By Malinda Seneviratne
Political commentary is easy. Good political commentary is rare. Think of a jigsaw puzzle. A tough one; not the one with just a dozen pieces, but one with a thousand and where the picture to be obtained has colour-line elements that are similar and scattered all over it. Poor political commentary or in fact poor analysis on anything, political or otherwise, is when the whole picture is described by looking at a single piece of the puzzle.
Poor debate is about, well, debating points. Half-truths at best, but for the most part made of wild claims and worse extrapolation. We find a lot of that in a political culture where decrying the ‘enemy’ is second nature. The good is pooh-poohed, the bad is exaggerated. That ‘method’ is not the preserve of any political party. Neither is it the preserve of the media or even academics.
About a year ago, there was a ‘news’ story about a village in Europe where it was ‘found’ that smokers were at less risk of being infected with Covid-19. No verification. However, the story was ‘picked up’ by a media station and this amazing ‘fact’ was disseminated throughout the world. Whether or not the tobacco industry planted the story and pushed its spread, we don’t know. One thing we do know is that there’s absolutely no science in this. A claim which was poorly substantiated was presented as fact. We know also that the only entity that stood to benefit is the tobacco industry.
Covid-19 or rather its effects and what can be expected are an unraveling story. The ‘full picture’ is not the kind we find on the covers of boxes containing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Things change. And so there’s extrapolation and speculation, ranging from sober to wildly intoxicating.
On May 10, quoting a study conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, leader of the United National Party (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe warned that Sri Lanka may see over 100 deaths a day by June, July if the situation is allowed to escalate. Mangala Samaraweera, ex-MP, told the media that more than 20,000 COVID-19 deaths in Sri Lanka could be expected by September, again based on the IHME report.
The IHME projections were adjusted for mask compliance and physical distancing, but as was pointed out by those who questioned the numbers at the time, no adjustments seemed to have been made for contact tracing, isolation and institutional treatment. Strange, since these were key elements of a concerted effort to deal with Covid-19.
The predictions offered by IHME since then are certainly a far cry from the horror-pic that Ranil, Mangala and others painted in May. That horror-pic picked much from India. Sri Lanka was going to nose-dive, we were told. And it seemed that the predictors were struggling to hide the drool from the edges of their smirking lips as they made painted such scenarios.
There were similar stories at the beginning as well. Sri Lanka will never get the vaccine, some said. Sri Lanka cannot afford the vaccine, they added. Sinopharm is suspect, we heard that one too. In fact the decision-makers were misled by Sinophobic (that’s the generous take) or absolutely irresponsible (the more likely reason) ‘experts’ into putting that vaccine on hold. Let’s wait for Pfizer, they suggested. All this, despite the fact that the WHO had sanctioned the Sinopharm Vaccine.
So there are doom’s day prophets who revel in dire predictions, almost as though doom is their Promised Land, anticipated with undisguised relish. And then there are those who operate assuming that the worst case scenario is a distinct possibility, working tirelessly to meet the threat.
Here are some facts. Of those above 30 years of age in Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara, 71.88%, 56.82% and 54.57% have got the 1st dose and 25.23%, 21.08% and 20.51% the second as well, respectively. This is as for Tuesday July 13, 2021. A total of 1.27 m doses of Astra Zeneca, 7.1 m of Sinopharm, 180,000 of Sputnik V and 52,000 of Pfizer have been administered so far. Two million Sinopharm, Here are the figures for what we can expect in the coming months: 1.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 1.4 million of Astra Zeneca by the end of July. This is to administer the first dose to 100% of those above 30 years of age in Colombo by end of July, 100 % in the Western Province by the end of August and 100% in all other districts by the end September. Keep in mind that the total population in the country is approximately 22 m, the number above 30 and below 60 is about 8.75 million, those above six in the region of 2.75. The total population above 30 is approximately 11.5 million.
Mistakes never made? Of course there were mistakes. Remember the ‘Navy Cluster’? That was in the early days when steps weren’t taken to protect the ‘front line’ of operations. The ‘third wave’ was at least in part affected by relaxations during ‘Avurudu’. Nevertheless, these debacles notwithstanding, the authorities have done a splendid job, this much has to be said. It is always easy to say ‘this wasn’t done’ and ‘that wasn’t done’. All the more easier if the recommenders do not have to take into account factors other than the pandemic and will not be held accountable for error.
Of course things are not done and dusted. Things can take a turn for the worse. There will be hiccups or worse. However, the vaccination programme has to be seen as an integral part of recovering some semblance of normalcy. In fact, in the very least, it will help cure fear psychosis. One wonders if those who bragged (almost) that Sri Lanka won’t get the vaccine have, in fact, got the jab. Maybe they should say ‘thanks.’ Well, they ought to say ‘sorry’ too.
The latest in this pernicious effort is to bad-mouth the military. Mr.Wickremesinghe wanted Cabinet to take over Covid-19 management. ‘There’s experience there,’ he said. Need we say anything of his judgment? The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has also wanted the military to be taken out of the equation.
First of all the GMOA is not a professional organization (like the SLMA, the Sri Lanka Medical Association); it is a trade union. The GMOA would have us believe that some uneducated soldiers are roaming the country jabbing people in an ad hoc manner. In the Army alone there are five medical units. The total strength is more than 5000 and includes over 300 doctors and over 40 consultants. They operate in concert with the health ministry. The only reason why the GMOA might be upset (and this is speculation, admittedly) is that ‘the vaccine’ is or is becoming the crux of the battle against Covid-19. If the GMOA is not part of it, then the GMOA loses bragging rights or at least has their bragging rights dimmed somewhat.
So that’s how it goes. It is clear now (and Washington University has, in number and projection confirmed this) that the struggle against the virus is systematic, tireless and (happily) impervious to the slanders of the pernicious. Does this mean Sri Lanka will not take a nosedive? Well, that would take us back to a speculation game. We could take a piece of the puzzle and extrapolate to some dismal painting of the possible/probable, but even if that were the case, it is hard to believe that the relevant authorities are in cloud cuckoo land, as their detractors would have us believe.
Get the jab. Keep social distance. Use hand-sanitizer. Wear a face-mask. If you want to bad mouth anyone, at least stand up. Give your armchair some respite.