings would not rest. We need to carefully evaluate imbalances and repercussions in such systems.
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Our Option

We need to minimize damage. The best damage control measure is self-isolation. The optimum damage control in the best national interest is self-isolation and growing food from home. At the same time the country need to be administered by a competent task force supported by many sub groups covering various expertise. We mist minimize damage in the shortest possible time. I am not a medical doctor. A doctor may be able to provide a more rational solution. However, based on my observations, I am of the opinion that if we are to ensure a risk free Sinhala and Tamil New Year, then we need to extend the physical lockdown to ensure at least three continuous weeks plus an observation period of one more week.


Professor N.T.Sohan Wijesekera is a Senior Professor, University of Moratuwa and he is the Chairman, Construction Industry Development Authority. Read more about him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sohan-wijesekera-a7b59a6a/

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