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The Rajapaksa Brothers’ Return is Not a Victory for All

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa however decided that he could still meet the challenges with the powers vested in him. True to his word, the infected clusters were quickly contained. Sri Lanka is yet to face the dreaded second wave that had engulfed most other countries. Though imports were severely controlled, his Administration ensured that there were no shortages of any essentials 

by Shivanthi Ranasinghe 

Sri Lanka is the first country to defeat “Regime Change”. The fact that this whole operation was reversed by the ballot makes this accomplishment irrefutable. It is after all in the guise of strengthening democracy that this “Regime Change” Operation was launched. Critics have tried to downplay this turn of events by claiming that the voter turnout was the lowest in the decade. With a voter turnout of over 71 percent however, the recently concluded general elections can hardly be considered to have been apathetic.

This election was held at a time that is trying for the whole world. There was an attempt within the country to postpone elections indefinitely and instead for the dissolved Parliament to be recalled. This would have allowed those politicians whose popularity that had nosedived to remain as decision-makers without a people’s mandate.

It is interesting that advocates of democracy found fault with President Gotabaya. They accused him of running the country without a Parliament. However, instead of taking the ground situation into account or exploring ways of safely conducting elections, their expectations were also for the dissolved parliament to be recalled and elections to be postponed. Surprisingly, it did not bother them that such an act would violate the people’s franchise.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa however decided that he could still meet the challenges with the powers vested in him. True to his word, the infected clusters were quickly contained. Sri Lanka is yet to face the dreaded second wave that had engulfed most other countries. Though imports were severely controlled, his Administration ensured that there were no shortages of any essentials.

The Supreme Courts agreed with the President that he had taken the right steps in dissolving Parliament and calling for general elections. Therefore, the onus of holding elections were with the Elections Commission.

The EC that had already postponed elections twice had no other choice but to proceed. By this time, since the Kandakadu cluster, not a single new patient had been identified from within the Island.

It is also noteworthy that independent observers have declared this election to have been both fair and peaceful. Therefore, no one can interpret the two third majority that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration received as anything but a clear mandate from the people.

A healthy voter turnout, elections conducted in a peaceful environment despite the trying circumstances and a clear message from the people attests to the strength of the democracy in Sri Lanka. Yet, the silence from the so-called proponents of democracy is deafening.

Mandate Received in

2015n & in 2020

After the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections, many international players as well as independent bodies applauded Sri Lanka for reestablishing democracy. Some even took credit for it. The then US State Secretary John Kerry revealed that nearly USD 800 million of American taxpayers’ money was invested to change the governments of four countries. Sri Lanka was one of them.

Yet, none of the countries that propelled the Yahapalana Government into power enthusiastically extended its support for the 2019 presidential elections. India’s lackluster approach is understandable. As far as India is concerned, the betrayal of leasing of the Hambantota Port to China for 99 years, which can be extended for another 99 years is equivalent to LTTE assassinating Rajiv Gandhi.

During the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration, the ambitious Chinese-funded projects made India uneasy. The occasional visits from Chinese nuclear subs hardly compares though to the permanent residency Yahapalana Government granted to China with th leasing of the Port.

Absurd amounts of money were spent on the elections by all parties, especially on social media. However, it is not clear if the Yahapalana candidate, Sajith Premadasa received the same or similar support that Maithripala Sirisena did from external bodies.

In 2015, the Yahapalana Government came to power after receiving much support and assistance, especially in social media, from external sources. This was somewhat reminiscent to the LTTE days when the Government troops struggled without weapons comparable to those of the enemy. Likewise, the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration too could not counter the social media onslaught.

Yet, the mandate the Yahapalana Government received in 2015 was not as clear as that received by the Gotabaya Administration in 2019-2020. By this time, the playing field in social media had leveled out. This allowed the Rajapaksa camp to effectively counter disinformation as well as carry out their own campaigns. Therefore, it is possible to surmise that the voters’ decision was less manipulated in 2019.

Manipulations for a

Democratic Majority

After Maithripala Sirisena won the 2015 Presidential Elections, he took control of the SLFP. This was a bizarre situation as the SLFP was the main party of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). As such, backed by the UNP, Maithripala Sirisena contested against the UPFA. Thus, when he took over the SLFP, he effectively became the Head of the Government as well as that of the legitimate Opposition.

Sirisena came to power on the UNP vote base on an “apolitical” platform. Hence, the UNP voter was rather taken aback when he become the leader of their arch rival. They however calmed as Sirisena was then able to exert influence over the UPFA, enabling Ranil Wickremesinghe’s minority government to plough ahead unhindered. This allowed the minority government to even tinker with the Constitution.

Except for Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, the new Opposition was in a confused daze and somewhat cowered by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat. Therefore, they offered zero resistance. Their failure resulted in the 19th Amendment which they too supported. In the course of the next four years, the country was to suffer immensely because of an amendment without due democratic process.

To overcome the failure of obtaining a majority at the 2015 General Elections, Ranil Wickremesinghe formed a National Government. Maithripala Sirisena too helped in this manipulation by convincing about 40 UPFA MPs to join this union. He even replaced the names of those on the list placed before the electorate as National List nominees with defeated candidates who were loyal to him.

This violated the people’s mandate. Candidates rejected by the people do not have the moral right to represent them. Moreover, the National List is a means to bolster the intellectual capacity of the Parliament by inviting highly respected personalities and subject experts with a proven track record. It is most definitely not for candidates scorned by voters. The voters were in effect cuckolded twice because the promised National List was not the one that eventually materialized.

Maithrpala Sirisena’s actual motive was self preservation. Had he not got his own team, he would have been a mere puppet of the UNP. Yahapalana Government supporters argued that this as a progressive move that would end the era of divisive politics with both main parties on the same side.

In reality however, Maithripala Sirisena fortified with a team of his own began to assert his own independence. As a result, the two factions – one led by Sirisena and the other by Wickremesinghe – could not agree on many issues. This indecisiveness led to nine different economic policies within three years. By the fourth year, a Cold War of sorts had set in between the two camps, which led to the catastrophic Easter Sunday massacres.

Before this fission became apparent, the extraordinary lengths the Yahapalana Government went to ensure its dominance in Parliament were heralded as democratic. The various western agents who “dropped in” heaved a sigh of relief “that the era of Mahinda Rajapaksa authoritarianism is over”. It was only after Donald Trump became the US President that ended these visits, which in reality were a trespassing of our sovereignty.

These agents who “oohed” and “ahhed” over the “democratic reforms” ushered in with the Regime Change Operation, refused to see just how much the democratic norms were been violated. Maithripala Sirisena was able to lure only about half of the UPFA MPs. The corruption charges against these MPs miraculously disappeared. Despite the lure of power and perks, 55 MPs refused to be part of the Yahapalana Government. They continued to be persecuted by a special criminal investigation division directed by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

This group presented themselves as the Joint Opposition (JO) as they contested against the Yahapalana Government. As such, the mandate JO received from their voters was to oppose the Yahapalana Government. Therefore, none of the UPFA MPs had a right to sit with the Yahapalana Government.

JO was the largest group in Parliament as an opposition. Together, this group represented eight of the nine provinces. Yet, Maithripala Sirisena as the President and Karu Jayasuriya as the Speaker refused to acknowledge the JO as the Opposition. Instead, the TNA with its meager presence in the Parliament, representing only two of the provinces was appointed as the Opposition Leader.

While Karu Jayasuriya agreed to treat the ostracized group as a separate entity, he refused to acknowledge the large number in the group. As such, he refused to allocate a reasonable time for the JO to speak in Parliament.

An Opposition Protective of Its Government

The TNA, while accepting the prestige of the position of the Leader of the Opposition, never spoke on any of the National issues. In fact, they barely disguised their complicit partnership with the Government. They never raised an issue over the Central Bank bond scams, even as the interests rates began to rise as a direct rippled effect of these scams. The economic repercussions were enormous as businesses collapsed and cost of living soared. As imports increased while the export markets struggled, the rupee came under intense pressure. The sudden devaluation of the rupee by 31 percent was unprecedented. This in turn increased our debt burden, causing our interest rates to rise even more.

During the tenure of the Yahapalana Government, Sri Lanka experienced a number of tragedies. Droughts and floods are common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Apart from these, the Salawa explosion, the Meetotamulla garbage disaster and the massive Aranayaka landslide took place while the TNA sat as the Opposition. Not a single TNA MP visited any of these disaster sites, nor raised in Parliament the delay in compensating the victims. They did not even raise the issue faced by the Northern fishermen due to poaching by the South Indian fishing trawlers.

The TNA’s focus was holding the Sri Lankan Military accountable for alleged war crimes and gaining more autonomy. These were also the very objectives of the Yahapalana Government. As such, both the Yahapalana Government and the TNA were working in partnership.

While the Yahapalana Government co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution 30/1, the TNA was formulating a new constitution with irreversible conditions to strengthen the provinces at the cost of the central government. They were thus working on the same project.

Even as the TNA were pushing for more autonomy, they failed to protect the powers they already have at hand. One by one the Provincial Councils became defunct as the PC elections were postponed indefinitely. The very reasons Provincial Councils were created was as a step to redress the grievances of the Tamils in the North and East. Yet, to date they have not expressed any distress over the fact that these councils are no longer functioning. It is ironic indeed that since the expiration of these councils, the provinces are being run by the Government.

It was indeed eyebrow raising when the TNA tried to protect the Yahapalana Government. As the popularity of the Yahapalana Government plummeted, a petrified TNA beseeched India to protect the government. By doing so, TNA must have become the first Opposition to want to protect the sitting government.

Democracy Advocators Break their Silence

Not a single West mentored entity was bothered by these vulgarities that shammed democracy. They continued to be relieved that the Rajapaksas were not at the helm. However, the people have voted with an overwhelming majority the Rajapaksa brothers back to power.

This is very alarming to the West-led foreign media as well as civil groups. They refuse to acknowledge any positive stride taken by the new Rajapaksa headed Administration. Even Sri Lanka’s superb management of the COVID-19 pandemic is met with countless criticism and without a single word of praise or acknowledgment of its remarkable successes. They worry that the “democratic reforms” introduced by the previous government will be rolled back.

Sri Lanka can be assured that the next four years will be a never ending complaint from these entities as they nitpick over isolated incidents and make mountains out of molehills. They may moan and groan, but it is the people in Sri Lanka who has to live with the situation. Therefore, it is the Sri Lankan citizen who must decide what is right and not for Sri Lanka.

(ranasingheshivanthi@gmail.com)

 


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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