Other News

More news for your entertainment

Nepal: Lockdown of a landlocked nation

All the land borders with India and China have been closed. All Services have been closed- International flights and so also all long haul transport and non essential Services.

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

With a country depending on tourism and with so many Foreign nationals still in the country, Nepal has just detected a third confirmed case of Covid-19. It has been lucky so far but there are fears that the worst is yet to come.

A week long lockdown was declared from 24th of March and generally people in Kathmandu and other major urban centres cooperated with the authorities unlike in India.

It was found that over 300 foreigners are still stuck at various trekking places. Of these Everest Region leads with 98 trekkers, followed by Jomsom- the way to Mukthinath with 50 and then in Annapurna with 30 and Sankuwasuba-19. The main task of the Government is first to locate the stranded trekkers and bring them to Kathmandu and then? The Government is still to decide as to what to do with them.

On 22nd March, Prime Minister Oli addressed the nation on the pandemic. It is ironic that he had to start his speech saying that he was not there to talk about his own health (it should be of national concern after his second kidney transplant) but to discuss on the nation’s public health.

It was a subdued Oli that the nation heard- he appealed (humbly!) to people to remain indoors and take all precautions. He requested them not to stock pile and not spread panic or rumour.

The real test for Nepal is yet to come. The main challenges would be - how to keep the supply of essentials when neighbouring India has also imposed a total lock down and when the country particularly the capital Kathmandu is dependent on supplies from south.

The second challenge will be controlling prices as prices tend to rise when stoppages occur. No thought has yet been given on slashing customs duty on raw materials coming from outside.

The hardest hit will be the Tourism Industry and to a lesser extent the Aviation Sector The private sector is already demanding that an “economic emergency” be declared.

All the land borders with India and China have been closed. All Services have been closed- International flights and so also all long haul transport and non essential Services.

Major border points have been provided with “Health Desks” but with hardly any equipment or personnel. Only the central Hospital in Kathmandu can handle testing about 500 cases a week that is hardly sufficient. It looks that the Government has been taken by surprise though it did have enough time to prepare!

Kathmandu has been denuded by over 5 lakh people who had left the city for their homes in the villages. The courts have been closed for two weeks.

Added to these problems, it is said that Nepalis are already being laid off in major labour destinations- Malaysia, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia. There are reports that the Nepalis in Qatar are in great distress. These would affect the domestic consumer industry providing consumer goods, reducing liquidity at banks and the foreign exchange reserves.

The Construction Industry is also said to be affected and this has lowered the demand for Cement, Steel and Construction Materials. With the Chinese companies having taken a holiday and have not returned probably due to the incidence of Corona Virus there is uncertainty in the Construction Sector.

Added to this is the political problem faced by Oli after having rejected outright the nomination of Bam Dev Gautham unanimously decided by the Party Secretariat. The repercussions on this development is yet to be felt. At this hour of crisis of national proportions there is need for unity. So far, Dahal the Co Chairman has been quiet but one cannot depend on this vile politician!

It is not clear why a lockdown of only one week was ordered when experience in other countries showed that it has to be a longer period. It looks that the lock down of the entire country may be extended for another two weeks at least.

There is also a demand that with the rising number of Covid-19 cases in India and increased cross border movement, the Nepal-India border should be completely sealed. Easily said than done as it is almost impossible to seal the open border between the two countries.

Covid-19 Outbreak: Nature is Smart Enough to Do the Job

When asked if COVID-19 could have been a biological weapon, one Israeli expert told me, ‘Do you really think that someone would develop a virus to kill people 70 and older?’

by Yossi Melman

On January 24, The Washington Times quoted Dany Shoham, who raised the possibility that the coronavirus was created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Hubei Province, where the epidemic began. Shoham is a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a former lieutenant colonel in Military Intelligence’s research department, where he specialized in chemical and biological warfare.

“In principle, outward virus infiltration might take place either as leakage or as an indoor unnoticed infection of a person that normally went out of the concerned facility,” Shoham told The Washington Times. “This could have been the case with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but so far there isn’t evidence or indication for such.”

He noted that the virology institute operated under the auspices of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, but some of its laboratories “have linkage with the PLA or BW-related elements within the Chinese defense establishment” – the PLA is the Chinese military; BW stands for biological weapons.

Based on his remarks, American attorney Larry Klayman, a right-wing Republican activist who has been called a serial litigant – he once sued his own mother – filed a class-action suit in federal court against the Chinese government for $20 billion.

As far as is known, Shoham is the first and one of the few observers to raise the possibility that a leak or work accident released the coronavirus. No official source, intelligence service or covert biological research institute has made such an assessment.

Most experts believe that this is a natural virus, not one that was genetically engineered in a lab. They accept the thesis of the Chinese virologists who the day before Shoham’s interview was published announced that they had cracked the genetic code of the virus responsible for the current pandemic. The research into the code showed that this virus is related to the one that caused the SARS epidemic and is similar to the one that caused MERS, which was spread by camels.

According to experts, the sources of the coronavirus infection were bats and snakes that were sold at seafood markets in China. According to this assessment, the virus underwent a mutation before it infected humans.

Some researchers believe the virus originated in pangolins, a type of anteater common in Asia. But these scientific explanations haven’t stopped the groundless speculation that has morphed into conspiracy theories.

Overexcited journalists

The spreading of baseless assumptions, lies and conspiracy theories is hardly a new phenomenon, but it has become much more widespread in the internet era. Over the past decade, especially since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the growth of neo-populism, it has made its way from the margins to the mainstream.

Even prominent people who ostensibly are supposed to base their arguments on logic and scientific data occasionally fall prey to conspiracy theories to explain political and cultural developments. This paranoia has infected the coronavirus coverage and is being spread by prominent journalists in Israel and elsewhere.

Most conspiracy-theory lovers accuse China of spreading the virus to collapse the world economy, particularly that of the United States, so it can establish itself as the sole world power.

On the other hand, in China the government disseminated a claim that the United States had created the virus in its military labs at Fort Detrick in Maryland, which in the past has developed viruses, toxins and bacteria for biological warfare. According to this conspiratorial logic, the Americans aimed to damage the Chinese economy à la Trump’s trade war.

Again, none of this holds water. Last week the journal Nature reported on a study by the Scripps institute in California, which said: “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”

The coronavirus’ genetic code is very similar to the SARS virus yet there is still a small difference between them. Computer simulations showed that these genetic changes do not make the novel coronavirus more infectious.

The researchers also reason that “if someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness,” which is not true of COVID-19. Nature, it appears, is smarter, as the virus found a way to mutate in a more effective way.

I also contacted an Israeli expert for his opinion. “Do you really think that someone would develop a virus to kill people 70 and older?” said the expert, who asked not to be named.

Polio for sale

Biological warfare – the use of toxins, bacteria, viruses and more to hurt or kill humans and animals – has been around since the dawn of history. In the 14th century, Mongol warriors hurled the corpses of their comrades who died in the Black Death at their enemies.

In 1763, the British tried to spread smallpox among Native Americans. In the 20th century, many armies and intelligence agencies used biological weapons; for example, during World War II, Japan conducted experiments on POWs and attacked China with bacterial weapons. And there are many more examples.

Most countries are signatories to two conventions on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and distribution of biological and chemical weapons. Israel is a signatory to the chemical weapons convention but did not ratify it, and has declined to become a signatory to the biological weapons convention.

There are also countries that are signatories to both conventions but do not adhere to them entirely. For epidemiologists and public health specialists, the smallpox virus is clearly part of the biggest nightmare scenario. Years ago the World Health Organization declared that this disease had been defeated. People are no longer vaccinated against it, but it is a particularly lethal virus with a mortality rate of up to 30 percent. Several years ago, some countries including Israel renewed their stock of smallpox vaccine.

Another area that has been gaining popularity in recent years and could prove equally problematic is DIY synthetic biology. In 2002, with the help of a Pentagon grant, Stony Brook University in New York developed a synthetic polio virus. But there are people trying to develop viruses in private labs – call them pirate labs, if you like. They operate without oversight and safety regulations, usually for commercial and financial purposes, and acquire biological material on the open market.

In 2002, several pirate labs were discovered to be producing the virus. These DIY biologists may be likened to computer hackers. Some have criminal aims and seek financial gain or just want to cause harm, while others do it to repair breaches and security lapses.

In the realm of non-pirate biological research, 50 laboratories around the world have the highest safety classification, including the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona, and hundreds more labs also have a solid record, albeit with lower safety classifications.

This week I asked Shoham if he had changed his mind in light of the studies that have been published in recent months. “As of now there are still no unequivocal findings that clearly tell us what the source of the virus is,” he said.

Now we can only wait to see if the conspiracy theorists once again cite his words to further their cause. Either way, it’s clear that when discussing the circumstances that led to the coronavirus outbreak, there’s no convincing people who have already made up their minds.

Yossi Melman is an Israeli writer and journalist. He was an intelligence and strategic affairs correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper, where this piece first appeared.

Coronavirus Pandemic: A Nature’s Challenge for Humanity?

 The challenge of the present pandemic should not be taken as a challenge for this country or that country; this party or that party; or this system or that system. Even the total neoliberalism is not the sole culprit, but its degrading aspects. Even the old ‘welfare state’ might not be the sole answer, if it is without a responsible and a duty abiding citizenry. Therefore, the public education on human rights and human duties is important in finding long term solutions.

by Laksiri Fernando

“Each man's death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”

-       John Donne

It has been now for some years that the World Health Organization (WHO) and other experts have been repeatedly emphasizing that the climate change has an adverse effect on endemic disease spread in the world. Today COVID-19 has become a pandemic. By this morning over 198 countries are affected with the total infected cases toll nearing 500,000. It is not merely the climate change that the WHO emphasized as a challenge for disease control, but also our present ways-of-living.   

“Today, worldwide, there is an apparent increase in many infectious diseases, including some newly-circulating ones (HIV/AIDS, hantavirus, hepatitis C, SARS, etc.). This reflects the combined impacts of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological and other changes in our ways-of-living. Climate change will also affect infectious disease occurrence.” (WHO, “Climate change and human health”).[1] 

These ‘ways-of-living,’ as the WHO has called them, have exploited the natural resources to the brim (oil, coal, gas etc.), destabilizing the geology of the globe, and polluting the environment, rivers and the oceans. What should be added to this list is the moral, ethical and also spiritual degradation of the people. Today all young people want to live in cities or rather megapolises, understandably so because the governments do not supply basic amenities to the rural people, in both the so-called developed countries and developing ones. High alcohol and drug use among some of the young and the old are rampant.

The young also move from developing and poor countries to the developed and rich countries in millions, as refugees, because there are unnecessary and horrendous political and social (tribal?) conflicts in developing countries than in developed ones. The refugee problem today is seven times (77m.)  higher than after the World War II (11m.). If the COVID-19 attacks them, there is no one to stop the unimaginable disaster.

Some Reasons Behind

During the last three-four decades the humans discovered highest forms of technology through science which undoubtedly could resolve many of the social and industrial problems including the global warming. Solar energy was one. However, many of these innovations were used lopsidedly for mere profit making and rather aggravating the prevailing problems and creating new problems. Even during the present COVID disaster, some countries use the situation to surreptitiously experiment nuclear arsenal detrimental to all human endeavors. 

Capitalism without any control or monitoring has gone into extreme extents under neo-liberalism depriving billions of people without basic needs and safeguards particularly when economies go into slightest depressions, not to speak of the presently evolving economic crisis. Various forms of neoliberalism has destroyed the welfare principles of state management not only in ‘neoliberal’ and capitalist countries, but also in many previously social-democratic or even socialist countries.

There is no wonder how and why the COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan, China. It has nothing to do with the country, people or the ethnicity/race. It is to do with its lopsided industrial development and new lifestyles of some of the young people. This is common in many parts of the world. Wuhan is the largest city in the central China with over a 11 million population within a small area size. It is during the preventive lockdown that one could clearly see the level of pollution of the city which came down by 30% percent after the preventive measures.   
It is not the origin that matters much in understanding the grave danger of such pandemics. This is similar to the ‘Spanish Flu,’ during 1918-1920, after the end of the World War 1, still some ‘experts’ arguing about its origin. The term ‘Spanish Flu’ itself is wrong. While at present, China has managed to control the spread and effects of the pandemic, the epicenter has shifted to Southern Europe (Italy and Spain) which might possibly shift to North America, if necessary steps are not taken soon. The situation in New York is already ‘pandemic.’

The Present Situation

At present, the picture of the pandemic can be summarized as follows.

By this morning (26 March), there were total of 467, 594 confirmed cases in 172 countries with the death toll nearing half a million. This is an increase of over 50,000 cases within 24 hours. There are 25 countries mainly in the developed regions, exceeding the cases over 2,000. The next tier exceeding 1,000 total cases are also in the developed or highly developing regions. When the pandemic spreads into the developing and poor countries, the situation would be devastating for the dearth of resources, hospital beds, doctors and medical workers. Indonesia is already experiencing the crunch. 

The following Table 1 gives basic figures for the ten highest affected countries, which confirms that now the epicenter of the virus has shifted from China and East Asia to Europe and US without sparing the Middle East or more specifically Iran.

Table 1: Ten Highest Affected Countries

South Korea

Source: Johns Hopkins University, 26 March[2]  

The above figures are quickly outdating while some are questionable. In respect of China, the recovered cases are reported for some regions while they were not included in the reported cases initially. In the case of US, the recovered figures are not available even for the Johns Hopkins University! It is a fast moving country in the disaster, the President of the country making contradictory statements. During the last 24 hours, the new cases have increased by 10,000 in the US, while the deaths by 800.

Comparable to ‘Spanish Flu’?

The present pandemic is similar to the ‘Spanish flu’ during 1918-1920 period, while recent SARS, HIV and similar diseases being the early warnings. A quarter of the world population of that time or 500 million got infected, and at least 15 million tragically dying. Then, even the young were not spared, but this time young would be most affected (if not by the disease), by the economic fallout as a result. It is not purely the fault of the young that they are at present being ‘little callous,’ but the fault of public information and public education in general. The world is already is in a recession. The single digit unemployment in many countries soon would be double digit. All stock markets are falling. Businesses are closing and millions are out of work.

Coming back to the comparison, the WW1 that triggered the ‘Spanish Flu’ was different to the WW2. At the second world war, Fascism and similar regimes were there to fight against, although some powers experimented the atomic bomb as for fun. The first one (WW1) was purely a power competition for markets, new colonies and imperial pride. The ‘Spanish flu’ was the return from the nature, for the devastation that was done by the major powers. The situation today is similar although there was no world war (but small wars adding up to a ‘third’ or a ‘fourth’). Instead of worldwide war, there is a worldwide economic and power competition between major and medium scale powers aggravating the air pollution, sea pollution, river pollution and resulting in devastating climate change. Coronavirus is the return from the nature.

Unreasonable Social System

In addition, during the last three-four decades, the gap between the rich and the poor in all countries has increased three-four times. In the case of the US, the richest 0.1% receives income 200 times more than the 90% of the total population. This is not a reasonable system and even some of the richest people might agree. The main defect is not with those people, but with the system.
Even in a country like Australia, 2.9 million people are considered to be below the internationally accepted relative poverty line. This is about 13.3% of the population. The situation in EU-28 is no better, except in some Nordic countries. At present 120 million people in the EU are considered at risk of social exclusion. This is about 22% of the entire population. The situation in China also has been going in the same (neoliberal) direction in recent times, 1% of the rich population possessing 35% of the country’s wealth. 

Under the present socio-economic systems, welfare measures are reduced to the minimum. Health and education in the public sector are neglected or underfunded. That is part of the present health crisis in many countries. The most affected country in this context would be the ultra-neoliberal US. Given the disastrous competitions between States and the fear of each other, military expenditures have exponentially been increased. Disregard for the global warming, pollution and devastation of the nature is at the center of this coronavirus pandemic. Millions and millions of workers have no permanent employment; they are only casual workers. Within days of imperative lockdowns, these workers would be out of work. Only some countries have taken measures to assist them in their daily living through social security payments. If these countries had policies on Universal Basic Income (UBI) for all, the situation should have been much better.[3]  

Some Lessons  

The challenge of the present pandemic should not be taken as a challenge for this country or that country; this party or that party; or this system or that system. Even the total neoliberalism is not the sole culprit, but its degrading aspects. Even the old ‘welfare state’ might not be the sole answer, if it is without a responsible and a duty abiding citizenry. Therefore, the public education on human rights and human duties is important in finding long term solutions.

There are countries which give priority to saving the economy, rather than saving the lives of the people, even at this catastrophic stage. There is no question that the economies should be saved, but not necessarily in the old mold. At the moment, the first priority should be given to the people’s health, young or old. More spending should be on the health sector and for research in finding solutions and a vaccine for coronavirus. Giving up on the old, who are apparently on the forefront of the dying, is completely immoral.

The challenge is for the whole humanity. It is a challenge not only in the health and the economic sphere, but also in the moral and the spiritual sphere. When the COVID-19 is going to hit the poor third world countries, who is going to help them? Early signs are already there in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is a challenge for the United Nations and other international and multilateral organizations. We are yet to see their constructive responses. Cooperative approaches are necessary within and among countries to face the present crisis.

The major powers should immediately give up their nuclear arms race, and all countries should cut down their arms spending for the barest minimum, keeping military personnel (if necessary) only for internal security and law enforcement purposes. However, those forces should not be used against the political enemies or the ethnic enemies/minorities.       

[3] Laksiri Fernando, “Universal Basic Income (UBI): Conceptual Background and Possible Implementation in Sri Lanka,” Colombo Telegraph, 25 May 2018.

Sri Lanka: In Critical Times

The next few weeks and months are going to be tough for us all. Our health, livelihoods and economy are under grave threat. Each one of us must do our bit. 

by Mangala Samaraweera

Even after the entire country was asked to stay at home the President did not revoke the Election Gazette

Sri Lankans have lived through countless crises. Civil wars, insurgencies, constitutional coups droughts and famines are but a few examples. Yet, even for the most seasoned among us, these are testing times. The entire nation - now in lockdown – is anxious. We are worried for our loved ones. We stress that our provisions will not last till the next time curfew is lifted. We fear that we will contract the virus when we set out. Day-earners, in particular, dread that their money will run out before the crisis ends.

We can all take encouragement and hope from the doughty and cooperative spirit we have demonstrated at this time. By and large, the Sri Lankan people and our state have risen to the challenge. Doctors and nurses - the generals and soldiers of our collective fight against the virus - have been doing an extraordinary job. They are at the frontlines, putting themselves at risk to keep us all safe. The public services, police and armed forces also bearing a great burden in supporting their efforts. I know the entire country is grateful to them all. The people have also largely acted with wisdom: we can be proud that following public health guidelines is not the exception across the island, it is the rule. We can also be proud that the Sri Lankan spirit of generosity has been manifest throughout the length and breadth of our island. This is true of the private sector too. Many firms are doing their bit to fight the virus. All in all, I think we can be very proud indeed to be Sri Lankans today. In fact, many tell me that the Sri Lankan people and state are setting an example for the entire region.

Unfortunately, this is not entirely true of our government. First, the Government initially ignored a number of warnings, including warnings raised in Parliament, and failed to take adequate preventative measures, such as in the case of travelers from Italy. Even more worryingly, a tourism promotion video was made by parties close to the very top of the Government just as the pandemic was spreading through the world. There are also reports that persons near and dear to those in positions of power and responsibility have been sent through the VIP lounge to avoid the screening and quarantine process.

That said, once the WHO raised the alarm, the response has been largely swift and effective. We welcome the fact that the government is following scientific and public health advice.

With one important exception, which is my second point. Schools were closed, public places shut and holidays granted. The nation was coming to a stand-still. But the Elections Commission and political party offices were hives of activity. What choice did they have? The country was readying for polls. This was clearly a grave public health hazard. Elections are, after all, the precise opposite of social distancing. They involve campaigning, nominations and tens of thousands of public servants organizing a logistically complex operation over months.

There was no need for elections at that time. The President, although briefed on the coronavirus threat, decided to conduct early polls. Parliament’s term only finishes in August. Polls could be held then. Instead, the President chose to go ahead with polls. Even after the entire country was asked to stay at home the President did not revoke the Election Gazette. By this action he could have bought us all a few more days in the fight against the virus. Since early action matters so much, it may have avoided some of the hardship we are experiencing now. This is why the Elections Commission postponed elections the moment it had the power to do so, on the close of nominations. The Commissioners, sought public health advice, and learnt it was the responsible and right thing to do. The President had access to the same public health advice. Regrettably, his actions appear to have been dictated by other considerations.

Third, there is absolutely no doubt that emergency measures like curfews are necessary. But any disruption to public life of such a wide-ranging and sustained nature must be predictable, hygienic and adhere to the rule of law. The sudden announcement of curfew last Friday, the very short time-frame for purchasing essential items on Tuesday and arbitrary extensions in some districts are regrettable. Citizens, including senior citizens, were unable to maintain social distancing due to the crowds. Pandemonium reigned in the Pettah market. At many shops, citizens had to wait for hours in the hot sun. This is bad enough. But even those at the frontlines – nurses, police and PHIs had to queue-up to purchase provisions. The government should prioritize delivery services to their families. These risks, hardships and sources of anxiety are regrettable and avoidable. I request the authorities to issue clear and predictable instructions. I also request them to request public health experts to study the practice of other democratic countries to avoid these problems.

There is also the question of the rule-of-law. The relevant public health legislation and emergency, such as the Quarantine Act, gives the government the powers it needs to fight this virus. But it also specifies how those powers need to be exercised in order to prevent abuse. Therefore, it is my duty to ask, what regulations has the Minister of Health issued to give the curfew legal effect? What legal sanction can the government use to punish curfew-breakers? In fact, the Government has an obligation to publish online all the regulations, whether old or new, that are currently being used to manage this situation.

Fourth, although it is not yet apparent, perhaps the gravest error the Government has made is its failure to convene Parliament. A pandemic of this magnitude calls for the entire system of governance to work together. There is only so much the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet can do alone. This will become all the more visible should the pandemic mutate into an economic crisis. In order for Sri Lanka to meet both these challenges, it needs to have all arms of government active and working.

Without Parliament, the government is fighting the virus and its effects with one-hand tied. Without legislative approval, the debt-ceiling cannot be raised to provide economic relief. Nor can any other economic relief measure involving government revenue or expenditure.

The Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report has just be published. That too is welcome. But it contains an insidious affront to democracy. It states that the Government intends to prepare what it calls a ‘Vote-on-Account’ using the powers of Section 150(3). First, Section 150(3) does not grant the President powers to prepare a Vote-on-Account. There can be no Vote-on-Account without a vote in Parliament. Section 150(3) of the Constitution clearly specifies that the President’s powers to draw on the Consolidated Fund after Parliament is dissolved is limited to funds necessary “for the public services”. In other words, funds necessary for paying the salaries of government servants and keeping the government running.

Second, the Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report’s stated intention to prepare a so-called ‘Vote-on-Account’ without a vote, usurps the Vote-on-Account voted by Parliament. The Parliament sanctioned Vote-on- ends on 30 April. However, the Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report states that the government intends to prepare a so-called ‘Vote-on-Account’ for March, April and May. It is unacceptable that a vote in Parliament, which the Constitution says “has full control over public finance”, could be overturned by Presidential decree. I will release a detailed statement on this matter in the coming week.

By depriving Parliament of the opportunity to meet the Government is - entirely avoidably and very irregularly - taking public finance into its own hands. This is even more true because, unlike in 2015 when a budget was passed before polls, the government failed to pass a budget before declaring elections.

In challenging times, it is also constitutionally proper to have the people’s representatives meet to steer the country through these perilous waters. Section 70(7) of the Constitution, which empowers the President to convene Parliament in an emergency, exists for precisely such an eventuality. Mr. President, I believe it is your duty and responsibility to ensure that Sri Lanka has a legislature at this time of emergency.

Even if Parliament, on public health grounds, cannot meet as a full House, there are other alternatives. The minimum quorum for Parliament to meet is 20. By mutual agreement, those twenty members can reflect the composition of Parliament. For example, in New Zealand, a Parliamentary Select Committee will function throughout the lockdown to ensure the Government remains accountable to its citizens.

The next few weeks and months are going to be tough for us all. Our health, livelihoods and economy are under grave threat. Each one of us must do our bit. The doctors and nurses are already doing an extraordinary job advising, directing and healing. Public servants are helping implement the measures they recommend. The Government must govern; humanely, scientifically and legally. The Opposition must both support and critique the Government; constructively, responsibly and creatively. As citizens, we must all follow the guidelines issued by the health authorities at all times and join hands – irrespective of any and all differences – to fight a virus that threatens us all, without regard for borders or any differences created by man.

( Smaraweera is former Minister f Finance of the Government of Sri Lanka )

26 March 1971: Recollecting Independence Day of Bangladesh

Bangladesh today has yet to exorcise the demons of 1971. Many of the anti-Islamist-evil-reactionary and anti-liberation forces in the guise of humans who collaborated with the Pakistan army and murdered countless Bengalis have established their strong and wealthy positions in the soil of Bangladesh during 15 years of military dictatorial regimes.

by Anwar A. Khan

Patriotism is the theme for the 26th of March in Bangladesh. Many poets have taken on the subject over the years and their words, even in part, have been engrained in the minds of millions of our people. Like famed poet Walt Whitman, on this day, I hear Bangladesh is singing the varied patriotic songs. I hear those of mechanics, each one is singing his as it should be blithe and strong, the carpenter is singing his as he measures his plank or beam. The mason is singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work. The boatman is singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand is singing on the steamboat deck. The shoemaker is singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter is singing as he stands. The wood-cutter’s song and the ploughboy’s song are on their way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown. The delicious singing of the mother or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else. The day what belongs to the day—at night the parties of young fellows, robust, friendly are on singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs for Bangladesh.

As proud flags are raised with the hoist, when fireworks are set to be ignited, and patriotic eyes become all moist; as we pledge the flag and anthems sing, and celebrate the sound of freedom’s ring... Thank brave people for Independence Day! Today we celebrate freedom. Thanks to those who came before. Those brave men who fought and died in each and every war. Freedom always comes at a price, and while we celebrate, we should tip our hats to the heroes who made our country born.

Here is our honour to the builders—the builders of the past; here is our honour to the builders that built ships to last; here is our honour to the captain, and honour to the crew; and here is our double-column headlines to the ships that battled through. I would say to them all that the wild wave’s song is a paean for the men and women that battled through. The sunrise plains are a tender haze and the sunset seas are gray, but I stand here, where the bright skies blaze over me and the big today. Or a mournful day, for the sun wheels swift from morn to morn and the world began when we were born and the world is ours to win.

Today is an auspicious day for our country because on this day, we are entering the 48th year of our Independence. Today we re-dedicate ourselves to the progress and prosperity of our nation; to the welfare of all our people; and today we salute our beloved bicolour flag. On 26 March, 1971 the independence of Bangladesh was declared and the Liberation War began. The people of then-East Pakistan took part in this war to liberate Bangladesh from the oppression of military leaders of Pakistan. Independence for Bangladesh was gained through a nine-month people’s war against the Pakistani Army, which resulted in the loss of about 3 million lives. The Freedom Fighters, with military support from India, defeated the Pakistani Army on 16 December in the same year. Thus Bangladesh came into being.

But the people of Bangladesh discovered their identity through the Language Movement in 1952. The struggle to establish their identity and national spirit began soon after 1947, when the British left India dividing it into two countries: India and Pakistan. Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, was part of Pakistan, which was put together by combining two geographically, culturally, and linguistically separate groups of people. The people of Bangladesh soon realised that being a part of Pakistan, which was created on the two nation theory, there was little scope for the distance culture of Bengalis to flourish. The Bengali language is the most important vehicle of the cultural expression for the people of this land. The refusal of the central government in West Pakistan to grant official status to the Bengali language became the focal point of struggle.

In the elections of December 7, 1970 the Awami League won 160 out of 162 seats in the-then East Pakistan and would have had a clear majority in the new assembly. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the majority party leader of the Pakistan National Assembly. The military rulers of Pakistan refused to allow the Awami League to form a government. A heinous conspiracy was plotted by the then Pakistani military dictator president Yahya Khan along with Pakistan’s People’s Party chief Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Even though a conspiracy was being planned, General Yahya Khan was careful not to let this be known. A full scale movement of non-cooperation with the military government began on early March, 1971 under the dynamic and able leadership of Bangabandhu Mujib. Thus Bangladesh plunged into a gory war seeking its own birth.

The Pakistan Army began their genocide by attacking the innocent Bengalis of Dhaka city and then the whole land of Bangladesh with their sophisticated weapons. The dwellers of Dhaka city and the whole country never confronted such unimaginable cruelty. The Pakistani army systematically massacred thee million Bengalis and unleashed a brutal war against us to prevent our shoot for independence. But the brave people of this beloved land did not let the dream of encircled flag of red and green fall down to dust. During the nine months struggle which ensued an estimated three million Bengalis died and ten million refugees fled into India.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was imprisoned in West Pakistan. A Bangladesh Government in exile was established. The Bengalis started smart and courageous guerrilla warfare. At one point, India also got involved in the war. The actual military campaign of India took place in December and lasted only ten days. The Indian Army launched a massive offensive against the Pakistani forces to support the Bangladesh movement. On December 16, 1971, the Pakistan army surrendered.

The Bangladesh Liberation War is a significant part of the history of the country, and lasted from 26 March 1971 until 16 December 1971. War broke out during this time between East and West Pakistan. West Pakistan became Pakistan by the end of the war, and East Pakistan is known today as Bangladesh. Finding a rattling ally in India, Bangladesh’s forces were able to drive the West Pakistani armed military and their both local and foreign mango-twigs from our territory and gain our independence as Bangladesh. But our independence came with a heavy price and uttermost sacrifice, and a story of heroism and courage that every citizen of Bangladesh should know about and feel smashing chivalric.

Every year the Government, different organisations and institutions take elaborate programmes to celebrate the day on a befitting manner. The national flag is hosted in all important offices, buildings, institutions and shops. All-important places are tastefully decorated. Meetings and seminars are held to explain the importance of the day. On this day we pay rich tributes to the memory of the day. On this day, we also pay rich tributes to the memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the sake of our independence. Forty-nine years after the birth of the nation, many have forgotten the sacrifices of those who are no longer with us. But for those of us who survived, for our parents who kept us safe through the months of terror, there is no erasing the horrors of 1971.

Bangladesh today has yet to exorcise the demons of 1971. Many of the anti-Islamist-evil-reactionary and anti-liberation forces in the guise of humans who collaborated with the Pakistan army and murdered countless Bengalis have established their strong and wealthy positions in the soil of Bangladesh during 15 years of military dictatorial regimes. After 1991 national polls, their mango-twigs who ruled the country have further ravaged the country to destroy the unexpended spirits of our glorious Liberation War of 1971. Today the secular Bangladesh that was born from the ashes of 1971 is under threat. It is under threat from the same forces that helped perpetrate the genocide of 1971. The future of a secular Bangladesh hangs in the balance today. In 1971, Bangladesh’s people learnt the evils of both racism and religious extremism. It is a lesson we should not forget at our own peril. Many of these griffins have yet to face justice for the irremissibly crimes they committed continuing at full strength or intensity.

Through so many emotional and liberating documentary write-ups by so many bona fide writers, the roots and culture of Bangladesh can live on for future generation. This day reminds us of the supreme sacrifice of our freedom fighters who will ever shine in our hearts like the luminous stars in the sky. But at the same time, we must remember the spirit of the liberation war. So, let all of us remember the spirit of the Independence Day and see to establish just laws in the country to build it as a country which rightly be called “Golden Bangladesh.” 26 March is the Independence Day of Bangladesh. It is a red letter day in the history of Bangladesh. It is a public holiday. This day is observed all over the country and also all over the world. It celebrates the country's declaration of independence from Pakistan in the wee hours on 25 March 1971.

Dreams are like the stars we see on a clear moonless night. They steer us through the darkest times and keep the path in sight. Whatever happens on the road ahead that may pull us to the side. Our dreams will serve to guide us as we swim against the tide. Wars rage and battles won, heads are bowed as they count the cost, but whilst star light shines from a blackened sky or hope be born of a butterfly. Dreams above it all will rise for no good thing ever dies. Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, the rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, we, the people, must redeem the land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The hills and the endless plain–all, all the stretch of these great green state–and make Bangladesh a glorious one again!

Although the holiday is a celebration of independence, democracy, and the birth of a nation, we must never forget those who sacrificed the best years of their youth, and countless others who made the ultimate sacrifice so that succeeding generations may enjoy their freedoms. We must sail to the coast of vision with deep and silent sentiment in favourable waves by the side to uphold our country's pride. With the mast of the ship like flag fluttering to reach where everyone's dreams are fulfilled with different cultures moving in same direction; for, the ship to reach the destination where people are fed with knowledge and country moves forward as it age being the one to be proud to live on and with our hopes shine.

The coals are red hot. The flag is proudly waving. The fireworks are popping and the band is loudly playing all over the country. We see the red and green colours. Today we celebrate this great country of ours. On this Independence Day, we remember the years past. We honour this very day for our flag, old glory, has last on this Independence Day about 5 decades ago, we declared our independence for justice and liberty. If you see an old freedom fighter, man or woman bow down to them and kiss their hands for the sweet freedom you and I enjoy. Thank them for us all. Freedom we say, not to doom or destruction, but for the future to fusion, for our lost harmony to gain.

-The End –

The writer is an independent political observer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.

“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.

… 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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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….

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

We have to have a heart; but when making decisions at critical junctures, the head and the heart must be separated.

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?

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.

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