Is the cure more deadly than the virus?
Opinions are largely divided when it comes to the nature of preventive measures necessary to stem the further spread of Covid-19.
Decision-makers depend on the guidance and recommendations of medical experts in adopting health safety protocols the public should adhere to.
Interestingly, a prominent group of global medical experts recently initiated a process to specifically focus on the negative impacts on the public health in general as a result of coronavirus related shutdowns and curfews in a country.
Titled ‘The Great Barrington Declaration’, the group of infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists raised grave concerns over the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing Covid-19 policies, and recommended an approach they called ‘Focused Protection’.
The experts claimed that the ongoing lockdown policies in many countries are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice, they claimed.
Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed. The normal time-line for releasing a vaccine to the public is between 8 – 12 years, they opined.
“The vulnerability to death from Covid-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher among the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, the virus is less dangerous than many other viral strains, including influenza”, the medical experts declared.
As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. It’s a known fact that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable. The goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until herd immunity settles in, the experts recommended.
The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally and to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those at the highest risk. This is what medical experts call “Focused Protection”.
Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to Covid-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their homes.
When possible, they should meet their family members outside, rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals, they further said.
The medical experts are of the view that those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home.
Restaurants and other businesses should remain open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity, they said.
On October 4, 2020, ‘The Great Barrington Declaration’ was authored and signed in Great Barrington, United States, by Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, a Biostatistician, and Epidemiologist with expertise in detecting and monitoring infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safety evaluations, Dr. Sunetra Gupta, Professor at Oxford University, an Epidemiologist with expertise in Immunology, Vaccine Development, and Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Professor at Stanford University Medical School, a Physician, Epidemiologist, Health Economist, and Public Health Policy Expert focusing on Infectious Diseases and Vulnerable Populations, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, Physician, Epidemiologist and public policy expert at the Veterans Administration, USA
The other eminent medical professionals who endorsed the declaration were: Dr. Stephen Bremner, Professor of Medical Statistics, University of Sussex, England, Dr. Anthony J Brookes, Professor of Genetics, University of Leicester, England, Dr. Helen Colhoun, Professor of Medical Informatics and Epidemiology, and Public Health Physician, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr. Angus Dalgleish, Oncologist, Infectious Disease Expert and Professor, St. George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, England, Dr. Sylvia Fogel, Autism Expert and Psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Instructor at Harvard Medical School, USA.
Dr. Eitan Friedman, Professor of medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Uri Gavish, Biomedical consultant, Israel, Dr. Motti Gerlic, Professor of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Gabriela Gomes, Mathematician studying infectious disease epidemiology, Professor, University of Strathclyde, Scotland, Dr. Mike Hulme, Professor of Human Geography, University of Cambridge, England, Dr. Michael Jackson, Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Dr. Annie Janvier, Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Ethics, Université de Montréal and Sainte-Justine University Medical Centre, Canada, Dr. David Katz, physician and president, True Health Initiative, and founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, USA, Dr. Andrius Kavaliunas, Epidemiologist and Assistant professor at Karolinska Institute, Sweden, Dr. Laura Lazzeroni, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and of Biomedical Data Science, Stanford University Medical School, USA, Dr. Michael Levitt, Biophysicist and Professor of Structural biology, Stanford University, USA were also among the signatories.
They were joined by the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Dr. David Livermore, Microbiologist, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Professor, University of East Anglia, England, Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson, Pediatrician, Epidemiologist and Professor at Karolinska Institute and Senior Physician at Örebro University Hospital, Sweden, Dr. Paul McKeigue, Physician, Disease modeler and Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr. Cody Meissner, Professor of Pediatrics, Expert on Vaccine Development, Efficacy, and Safety. Tufts University School of Medicine, USA, Dr. Ariel Munitz, Professor of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Yaz Gulnur Muradoglu, Professor of Finance, Director of the Behavioural Finance Working Group, Queen Mary University of London, England, Dr. Partha P. Majumder, Professor and Founder of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, India, Dr. Udi Qimron, Professor of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel, Dr. Matthew Ratcliffe, Professor of Philosophy, Specializing in Philosophy of Mental Health, University of York, England, Dr. Mario Recker, Malaria Researcher and Associate Professor, University of Exeter, EnglandDr. Eyal Shahar, Physician, Epidemiologist and Professor (emeritus) of Public Health, University of Arizona, USA, Dr. Karol Sikora, Physician, Oncologist, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham, England, Dr. Matthew Strauss, Critical Care Physician and Assistant professor of Medicine, Queen’s University, Canada, Dr. Rodney Sturdivant, Infectious Disease Scientist and Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Baylor University, USA, Dr. Simon Thornley, Epidemiologist and Biostatistician, University of Auckland, New Zealand, Dr. Ellen Townsend, Professor of Psychology, Head of the Self-Harm Research Group, University of Nottingham, England, Dr. Lisa White, Professor of Modelling and Epidemiology, Oxford University, England and Dr. Simon Wood, Biostatistician and Professor, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
– Dr. Dietmar Doering
(The writer is a Social Scientist and Head of AGSEP Research)
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.