Recently ministers of this Government have been behaving rather strange, queer to say the least.  And yet have shown a ready and admirable willingness to go the extra mile to promote or defend their ministry’s subject with their out-of-the box stunts scooping millions of free publicity   both here and abroad. For instance, this September found [...]


Holy Mackerel! Ex-fish chief mouths the raw COVID truth


Recently ministers of this Government have been behaving rather strange, queer to say the least.  And yet have shown a ready and admirable willingness to go the extra mile to promote or defend their ministry’s subject with their out-of-the box stunts scooping millions of free publicity   both here and abroad.

FISH FILLIP: Former UNP Fisheries Minister Dilip Wedaarachchi tearing into his fish, in raw gourmet style

For instance, this September found the newly appointed State Minister Arundika Fernando, attached to a tree climbing gadget, climbing a coconut tree in his coconut estate in Dankotuwa, to hold a media conference atop it to highlight the problems facing the coconut industry. Away from Dankotuwa, which is famed for producing the quintessential cocos nucifera moonshine, his message is hardly heard but his tree top briefing yells volumes far and wide.

Then, come October three ministers of this government are spotted furtively hanging around on three different bridges clutching clay pots to their bosoms, as if they carried the ashes of their forefathers; and were waiting for the anointed hour to scatter the mortal dust to mingle with the waters flowing below.  Instead, Parliament hears later, it is water with a magical spell cast upon it to placate the restless resident river spirits and gain, from occult realms, the bewitched portion to eradicate the coronavirus scourge that has laid siege on the once blessed land.

The three figures haunting bridges on October’s Halloween day are no less than the Health Minister Pavithra who throws her pot to the River Kalu with a fervent prayer, perhaps,  that she will not be called upon to make the supreme self-sacrifice and jump into the sea to save Lanka from COVID: the Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga who dumps his pot to the Kelani with pregnant hopes, perhaps, tourism’s prospects will brighten if mysterious cobras bearing gifts from the netherworld start to appear again from the Kelani bed as they did last year, a week before the presidential election: and Energy Minister Gammanpila who flings his enchanted pot to the Kelani with the personal prayer that, come what may, he’ll be hailed as the man who saved Lanka from the vampire bat’s COVID bite.

Going wonky when power goes to the head maybe an occupational hazard in politics, whether in office or no, but if anyone had thought the SLPP ministers’ antics would be hard acts to follow, then they hadn’t bargain for what the opposition had to offer.

In the politicians’ bizarre burnt offerings to the nation, the crème de la crème on the COVID menu was certainly the fish dish which had made its way to the high table not through the master chef’s kitchen door but straight from the Indian Ocean off Tangalle shore and it couldn’t have come any fresher.

Come November 17, in a ‘bring your own fish and eat’ media conference, the former State Minister of Fisheries under the UNP Government, now a SJB MP, Dilip Wedaarachchi shows he is no fish out of water before the media’s television cameras. Confidently he sits down at a table in the Opposition Leader’s office and causes millions of television viewers to fillip when he pulls a fish out of his bag and says: ‘I brought this fish from Tangalle beach to show there’s no danger eating fish. I am asking the people of this country to eat fish. Don’t be scared. You won’t get COVID just because you eat fish. We eat this raw. I will eat this raw.’

The ex-fish minister then puts the medium sized fish between his teeth and tears a chunk of the scaly fish stomach with a natural flair that hints he may be tucking into fish the same raw way each day.  With his mouth full and yet continuing to munch on raw fish morsels, he — on behalf of the forsaken fishermen and ‘marooned in debt’ boat owners — makes an appeal from the heart to the general public not to abandon the fish eating habit due to false stories about fish being COVID infected.

Though Dilip bizarre stunt may have invoked a queasiness amongst sensitive viewers, he deserves a whale of praise for highlighting the travails faced by the fishing community today; praise for speaking on their behalf when the chips are down due to COVID herrings cast on troubled waters by irresponsible rumour mongers.

After all eating fish raw is nothing new. The Japanese have been doing it for centuries, albeit, in style. Had Dilip supped of a sashimi dish of raw fish thinly cut and had dipped it in wasabi sauce while spreading his plea to eat fish, he would have been hailed a gourmet, a lover of haute cuisine. But devoid of the raw, revolting, stomach churning, crude trappings, by cod, it wouldn’t have made shocking world news.

How reliable are PCR tests?Lanka’s chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera declared this week that a person subjected to a PCR test which turns out to be negative must nevertheless undergo a two week quarantine period to make it positively certain he is free of COVID. And then take another PCR test to make it even more certain.Dr Samaraweera said on Tuesday, “We conduct PCR tests on first and close contacts of covid-19 patients and for randomly selected people. Subjecting to a PCR test alone means that there is a possibility of he or she being infected by the virus.  So, it is mandatory that those who are subjected to PCR tests, to undergo a two-week quarantine process, even if the PCR test results are negative. Another PCR test should be conducted after the 14-day quarantine period.”Hang on. Though there is nothing to beat being doubly sure, doesn’t the Chief Epidemiologist’s statement cast some seeds of doubt on the efficacy of this highly vaunted, highly priced, highly discomforting  and somewhat distressing method of COVID testing? That science has not only been unable to deliver a vaccine but hasn’t still been able to even produce a fool proof test to identify the coronavirus presence in the human body?

Doctors and politicians the world over shout themselves hoarse crying ‘testing, testing and more testing’ giving the impression that the PCR can positively identify those not infected with the coronavirus in one sure shot, ruling out the need for any further tests; and thus can separate the infected chaff from the unspoilt wheat.


After all, having a tube stuck up one’s nasal cavity or shoved down one’s throat is not everyone’s cup of tea. One generally only submits to the invasive PCR test voluntarily in the belief, and with the assurance, that its result will be conclusive and will lay at rest any further nagging doubts.

And its high price certainly entitles one to assume that its results can stand the test of certainty. A PCR test done at a private hospital costs approximately Rs. 9,000. Surely an individual does not splash out 9,000 bucks or more for a dud hit or miss test which requires two weeks quarantine thereafter just to be on the safe side?

And, as far as the state is concerned, President Rajapaksa revealed two weeks ago that the Government spends over Rs. 60 million a day on PCR tests, which comes to nearly 2 billion rupees a month. Late October, a hi-tech PCR testing machine installed at the Base Hospital at Mulleriyawa broke down prompting the Chinese Embassy to fly in Chinese engineers to repair it. The three-day delay caused a backlog of 27,000 cases according to the then Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara who said, “The machine is one out of 25 PCR testing machines in the country.”

Surely the Government has not installed a fleet of PCR testing machinery and does not conduct Rs 2 billion worth of PCR tests per month only to learn from its own Chief Epidemiologist this week that even if the result of the PCR test proved negative, it will be better to be safe than sorry by sending those tested into hibernation during the 14-day incubation period of the coronavirus followed by another PCR shot when they awake.

Furthermore, with the introduction of the Antigen test on Wednesday, Dr. Samaraweera said: “If the Antigen test result becomes negative, a PCR test is carried out on such patients to reconfirm it.”

So is the new testing procedure to be as follows: First Antigen test. If negative PCR test to confirm it. If PCR confirms it by showing negative, two week quarantine. At quarantine end if the person is negative, then another PCR test to see if the person is negative.

The nation’s Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Samaraweera who, incidentally, is doing a marvelous job keeping the people abreast of the pandemic’s latest, should clarify the true nature of the PCR test. Whether its result is dead on or hit or miss? Or simply flukes? Will he, please oblige? If only to dispel the fears of the tourist industry which has nailed its hopes to the PCR test as the entry visa for foreigners to taste paradise in the Lankan sunshine without quarantine. And, of course, to clear the air of corona confusion for the rest?

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