Lanka should make a Churchillian plea to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give us the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to meet the country’s current dearth, after it was revealed Britain has a stockpile of the vaccine, far in excess of her own needs. The United Nation’s Children Fund, commonly referred to as UNICEF, told Britain’s [...]


Plea to Boris: ‘Give us the jab and we’ll finish the job’


MAKE APPEAL TO BRITAIN’S PM: Give Boris the chance to make the British relive ‘their finest hour’

Lanka should make a Churchillian plea to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give us the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to meet the country’s current dearth, after it was revealed Britain has a stockpile of the vaccine, far in excess of her own needs.

The United Nation’s Children Fund, commonly referred to as UNICEF, told Britain’s Independent newspaper this week that Britain could share 20 percent of its available Covid-19 vaccine doses and still meet its target to give all adults their first shot by the end of July.

Two thirds of adults in the UK have now had at least one vaccine dose and almost 18 million are fully vaccinated.  Real-world data suggests the jabs prevent eight to nine out of 10 severe Covid cases, almost all deaths and also slash transmission of the virus by half.

The charity warned that the success of Britain’s vaccination programme could be “reversed” and it could face a fresh wave of infections from mutations of the virus unless more is done to share vaccines around the globe. They warned hogging vaccines and allowing the virus to continue spreading elsewhere would raise the risk of a new variant emerging and coming back to wreak havoc in Britain.

UNICEF-UK called on the government and other G7 countries to start sharing vaccines through the vaccine sharing facility Covax from June to ensure vulnerable people can be vaccinated.

UNICEF said the UK should give away a fifth of its Covid vaccines to help poorer countries protect their citizens. The British media, it is said, had reported that the UK has ordered 517 million doses though it required around 160 million to vaccinate all adults and give them booster jabs in the autumn, as planned. Analysis by the UK arm of the United Nations Children’s Fund asserted that the country could have enough leftover doses to fully vaccinate 50m people – the population of Spain or South Korea.

In the light of UNICEF-UK requesting Britain to help less fortunate counties on the principle of reciprocal altruism lest the virus returns from a foreign land to haunt Britain again, the Lankan Government should move in double quick time to lay first claim to Britain’s largesse.

UNICEF-UK’s request to the British Government to share her blessings with other nations is a heaven sent opportunity for Lanka to explore the possibility of obtaining her much needed stock of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Government has tried to obtain it from Indonesia but it is still uncertain whether her efforts will prove successful. Last Friday evening, President Gotabaya appealed to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom to use his good offices to find for Lanka the 600,000 doses. The President later tweeted that “I believe he will make effort to fulfil Lanka’s need for 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca for the 2nd dose of vaccination.”

Given that 600,000 Lankans are in a quandary, left high and dry after having being initially vaccinated with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and now have no option but to take the same brand which is presently unavailable, the Lanka Government should write to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson forthwith, appealing to his and his country’s Christian heart and generosity to come to the aid of a fellow Commonwealth member — that exclusive club of Britain’s former colonies, which still pays symbolic obeisance to Britain’s former role by having Britain’s reigning sovereign as the titular Head of the Commonwealth of Nations.

After all, having occupied this island for nearly 150 years and enjoyed without interruption or disturbance the spoils of conquests in return for language, laws and alien customs, donating a measly 600,000 doses out of a stockpiled medical arsenal of a reported 517 million vials, is the least Britain can do, in the name of humanity if nothing else, to help 600,000 Lankans stay COVID proof and alive.

Britain should be tacitly reminded of how, when Britain stood alone with her back to the wall in the face of the unstoppable Nazi advance towards her island’s sceptred shores during World War II, her Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill made a public address to the American President Franklin Roosevelt appealing for American arms for sheer survival.

The begging plea was partly prompted by Roosevelt’s handwritten letter quoting a verse from Longfellow’s poem ‘The Building of a Ship’ which Churchill mentioned in his famous appeal, broadcast to the nation over BBC radio. He said:

“The other day President Roosevelt gave his opponent in the late Presidential Election, a letter of introduction to me, and in it he wrote out a verse, in his own handwriting from Longfellow, which he said ‘applies to your people as it does to  us’.  Here is the verse:

‘Sail on, O Ship of State!

Sail on, O Union, so strong
and great

Humanity with all its fears

With all the hopes of future years

Is hanging breathless on thy fate’

“What is the answer that I shall give, in your name, to this great man, the thrice chosen head of a nation of a hundred and thirty million people? Here is the answer which I will give to President Roosevelt. Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and under Providence, all is well.

“We shall not fail or falter, we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long drawn trials of vigilance or exertion, will wear us down.”

And then Britain’s celebrated war time Prime Minister Churchill, who once stated he was lucky to have been called to give the roar to Britain’s lion heart, ended his plea to Roosevelt: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

True. Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are not on the same’matey’ terms; nor do they share an excellent rapport as did Churchill and Roosevelt.  And if there is no love lost between them, what better occasion than this can there be to thaw the détente, to melt the icy relations that now exist between the two countries following the disastrous UNHRC Geneva summit in March when Britain put Lanka on the human rights dock?

But in the face of the coronavirus pandemic such issues should not muffle the plaintive bleat of humanity nor deny a section of it, the potentially lifesaving protection of the vaccine, especially if one has enough to  spare. If the presidential appeal fails on deaf ears and fails, at least it will not be for the want of trying. The effort, though it may prove vain, will be laudable.

With UNICEF-UK paving the path by its request to the British Government not to miserly hoard its vaccine gold but to share it with less privileged nations, the opportunity has presented itself to the Lankan President to be the first to knock on Downing Street’s No 10 door bearing his appeal on behalf of Lanka. Money is no object since the World Bank on Friday granted Lanka an 80 million dollar loan, specifically for vaccine purchases.

Referring to shared ties, to shared values, to a shared vision,  to a common destiny to be forged through the same shared commitment to democratic ideals, institutions and principles, the presidential message must appeal to Britain to transcend their diplomatic war of attrition, the chilly atmosphere of hostility and their appalling horror of Lanka’s tainted track record on human rights, to suspend their grouses, their prejudices, their distastes and hold in abeyance their judgements for the present,  and answer  Lanka’s desperate cry for succor made amidst impending doom,  and provide her with not only 600,000 of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines but also the necessary wherewithal Britain has at its command to give to vanquish the common COVID foe.

And finally state that if Britain rises to the occasion in the name of suffering humanity and gives us the jabs to finish the job, then — to paraphrase the words of Churchill — should the British-led Commonwealth of Nations last for a thousand years, men will still say: “This was Britain’s finest hour.”

At last, COVID clampdown but is a 3-day ban enough?Is Port City bill dictating Govt’s lockdown agenda

COVID MINISTER SUDARSHANIE: Interventionist action called for

Despite its earlier proclaimed determination not to enforce lockdowns come what may and cripple economic activity further, the Government was forced, in the face of rising COVID cases and deaths, to make a welcome climbdown from its intransigence and bring itself to grudgingly declare on Wednesday a three-day ‘travel ban’ — stopping short of labelling it either as a lockdown or curfew.

Earlier on Monday, the Government had announced that travel between the nine provinces will be banned on Tuesday midnight till May 30 as a means of stemming the rising COVID tide. Though it was initially hailed a welcome preventive measure, deeper analyses soon proved it was nothing more than a cosmetic exercise, designed only to create the semblance of action.

Banning travel between the provinces was ineffective in a land where the coronavirus had spread beyond the clusters and was running amok throughout the whole community. The Government announced the same day, it was also planning to restrict travel between the districts but even this plan to marginally reduce the ambit of the COVID domain was met with the same disdain and was dismissed as futile.

The virulent virus has enough stomping ground and a ready supply of fodder in a district, let alone a province, for it to multiply its growing tally of scalps.  A particular district’s contagion can aggravate beyond measure without help from its brethren, active in other districts with an abundance of victims to lay claim.

The folly of travel bans between provinces or districts or even Grama Niladhari Divisions as a means to reduce the alarming increase in COVID cases, when the real need is to prevent social mingling even in a village, led to the Association of Medical Specialist dispatching a letter to the President on Monday, warning the Government on the danger of pursuing meaningless area bans without banning people mixing within it. They said: “the current practice of isolating communities at the GN division level is neither preserving economic activity nor controlling transmission of COVID.”

The Government’s laissez-faire attitude toward the impending COVID catastrophe had to end, it was clear. It was time to adopt the hands-on, interventionist role to avert a worse disaster waiting to happen. Closing the provincial or district gates and let the flock frolic free was not enough.

The long awaited clampdown or lockdown or curfew euphemistically called by the Government ‘travel ban’ or ‘travel restrictions’, as similar to a curfew but not a curfew, was perhaps, prompted, by COVID Minister Sudharshani Fernandopulle’s timely warning on Wednesday morning. She told the media, the predictions made by an independent health research centre in the US of 10,000 to 20,000 cases and 200 deaths a day would certainly come to pass if no interventionist action is taken.

On Friday, the Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath, warned the alarming surge of COVID cases will continue unabated for another two weeks, with a downward trend expected only thereafter.

With such warnings given by its own COVID Czars and other red alerts flashing danger, why is the Government still dragging its feet to take effective, meaningful, concerted, preventive action to stem the rising tide of infections and deaths, opting, instead, to impose half-hearted measures like a three-day token ‘travel ban’ till Monday morn and 11pm to 4am travel bans till the end of May when what is called for is a complete lockdown for at least two weeks?

God forbid, but could it be that the paramount importance the Government attaches to see the controversial Port City Bill enacted in Parliament, come what may, this week despite the Opposition’s demand for a delay, is the compelling motive for its seeming apathy to declare all-out war on the coronavirus which has laid siege on the land and infected 136,685 and claimed 900 lives since its Lankan occupation in March last year?

Even at this eleventh hour, in the midst of alarm, it behoves the Government to show that it places the health of the nation above all else.

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