By M.M. Janapriya –
From my article one on Corona which I wrote in March 2020, I have been trying to burr in to the thick skulls of the authorities the importance of being honest and authentic when briefing the public on the pandemic. Not to be. It looks as if both the health authorities and the government were deluding themselves while either unwittingly or otherwise pulling the wool over the eyes of the public.
Take the so called first wave of the pandemic. From the intransigent position of not testing enough of the public randomly, to daily breakdown of the Covid numbers were a bit suspicious. I have touched on this matter in one of my very early articles and begged of them to be more transparent. For example, the news telecast used to say “so many new cases, so many discharged, so many being actively treated at the IDH and hundred sometimes two hundred plus suspected cases”. With confirmatory tests like RT-PCR being available why the last category should have ever existed only god will know.
Navy Camp Disaster
Then the case of the navy camp cluster-disaster. If the authorities knew that the Suduwella drug addicts could be positive for Covid the navy sailors who wrestled with the former should have been quarantined right away without doubt. The task force said they were indeed being quarantined. Where? Looked like they were being quarantined inside the Navy camp itself. If this was indeed the case what a place for the job? No wonder the whole camp got converted to a hotbed of Corona within days. This whole scenario makes me wonder whether those Navy personnel were quarantined at all.
‘Mee Una’ inside a Corona Camp
A very young navy sailor died inside the camp during this cluster formation. Instead of admitting this as a case of a Covid death the authorities informed the public that the death was due to ‘mee una’ (rat fever) which is a condition caused by a special kind of micro-organism called a spirochaete. The biological name of this organism is Leptospira Icterohaemorrhagiae. Country rats harbour the organism and excrete them in urine which normally contaminates the irrigant water of paddy lands. The spirillum (it is a spring shaped micro-organism) enters the bodies of peasantry through almost insignificant little cuts and scrapes. Thus the typical sufferer is the village peasant and not the urban Navy man. The shameless health buffoons kicked up on their bums to higher positions might say “one can get leptospirosis affecting urban people”. Of course any disease can afflict anybody in theory but a strong and healthy young navy sailor getting mee una inside a rollicking wave of Covid 19 and dying of it is like going to Hunters in Pettah, asking for a pound of butter and indeed finding it! (With apologies to the great medical teacher Dr. N.A.J. Niles FRCS)
Rendezvous of Infected Navy Sailors
From this navy camp it appeared as though sailors were released to go on New Year holiday without completing their mandatory 14 days let alone the ideal 28 day quarantine. (One rule for civilians and another for uniformed personnel by a purpose assembled task force run by the Army?) They travelled long distances crossing many district borders to reach their destinations only to find they had the virus. On route they definitely infected so many. Did the task force manage to catch all of them? Highly unlikely.
Positives became Negative in 24 Hours
Then came the turn of the DGHS to come on TV with three other doctors to declare RT-PCR negative (quite expectedly) on the previous day’s positive trio from NHSL, Rajagiriya and Kolonnawa in order to maintain the ‘no community spread’ status. Every medical man woman and hermaphrodite involved in this mass hoodwinking campaign must have taken the infamous ‘hypocritic’ oath getting the second syllable wrong and missing out on just a p and a which is quite understandable as they seem utterly and miserably confused, a state of mind that might mitigate the colossus of their bunk. Poor rascals! They do not seem to know what they are doing.
Mother nature’s Kindness
With all the above misgivings of the doctors, servicemen and the administration Mother Nature extended a kind hand to us. The number infected remained low commensurate with the numbers tested. Number dead was a proud low too (for which there could be many reasons) on which President of GOMA, (pardon me for I may have got those letters in the wrong order) most government MPP, Ministers like Mr. New Village-House, Mrs. Cleanare Forrestrule etc. and even some of the gullible public were very pompous. We, I mean the GOMAs (GOMA is cow dung isn’t it?) and others even laughed on electronic media at the scenes of poor Italians, French, the British and the Americans dying of Covid. We seemed to be rejoicing the somber pictures of slow moving funeral processions and mass graves of those unfortunate nations.
Complacency & Mother Nature’s Wrath
Politikkas’ masks fell off their faces. Political funeral processions traversed just not cities but the length and breadth of the country. All-important Parliamentary elections were held, thankfully following preventive health guidelines and full marks to Maco for that. People, both the Rulers and the public seemed to have forgotten that Covid ever existed. All in all we were celebrating too much too early. Mother Nature was not amused. She decided to smack daughter Lanka on the wrist through ‘Bandits’. She didn’t realize giving a measured little smack through an outlaw like the Bandits was going to be hard work and so it turned out.
Sri Lankan administrators seemingly being advised by Punchi Banda and/or Loku Banda (incidentally Punchi Banda was our, tea boy, road runner to the shops and back, advisor and the store keeper of the emergency medicine of the Consultants Lounge NHSL in 1990-2010 or so) panicked about the economy while advising the nation not to panic about getting Covid! People were counting Covid while the Admin was counting coffers. Treasury seemed devoid of those pleasant jingles. Instead it seemed in the ears of the Rulers to be deafeningly silent despite the frequently spoken Millions of Dollars received as foreign aid to combat Covid on which an austere SL could still have moved on, at slower pace though, for some more time. Remember slow and steady won the race.
Country was looking for some quick money from, anywhere, somewhere, or from anybody or somebody. Mother Nature sent a poisoned chalice through Bandits. Lo and Behold it poisoned the whole country contrary to the belief of the spineless health jelly fish that it had afflicted the nation in pockets.
New Virus Spreads like Wildfire
It was in this backdrop that Sri Lanka suffered the biggest man-made disaster ever. Infection within the workforce of Brandix and outside in Minuwangoda spread like wildfire and the cluster grew in leaps and bounds. It spread to Peliyagoda fish market from where another rapidly growing cluster sprang up. From the Peliyagoda fish market the virus spread via fish vendors and distributors to far flung areas of the country. Within a few days the total infected in the country rose by thousands. The number of deaths recorded kept multiplying every day.
Money Talks while Greed Destroys
It is being alleged that some sixty Sri Lankan workers from Brandix India in Vishakaputnam were brought to Sri Lanka on the 22nd Sept 2020 by a chartered flight to Mattala from where they had been whisked away to an unknown destination without been quarantined. It is also alleged that someone from this group developed Covid-19 and became a super spreader of the virus spreading it very quickly to all parts of the island. I have written about this before so I am not going dive deep in to the matter again. However please click on the link below and read through the whole article carefully including the completion of quarantine certificates issued by the health authorities.
Some views on Brandix Shedding Responsibility
Here are my observations on this exhaustive article in the online Daily Mirror of the 19th October 2020 by a journalist called Ms. Jamila Hussain.
* Clearly this is a very lengthy explanation indeed, by the company through the said journalist to absolve themselves from blame. A little anecdote here from my med student days would be most appropriate I felt. This happened in 1968 or thereabouts. I walked in to the physiology lecture theatre at Peradeniya one morning in blazing sunshine being 10 minutes late for the lecture. It’s true it rained about half an hour before. More importantly I had a slight hangover which made me oversleep. “Please excuse me Sir, I got caught to the rain” I said while entering. “You know what Janapriya, the one who excuses accuses himself” said Dr.H.D.W.Janz, the gentleman who was on the rostrum.
* The writer has provided a completion of quarantine certificate each for the 2 previous chartered flights but not for the one in question, the UL1159 flight of the 22nd September 2020
* Head of the Corona task Force necessarily has to say that the patient Zero of Brandix debacle is not the October 3rd individual because admission that he or she could be, means that the Brandix 48 had slipped through a huge Corona Prevention/control loophole the responsibility of which naturally boomerangs on him.
* The speed at which the Minuwangoda virus cruised centripetally, made it blindingly obvious it was of very high infectivity and transmissibility whereas the ‘indigenous’ Lankan virus of the so called first wave was of very low infectivity and transmissibility. People were virtually crying out from roof tops asking for the viral genome be sequenced in order to confirm or refute our suspicion that the second wave indeed originated in the garment factory in Minuwangoda. I certainly did in the last one or two of my articles.
* The patient zero of Brandix was discovered on the 3rd Oct 2020 but the genome sequencing only happened a month later. If such is the swiftness of the test I would pray for those countries, the Jayawardenapura spokesperson mentioned, use the sequencing for contact tracing. I could not find any country that routinely uses genome sequencing for contact tracing.
I hope you would bear with me for being a bit technical here in order to drive home the point with force and clarity. I will try my best to explain the content in more understandable terms further down the essay.
A group of scientists from the Sri Jayawardenepura University recently made public, the work done by them on genome sequencing of the current SARS COV2 virus rampaging across the country and playing havoc. Genome sequencing is identifying the order in which the nucleotides (subunits that join to form a long polymer) are arranged along the long DNA/RNA chain. This is an excerpt from the publication. Please read through and get the gist of these 2 paragraphs. I will be explaining to you what all this means in simpler language starting immediately after these two paras. If you find this too technical please go straight to my analysis of the content.
Scientists Talk to the Press
16 virus strains originating from Brandix, Minuwangoda, the Colombo Municipality area, Beruwala fish market and patients admitted to tertiary care hospitals were subjected to sequencing. Whole genomic sequencing was successful in 13 strains and partial sequencing in 3 strains. 12/13 strains were similar to each other and were of the B.1.42 lineage (clade 20C), suggesting that the virus strains circulating in different places in the country, are of a common origin. 15/16 strains had the D614G mutation, which is associated with high viral load and higher rates of transmissibility. The previous strains that circulated in Sri Lanka were of the B.1, B.2, B 1.1 and B.4 lineages (The Kandakadu cluster viruses were of B.1 lineage), and therefore, the current virus strain is slightly different as it belongs to the B.1.42 lineage.
“Due to the influx from individuals from different countries in the world, we saw circulation of different strains in March. In the CMC cluster in April, we saw several strains responsible for this. However, the Kandakadu cluster was due to one strain only. The current circulating virus strain is the of the B.1.42 lineage, which is similar to those seen in Europe. However, this does not mean the virus came from Europe. Just that this virus strain was first identified from Europe and was the predominant virus strain in some European countries. It has the mutation (D614G) associated with high transmissibility due to high viral loads, which is the dominant strain in the world right now. It was inevitable that we would get this strain sooner or later. Unfortunately, due to this mutation, it is associated with rapid spread and therefore, it is imperative that public take more precautions. Actually, many countries recommend a distance of 2 m instead of 1 m to reduce the spread. Therefore, it’s important for proper hand hygiene, wearing masks and avoiding unnecessary movement.”
Foregoing in Simpler Terms
In essence what they are saying is that the current virus belongs to a Clade different to the virus that infected us earlier in the year. Clade means a sort of subgroup or a subspecies of the original virus. The Wuhan virus had two major Clades (‘sub groups’) from the very outset. A and B. Since they appeared in 2019 they were called 19A and 19B. As at present there are 3 more major Clades circulating in the world. 20A, 20B and 20C, 20 denoting the year they came in to existence 2020. Once they get in to a host cell the viruses are like DNA/RNA (depending on the type of the virus) manufacturing machines which they do by commandeering the machinery of the host cell. Things frequently go wrong with the replication process like during photocopying a big document at which so many papers get squashed and thrown away as they are not up to scratch. This reproduction of original Nucleic Acid (DNA or RNA) when gone wrong is called a mutation. As at present there are at least 40,000 different SARS COV2 genomes (due to mutation) in the world but all of them are not grouped and given names. Only those mutants that remain infective and take the epidemic forwards are grouped and given names in the Dynamic Nomenclature of viruses. Some mutants are weaker than the original and may wither away over time. Others are weaker but yet infective at a slower rate like the one we got in January. Yet others can become more virulent by mutation like D614G mutation the Jayawardenepura scientists are talking about. Actually speaking D614G is the result of the genome mutation and not the mutation itself. You might remember those Trumpet like projections SARS COV2 virus has got on it’s surface. They are called spikes and are made of protein which the virus uses to enter the host cell. D614G refers to a part of the spike protein which is different to the spike protein of the original version. (Proteins are polymers of Amino acids just like polythene is a polymer of ethylene one of the basic hydrocarbons and starch is a polymer of glucose) The corona virus spike protein is a polymer of 1273 amino acids. The 614th amino acid in this long chain is (D) Aspartic acid. This gets replaced by (G) Glycine in the mutated version. This change is depicted as D614G in virology literature. The new spike protein seems to be more efficient in opening up portals of entry to the host cell (i.e. human cell) and hence is of high infectivity and transmissibility.
Analysis of Scientists’ Viewpoints
The findings aside the tenor of this communique seems one of trying to mitigate the enormous damage done to the nation by a slumbering Presidential Corona Task Force.
The genome sequencing team has told the press “It was inevitable that we would get this strain sooner or later”. This kind of statement should not have been made by anyone other than a top global Public Health expert like Professor Devi Sridhar of the Edinburgh University and we don’t have people of half that eminence in this field in this country. This is clearly someone punching above his or her weight. Not many things in life are inevitable. If you decide to fall in to deep asleep with your neck on the rail track it is inevitable that the train will bisect you at the neck sooner or later unless you have pulled the shunting lever before you decided to sleep on the rail track. This seems to be the attitude displayed by top officials of the Presidential task force at that time. Clearly the countries heading the league table for Corona control given below took nothing for granted. The so called inevitability couldn’t get any foothold in those countries.
This is not a fully updated list but the trend is quite accurate as per present stats.
In this table there are at least 15 countries that have done better than Sri Lanka and there are more. Most of them are impoverished African countries whose death rate is much lower than that of Sri Lanka. Even Nigeria with a population of 208 million, ten times that of Sri Lanka has done better. We have to swallow the humble pie. We the pompous Sri Lankans have to now go looking for hiding places.
* “The current circulating virus strain is that of the B.1.42 lineage, which is similar to those seen in Europe. However, this does not mean the virus came from Europe. Just that this virus strain was first identified from Europe and was the predominant virus strain in some European countries. It has the mutation (D614G) associated with high transmissibility due to high viral loads, which is the dominant strain in the world right now”. The moment one says this the possibility of Brandix workers bringing an Indian Virus home to Sri Lanka gets pushed to the back burner. However the scientists go on to say that the strain they discovered is the dominant mutant in the world right now. Let me add at this point, with India being no exception.
This is what Dr. Partha Majumder President of the Indian Academy of Science and a scientist at the Indian National institute of Biomedical Genomics has to say about the Indian Clades of the virus. “The lineages 20A, 20B and 20C all have the D614G mutation. The D614G lineages have actually become dominant across India. But, interestingly, in the northern and eastern regions of India, the 20A lineage is dominant, while in southern and western India the 20B lineage is dominant.” This means India has got all 3 clades with A and B dominating in the said regions. Dr. Majumder’s interview with the reporter can be read here.
Our immediate neighbour India with a rollicking ongoing pandemic which has a population of over 1.4 Billion has got nearly a Million recorded cases already and 150,000 deaths. This number of positives is with a measly number of tests performed so far which is only 10% of the population. This is the total number performed over 10 months! The real number of cases must be tens of Millions. With India offering us a large pool of readymade sources of the virus, the more infective mutant at that, it is foolhardy, for anyone be it the head of the Task Force, the Chief Epidemiologist, the senior Microbiologist or even the specialist virologist to try to apportion blame to an unknown European airline pilot. I refuse to believe that the scientists did have an alternate agenda of whitewashing the red Minuwangoda virus than the sacrosanct duty of delineating the viral genome accurately in order to simply find out the source of the virus. Unfortunately by making utterances outside their zones of expertise they have muddied the waters.