There’s little point any more in blaming the Government for allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to slip into virtual free fall. Reports coming in from all parts of the country are distressing. The time for blame-games is over, it’s time for action. That the country as much as the world was taken by surprise last year [...]


Greater support needed for frontline workers


There’s little point any more in blaming the Government for allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to slip into virtual free fall. Reports coming in from all parts of the country are distressing. The time for blame-games is over, it’s time for action.

That the country as much as the world was taken by surprise last year when the virus broke out of China to infect the whole world through open borders and individual Governments that ‘played it by ear’ permitting a certain degree of laxity and carelessness among their citizens, failed to curb the curve, is easy to see in retrospect. It was a case of the ‘blind leading the blind’ in how to cope with the new virus. An independent report has now suggested an over-arching global monitoring system in the future so that no country can suppress such bad news for too long.

Ironically, Sri Lanka performed relatively well at the start of the pandemic in controlling the spread while Europe and the United States went reeling, especially as they were too late in closing their borders. Being an island, Sri Lanka had the advantage of not having too many entry points and no porous land borders. And yet, under pressure from interested parties in the hospitality industry and those fly-by-night newcomers to the business with relative merits, the Government imported the virus with its eyes open. The Government listened to the wrong advisors and got the balance between health and economy skewed. Now, the consequences.

The centralised command structure seems to have collapsed. The need now is for rapid decentralisation. The system is overwhelmed and reliance on the vaccination programme as the sole life-saver is not enough. The vaccination rollout itself is riddled with favouritism locally and up against a global shortage on the other side partly due to Intellectual Property issues by manufacturers demanding returns on their Research and Development expenses and countries like the UK and the US hoarding stocks due to traditional self-interest measures.

While the Government is now down to firefighting this blaze, everything must be done to support the hard-pressed and over-burdened health workers — at ground level. From the doctors, nurses, laboratory assistants to the health inspectors and ambulance drivers working round the clock, dressed in cumbersome PPE gear, all resources including welfare measures and extra allowances must be made available to them from whatever budget. It is they who are now in the frontlines of this ‘war’, face to face with the unseen enemy, and in the protection of victims.

With India now the epicentre of the pandemic and the World Health Organisation warning this year is worse and more dangerous than last year, the situation is not just grim but dire.

“Genocide”: The Canada connection

Canada has long had issues with Sri Lanka ever since the 1983 race riots. The country opened its doors with an abundance of goodwill to planeloads of ‘refugees’ fleeing from the madness. Keen to showcase the nation as a caring one, it opened the doors to others too, claiming to be persecuted in their home countries, like the Sikhs from India when then PM Indira Gandhi was having terrorism problems with armed elements of the community.

Canada has its own separatist problem with the province of Quebec, but it is not an armed struggle. Those newcomers they welcomed some decades ago, however, brought with them their home politics and their ‘blood feuds’ to settle from Canadian soil.

In 1985, the Sikh extremists (Khalistan Liberation Force) in Canada were responsible for blowing up an Air India plane on its way from Montreal to Delhi via London. All aboard, 329 of them, including 82 children died. Canada was to be accused as a state sponsoring terrorism.

The Sri Lankan Diaspora in Canada did not go that far, but they have remained a pressure group on Canadian political parties. In the late 1980s, the Canadian Government began the practice of refusing to accept ex-military chiefs as Sri Lanka’s high commissioners, a practice it maintains to-date. Not that Canada is an anti-war nation. Its Special Forces are on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

Last week, the pro-LTTE Diaspora in Canada succeeded in getting a Private Members Bill passage through the provincial assembly of Ontario. Moved by an avowed fan of the LTTE chief, the Bill declares a week in May to be commemorated as ‘Tamil Genocide Education Week’. The law which has now got Royal Assent will see the province’s Education Ministry  “brainwash” the kids that a case of “genocide” occurred in Sri Lanka, not just in 2009 when the LTTE was liquidated on the battlefield, but ever since 1948.

Even if cases can arguably be made about excesses during the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, the most ardent critic of the military campaign to neutralise the LTTE (declared a terrorist organisation by Canada in 2006) has found trouble justifying it as genocide; a loosely bandied word that in its ordinary sense means the systematic and deliberate elimination of an ethnic group.

The Ontario clan (which is the Toronto-based Diaspora) will, of course, claim one-upmanship with their like-minded colleagues around the world on their success.

The Government will have its work cut out in meeting these challenges whether in Ontario or elsewhere. It will need to be proactive, diplomatically and legally. The mission in Canada has been headless for months on end. Summoning the Canadian envoy in Colombo and expressing concern is just not enough. The Government must retain skilled lawyers specialised in the fields of Constitutional Law, Human Rights and Administrative Law, briefed and ‘instructed’ (i.e. pay their fees!) without allowing these issues to snowball like has happened at the UN Human Rights Council. Most of these claims by the Diaspora can be clinically debunked with consummate ease if only the Government can get its act together.

For the Canadians, if they really are interested in the subject of genocide, the current upsurge of violence in Palestine might be a good starting point. But there probably aren’t enough Palestinians in Canada to talk of genocide when they were evicted from their homeland – in 1948. In neighbouring USA’s Capitol Hill that debate has started.

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