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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2954

COVID-19 in Sri Lanka and South Asia: Need for a Rational Policy Response

Viewpoint by Dr. Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake*
Colombo, 24 March, (Asiantribune.com):

COVID 19 is more a panic than a pandemic: It obscures from view the fact that far more people die as a result of illness related to poverty, malnutrition, and other forms of structural violence than anything else in South Asia, and indeed the rest of the world.

In this context, the governments of the region would need rational and targeted policy responses to the COVID-19 challenge – rather than days of country-wide curfew without time for citizens to get adequate food supplies, and with very limited information provided.

Evidence is mounting that in tropical countries and regions of the world, COVID-19 has less traction than in temperate ones, where the crisis originated. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister, Naftali Bennett, has clearly stated that the plan should be to protect the elderly and those with underlying health conditions as they are most vulnerable.

About 80 percent who get the COVID-19 get a mild or asymptomatic version in any case. [1] In fact, it may be better for the virus to run its course like any other flu. Once 60-70 percent of the population have got the CORVID-19 flu and develop the anti-bodies at this time of hot weather when the disease is mild, this particular flu epidemic would be over.

The great majority of CORVID-19 global cases are found north of the tropic of cancer and in countries with cold, winter temperatures at this time. Sri Lanka is located South of the Tropic of Cancer and has a very hot climate currently. At the end of last week esiding in the tropics or current southern hemisphere make up just 1.29% of the global cases.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1882-1945).

As this chart shows, there’s a big difference in how the virus behaves in tropical and temperate countries.[3]
Chinese scientists have established that the virus' longevity, strength, and spread is limited and affected by heat and humidity. Dr. Mohammad Sajadi, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, likewise thinks weather might play a role.

He and his colleagues found a striking temperature similarity among regions with sustained outbreaks of COVID-19: They all have outdoor temperatures between 5 and 11 degrees Celsius (41 and 52 Fahrenheit).

What seems needed is a measured and balanced response in South Asia and Sri Lanka, taking into account regional and environmental factors at play in the spread of COVID-19, rather than lock downs that self-destruct national and regional economies.

As of now in Sri Lanka, 77 persons are said to have tested positive for Corvid 19 and no deaths have been reported, but the government has imposed a country-wide curfew for 3 days on very short notice, causing hardship to a majority of poor households that buy food and other essentials on a daily basis. Confining people to their homes without sufficient food and information for days may be a recipe for social unrest.

No other country in South Asia has imposed draconian country-wide 3-day curfews, and when it was announced on March 20 the Lankan rupee went into free fall depreciating to 189 against the US Dollar. Meanwhile, ports and airports have also been effectively closed sealing the island in and seemingly self-destructing an already debt trapped economy.

Sadly, it seems the Colombo regime and its Health Minister, GMOA and related advisors, rather than formulating targeted policy, seem to be following the global media narrative that takes the global north as a baseline and succumbed to the CORVID-19 and so-called "pandemic" narrative, even though Sri Lanka is not a northern hemisphere country and not as vulnerable as wintering Europe or China.

Finally, what we need is balanced, measured, data, and evidence-based analysis and response from the Global South, especially to minimize its already tremendously negative impact on the national economy and impoverished sectors of society, particularly citizens who rely on daily wages, tourism and service sectors, SMEs and the gig economy which has been most affected.

Indeed, as award winning African journalist Patrick Gathara writes speaking of indiscriminate travel bans and over-reactions in another region of the global south that has mercifully had less exposure and spread of the dreaded Corona, though usually vulnerable to mysterious viruses such as AIDS and Ebola viruses: "Africa does not need to burn down the house to defeat CORVID-19" or one might add, any other biological weapon.[4]
Evidence-based analysis or the Shock Doctrine?

There has been very little analysis or attempt to construct an accurate picture of the COVID-19 it’s spread and strength in different continents and climactic zones of the world, particularly in South Asian countries and the global south (Africa, Latin America, South Asia), where the virus arrived late and seems to be weak in terms of strength and spread – due to both geopolitical and environmental factors.

While (as of March 22) the coronavirus has infected more than 294,100 people worldwide and killed at least 12,900, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), India, despite being the world’s second most populous country, with more than 1.3 billion people, has reported seven deaths and around 340 cases, giving rise to questions about why the virus has not spread as rapidly as elsewhere.[5]

The New York Times reported on March 17 that: “India has reported around 125 cases of the coronavirus, and it is a bit of a mystery how the world’s second-most-populous nation, with 1.3 billion people, has remained relatively unscathed while the number of cases explodes to its east and west.” [6] It is indeed a mystery even accounting for a lack of testing kits and under-reporting.

According to researchers at the University of Melbourne, who have mapped the immune responses from one of country's first coronavirus patients, the bulk of those infected experience only mild symptoms, it is severe or critical in 20% of patients. The virus mortality rate is about 3.4%, the WHO has estimated.

Risk factors vary by person and country, age, gender and certainly ethnicity since it seems to be ethnic Chinese and east Asians (Korea, Japan) who were most affected initially, whether one is a smoker or not, and certainly climate and temperature also matter significantly as to who is at risk.

Italy's mortality numbers were burdened by agedness as Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world. Even so, conflicting reports out of Italy suggest there may only be two people who died from the coronavirus who did not also present other pathologies.

It is known that the virus does poorly in warm climates. Indeed, it may be better to get the mild stand of the COVID-19 in this hot season and for South Asian populations to develop anti-bodies at this time, rather than later when the temperature drops, in the cold season.

Hence, Sri Lanka responding like the US or Euro zone global north which is still in the cold, winter and flu season, with lock downs may be unwarranted. Lockdowns impact livelihoods with a knock-on effect on family food security, poverty, malnutrition etc. If the cure is worse than the disease, find another cure!

South Asian countries need to look at the facts, figures and data for the region to formulate rational, data and evidence-based, regional and national policy responses, for the short, intermediate and long term to the so-called Corona pandemic and its devastating economic impact.

On March 18, it was announced that no tourists would be entering the island for 2 weeks, delivering another blow to the tourism industry which was badly hit last year by mysterious attacks initially claimed by foreign hands - the Islamic State (IS).

Many people and those who work in the tourist, services, SMEs and gig economy are out of work and wages today as a result of blunt responses to the Corvid 19 challenge, just when the economy was slowly recovering after the Easter Sunday suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, that were mysteriously claimed by the Islamic State (ISIL). Both the Easter attacks and the Covid 19 appear as attack on the economy and people of the country.

Of course, better to err on the side of caution, especially as there is some evidence to suggest that COVID 19 was a bio-weapon and hybrid war attack on China and Asian Economies. It is unclear what emerged from the SAARC teleconference convened by India’s Prime Minster, Narendra Modi, aside from the plan to set up a regional fund.
Of Fake News and Bio-Weapons

CORVID-19 and its spread has given rise to a great deal of fake news and conspiracy theories some of which appear more fact-based than the hype and panic that has caused a great deal of economic hype and insecurity.

This may be partly due to the fact that there is a propaganda war to obfuscate analysis and conceal the likely origins of the virus in laboratories that specialize in biological warfare, while designed to target certain genomes or ethno-racial populations. What is needed is a balanced and proportionate response, based on analysis of the facts.
On the other hand, while the military mindset that seems to be behind the Sri Lankan government’s response may not be conducive to balanced, measured and judicious, it may be partly justified in the event that Corona is as form of bio-warfare?

At the same time, democratic practice and due process, as well as, addressing structural problems such as corruption, economic inequality that affect the health of populations, are often casualties in such disaster or fake disaster scenarios.

In Sri Lanka, the policy of the Rajapaksa regime which seems to have better grasp than the previous Sirisena-Wickramasinghe regime of national security threats, seems to be better safe than sorry, and the military has been mobilized.

The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) Wing of the Sri Lanka Air Force continues to assist in the quarantine and disinfecting effort hand in hand with medical teams at the BIA, according to Major General GA Chandrasiri, Chairman of Airport & Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd.

Who says there is no need to shut down Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) at Katunayake which is the main air transportation hub of the island due to the spread of coronavirus. The airport is continually being disinfected.
The lack of data and evidence-based analysis appears to be due to the global media hype and dominance of Western-based global media houses in framing the Corona tragedy as a 'global pandemic', rather than a form of targeted biological and hybrid warfare against selected Asian and EU economies aimed at de-globalization.

Naomi Klein, author of the Shock Doctrine and disaster capitalism has said "the shock really is the virus itself. And it has been managed in a way that is maximizing confusion and minimizing protection". Corona has the hall marks of another episode of disaster capitalism.

As the one-year commemoration of the Easter Sunday carnage comes around with so many unanswered questions about the foreign hands behind the attacks, and the life of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the crime has been again extended to cover up the foreign hands behind the crime?

That crime was mysteriously claimed by the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), despite the fact that Muslims and Christian communities have excellent relations, as both are religious minority communities in Buddhist and Hindu dominated Sri Lanka, Corona could provide a smoke screen of distraction and over-reaction to protect the very same Rogue State that is accountable for both crimes?

All over the world, factors such as, poverty, inequality, lack of food security and wars that are invented to sustain the global military business intelligence and entertainment industrial complex led by the United States-- which accounts for almost 55 percent of global arms production, not counting bio-weapons, according the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SPRI)-- cause more deaths than the so called Corvid 19 pandemic.

Of course, it has also been argued, increasingly plausibly, that COVID 19 is itself part of biological and hybrid warfare to attack China’s Belt and Road Initiative, East Asian economies that lead growth and innovation in the world at this time, and force a period of rapid de-globalization, recession and economic melt-down, also as a result of underlying market instability due to the global debt crisis and stock market bubble.

COVID-19’s mysterious spread pattern in Asia: Two Strands with more to come?

Crisis are also moments of opportunity to chalk out alternative, environmentally sustainable paths of development that focus on local food security and regional markets, to build bottom up from local resource bases, ensuring transfer of technology and value addition in selected sectors for industrial production, rather than a panicked shutting down of globalization.

The Corona virus clearly targeted the Chinese ethnic population and genome. Given China’s large global diaspora and its highly globalized and trans-national Chinese ethnic networks, it spread both to Europe and the USA.

In the United States, Seattle and Washington State and California on the Pacific coasts where there are large ethnic Chinese American communities, with significant and bustling China towns in San Francisco, as also is the case with New York City where China Town, Manhattan is a bustling city neighborhood. Both San Francisco and NYC were hit hard and fast due to the pattern of ethnic targeting.

Even though India shares a (contested) border with China, Corona came to India and South Asia very late in early March 2020. Significantly, cases of Corona were reported in the region only after Donald Trump came and went after selling 3 billion USD weapons to his good friend in Asia, Narendra Modi, in the last week of February 2020!

It was only after Trump’s visit that stories about Corona in India and South Asia emerged in early March, although this is one of the world’s most densely populated regions. At this time in South Asia there have been ONLY 2 corona virus related deaths – both in India.

According to the WHO, as of March 22, around 70 cases of CORVID-19 have been discovered in Sri Lanka, not a single patient has died, yet the economy has been shut down although it is arguable that more people die of normal influenza and diseases related to the structural violence of poverty, malnutrition and wasting, which is very likely considerably exacerbated at this time as South Asian economies, shut down and suffer and people lose jobs, work and income due to the shut-down of non-essential sectors.

Iran was hit quite early and soon after China, following the spread of the coronavirus in China and other countries, several writers in the Arab press wrote that this virus and others, such as the SARS and swine flu viruses, were deliberately created and spread by the U.S. in order to make a profit by selling vaccines against these diseases.

Others wrote that the virus was part of an economic and psychological war waged by the U.S. against China with the aim of weakening it and presenting it as a backward country and a source of diseases.

Corona targets the Chinese genome but seems to be mild in other populations.

There are suggestions that there may be 2 strands of Corona – one that is less strong and hit China, Korea and Japan, with China at the epicenter logging 3 percent deaths of all infected and another stronger strain that has killed more people, particularly Caucasian populations that hit Iran and Italy.

Given the lateness of the arrival of Corona in South Asia, we may assume that the South Asia ethno-racial genome was not targeted or at least that strain of Corona virus has not (yet?) been released. Given the low rate of spread it would appear that the virus is weakened by heat and does not survive long or transmit easily in hot climates - as has been suggested by several scientific papers on the virus.

CORVID 19 in America: When the chickens come home to roost Blowback is a well-established principle in hybrid and asymmetric warfare; but they never seem to learn? Or it is already factored into the imperial impunity and immunity equation?

The concept that the chickens come home to roost in shorter cycles has a parallel in Asian, Buddhist-Hindu-Confucian belief systems in the form and notion of the cycle of Karma.

And so, it was inevitable the U.S. with a large Chinese diaspora population in Seattle and the northwest coast and New York with its China towns would be hit with the so-called Corona "pandemic". COVID-19 only hit Hawaii, the State of the U.S. nearest to Asia with the highest population of east Asians who appear to be more vulnerable only by March 17.

While a belt of 30-60 longitude and temperatures have been identified, the fact that some of the most populated and impoverished countries of the world have avoided the worst effects of the new Coronavirus and the reasons for this have been elided.

Disaster as Opportunity: Some Suggestions and solutions -Sri Lanka needs to wean itself away from being a tourism-dependent economy, and exporting to the west and focus on regional markets, with new product lines in industry and manufacture building of its valuable natural resource base.

Aside from its strategic location as a trade and services hub, the island has significant marine and mineral resources and focus on sustainable use and development and industrialization base on these resources should be a national development policy focus at this time and going forward.

Naomi Klein suggested that the time for radical new thinking and the green new deal boosting clean energy and industry, investing in research and development, and ensuring transfer of technology to re-orient the economic trajectory for clean energy development (Solar power?) and local consumption and perhaps prioritizing South Asia markets and local and regional food security. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 March 2020]

* Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake's research spans issues in gender and women's empowerment, migration and multiculturalism, ethno-religious identity politics, new and old Diasporas and global religion, particularly, transnational Theravada Buddhist networks in the Asia-Pacific region. She was a Senior Lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka. Her Bachelor’s degree is from Brandeis University and MA and Ph.D are from Princeton University.

Photo (against the backdrop of Bandaranaike International Airport): U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz (right front) presenting a branded donation of Dupont Tyvek coveralls, nitrile gloves, heavy duty work gloves, boot covers, and cleaning supplies to Major General (Rtd) GA Chandrasiri (left in front), Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka on behalf of the American people. The equipment will help protect airport personnel and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The donation is part of U.S. efforts to assist Sri Lanka.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

facebook.com/IDN.GoingDeeper - twitter.com/InDepthNews

[1] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/international/coronavirus-out...

[2] Why Are There Few Coronavirus Cases In Africa and Russia?

https://africa.com/why-are-there-few-coronavirus-cases-in-africa-and-rus...

[3] This stunning chart shows the coronavirus spreading slowly in tropical countries. Steven Goldstein Market Watch

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-stunning-chart-shows-the-coronavi...

[4] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/africa-burn-house-defeat-covid...

[5] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/quarantine-india-covid-19-coronav...

[6] India Scrambles to avoid a Corona Virus Crisis By Jeffrey Gettleman, Suhasini Raj, Karan Deep Singh and Kai Schultz March 17, 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/world/asia/india-coronavirus.html

The writer is a cultural anthropologist with research expertise in international political economy, peace, and development studies in South and South East Asia.

- Asian Tribune –

U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz (right front) presenting a branded donation of Dupont Tyvek coveralls, nitrile gloves, heavy duty work gloves, boot covers, and cleaning supplies to Major General (Rtd) GA Chandrasiri (left in front), Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka on behalf of the American people.
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