1 June, 2020

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Death In Angoda

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

That the infection was propagated insensibly, and by such persons as were not visibly infected, who neither knew whom they infected or who they were infected by.” ~ Daniel Defoe – A Journal of the Plague Year, Published March 1722 

I heard of the death in Angoda from two busybody acquaintances late Saturday night. The tenor of one was gossipy. The other was condemnatory of all who chose to live and work beyond our shores but decided to return when pestilence threatened them.

Death at our doorstep should have diminished us. That it sparked excitement appalled me. 

The French philosopher novelist Albert Camus wrote his famous novel ‘La peste- The Plague’ precisely to explain how catastrophe and contagion impacts the human condition. 

At the time he wrote ‘The Plague’ , he was the editor in chief of Combat, the underground magazine of the French Resistance. 

His contributors included André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre and Raymond Aron. Living under Nazi terror he wanted to filter and surface the link between physical and psychological infection. He writes “They were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences “We saw ourselves when we set up a task force to combat the pandemic and got ready for an election how easy it is to mistake a pandemic for an annoyance. 

This Saturday and Sunday were filled with intoxicating anxiety. At 8 pm on Saturday, we learnt of the first death from COVID-19 at the IDH at Angoda.  

It was a sixty-year male. The official announcement stressed that the man had other complications. I thought it was bloody funny. The man was dead because of the virus. Is it suggested that the virus got brave because of other complications?   

E.H. Carr, in his meaning of history gives an example of why added explanations don’t do any good to the truth. 

 A man on his way to buy a pack of cigarettes is run over by a motorist. The motorist applies brakes that did not function. The brakes did not function because the mechanic who attended to the faulty brakes had been negligent. What would history record as the cause of his death? That he was run over by a motorist? That he died on the road because he ran out of cigarettes? That he died because a mechanic was negligent? 

The rest of the weekend in lockdown land I meditated on the bizarre and the bold approaches of how we approach the pandemic. I may be wrong. But this is how I read it.   

The need of the hour is for solidarity and social distancing. That is not a problem for a nation that thrives on contradictions. We abhor murder and we pardon murderers. We don’t care if the murder was  on a luxury Highrise or in a war ravaged jungle.

Today’s imperative is to halt the pandemic and to hold elections to elect a new  parliament. 

On the last day of 2019, 31st December the Chinese state informed the World Health Organization that they had discovered a strange pneumonia vibrant in the city of Wuhan in the province of Hubei’.

Since then this insidious angel of death, destruction and confusion has been named as the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Thousands have died in China, Italy and elsewhere. 

Saturday’s death at Angoda is our first encounter with death by pandemic. The wicked angel of death is at our doorstep. 

The stoic amongst us in this age of human rights and presidential pardons say that death is a kind of birth right of every person born. A curiously clever construction of an obvious truth. 

Whatever other complications the man had, he died alone at 8 pm at the Infectious Disease Hospital at Angoda. 

He died alone while a bewildered nation stood vigil. He did not have the embrace of loved ones. His death came in a strange sanitized worlds where the  living hovered around him dressed in the style of astronauts wearing  protective masks, gloves and visors. 

His death was in a germ-free cocoon.  I am sure the  doctor who attended would have looked at him kindly with forlorn eyes. 

The dying man would not have seen the resigned humanity in the doctor’s eyes. He was wearing visors. Am I seeking melodrama? No. I am simply and surely disgusted with the visors of political expediency that I have seen in the past two months.   

Saturday’s death at Angoda brought the brutal reality of the pandemic to Sri Lanka. A hard fact that needs lot of rubbing into those closed minds convinced of an imagined cosmic immunity that makes our island special.  

Saturday’s death at Angoda had no purpose, no logic, no necessity.  Hours before that death, a soldier convicted of murder was pardoned. The pardon had a logic and a purpose. But was there an urgent necessity? 

The events in lockdown land during the week end  reminds us of the words of August Compete the man  regarded as the first philosopher of the sciences 

Humanity is always made up of more dead than living.”    

Back to normalcy – When? How? 

Until a vaccine is found, the world can only slow down the spread. That too at considerable cost and with extreme measures.  

By remarkable  coincidence , Emeritus professor of history and history of medicine at Yale ,  Frank M Snowden  has published a great  book – “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present 

Under normal circumstances I would have pestered my daughter to send it to me as she happens to live in country where bookstores keep knowledge unlike ours where they stock what sells. The lockdown  prevents any early access. 

The ‘New Yorker’ carries some excellent excerpts.

“Epidemic diseases are not random events that afflict societies capriciously and without warning,” writes Professor Snowden. “On the contrary, every society produces its own specific vulnerabilities. To study them is to understand that society’s structure, its standard of living, and its political priorities.” 

We must ask ourselves in our collective lockdown mood “have we not produced our own specific vulnerabilities in the wake of this pandemic? “   

When will life return to normal? If you think ‘life as usual’ will come back, you are in over optimistic fantasy. In cloud cuckoo land. 

That thought occurred to me when reading a Sunday Broadsheets online. It speculated that parliamentary elections may be held by the end of May. 

Every country in the world wants to flatten the curve. There are people who seriously hold the view that we could do it faster than some others. 

They are wrong. We may flatten the curve, but we will not negotiate the bend and restore normalcy. Normalcy comes when everybody succeeds in flattening their respective curves.

During this bleak weekend, I seriously wondered about our ruling class and the knowledge-based economy on which they often pontificate. 

It is highly unlikely that any of the now defunct 225 or the current composition of the caretaker government has read the three books that sum up the rhythm of the 21st century universe. 

They are Thomas Friedman’s ‘World is flat’, Yuval Noah Hariri’s ‘Sapiens’, and Mervyn Kings ‘The End of Alchemy’ 

In ‘The world is flat’ the author New York Times columnist Friedman explains the 21st century connectivity of  global trade and human enterprise. 

In ‘Sapiens’ the Professor of History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Yuval Hariri lucidly explains in ingeniously abridged form the ‘history of the humankind’.  

In ‘The End of Alchemy’ Professor Mervyn King – the former governor of the Bank of England, considered the ‘mother of all banks’ explains the idea of paper money – humanities greatest invention. 

Flattening the COVID -19 curve does not mean that we will go back to normal. We all want things to go back to normal.

 What we don’t realize is that we will not go back to normal in a few weeks or a few months. If a vaccine is not found within a reasonable time frame, somethings never will go back to normal.  

A successful city state Singapore , and a resourceful siege state Israel  have provided good indicators of where the world is headed.   

Israel is in the process of using cell phone locating data used to track terrorists to identify carriers of the virus. Singapore has made exhaustive contact tracing in to a routine procedure. 

Globalization began when mariners mastered the winds. The globalization that we speak of is the vibrant international marketplace brought about by technology driven connectivity. 

Manufacturers world over built flexible supply chains. Profits peaked because substituting one supplier or component became easy across borders, oceans and continents. 

Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ became a tome on a library shelf. ‘Wealth of the World’ can now be read on giant stock market screens in New York, London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore. 

The evidence of globalized division of labor can be seen by the number of BPOs located in Colombo when you head towards the New Kelani bridge.

Specialization produced greater efficiency, which in turn led to growth. The functioning growth circle is now intercepted by the pandemic virus. 

It has ruptured a complex system of interdependence. 

Huge enterprises dependent on global supply chain were cozily settled in tangled webs of production networks. Complex as they were, corrupt and conniving as they were, the system held the world economy together.

A component of a given product could now be made in several countries.  In the wake of the pandemic companies in Palo alto, Stuttgart, Seoul and Nagoya have realized that this cultivated specialization, substitution  is difficult. Especially the unusual skills of the Chinese cannot be replicated. 

When production went global it necessarily made countries interdependent. No country can claim self-sufficiency in all the goods, components, services and raw material it needed. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastatingly exposed the fragility of this globalized system. 

In coming months, we will see who can confront the crisis and to what degree. We will then know who in which country followed Apple CEO Tim Cooks dictum that inventory is “fundamentally evil” and adopted “just-in-time” supply chains as unimpeachable doctrine. 

The pandemic has already reduced global production of laptop by 50%.  

The New York based ABI research is blunt in its prognosis. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a chain of events unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. Our daily routines have been flooded with uncertainty, both at home and at work. This has resulted in questions about the future state of our global economy. “ 

The phrase ‘Breaking News’ has lost its meaning. Only the oligarchs who own private TV channels think that broken news is breaking news. 

I dedicate this essay to the girl in exile. With apologies to Ismail Kadare.  

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    I just saw in the news that Japanese and Chinese donated 5000 tablets called Avigan 200 to try on our Covid-19 patients. It seems the table has proven good results back in Wuhan.

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      Sarath de Alwis,

      Thanks for your article.

      Reason seems to fall on some believers, to be a few steps ahead of the Corona-19 virus, which is making people do, even the Devil, Satan could not do.

      Technology is coming to their rescue .

      COVID-19 seems to be teaching something .

      Easter services in the Colombo Archdiocese have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis while other dioceses including Chilaw are also likely to call off the services depending on the situation.

      Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith announced that Easter services including services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and on Easter Sunday will be cancelled in Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara Districts. “We will have the Easter services telecast on TV,” he said.

      • 4
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        Sarath de Alwis,

        Re: COVID-19 From where did it come?

        They say the only constant in life is change, and what a change it’s been. In times like these, one of the most pressing questions we all find ourselves asking is why. Why now?
        Ultimately, that’s a question no one can answer; it’s impossible to say why this virus emerged when it did.

        Scientists may be able to shed some light on how, though. A new study has concluded that pangolins, or scaly anteater-like mammals, may have been the viral missing link that facilitated SARS-CoV-2’s transition from bats to humans.

        Do bats and pangolins care about humans? Apparently not. It is all Evolution.

      • 1
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        Sarath, thanks! Have you heard of “herd immunity” as an alternative to vaccines?

        Historically human immune systems have fought off viruses – sans vaccines which benefit big drug companies which also fund the WHO.
        Fact is there are a lot of big Pharma companies which funded Fake Experts such as the GMOA and an outfit called the Institute for Health in Sri Lanka that don’t mention Herd Immunity or look at in country data, but rather keep spewing the WHO PANICdemic narratives
        The Covid virus which is mild in 85 percent of the population,, mutates in hot weather and herd immunity is the way to go in Tropical Sri lanka, rather than waiting for vaccines.

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          Shamil,

          “The Covid virus which is mild in 85 percent of the population,, mutates in hot weather “

          Is there data that show how many mutations COVID-19 has gone through, since infecting humans in Wuhan China? Can you provide the link to this reference. The mutations can be mild versions or very severe versions. Some say this is a slowly mutating virus.

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          Shamil, without vaccines herd immunity results in mass deaths in a much bigger scale than the current trend. Herd immunity in the current context has been challenged by lot of scientists. Some in UK advocated it but quickly reversed gear.

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          Its GROUPTHINK Dude – the panicdemic mass hysteria that makes GMOA think that Sri Lanka is in Europe and must follow the US timeline of 29 days lockdown- all so the Deepstate can set in place its surveillance systems to fight the Cold War in the Indian Ocean against China.

          Orwell’s 1984 all rolled in one.. with US Atlas Robots and surveillance systems all rolled in one at the resurrected Voice of America building to house the mass surveillance operation battling China far more advanced 5G and AI systems!

      • 1
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        Sarath De Alwis,
        RE: Death In Angoda

        More deaths to follow because of social irresponsibility, by imbeciles mean measured IQ 79.

        Five villages in Beruwala locked down as dodger tests positive for COVID-19

        The detection of an individual from Pannila in the Beruwala police area today, who failed to report his infection to health authorities, had compelled relevant officials to isolate at least 100 people from about 20 families in the area, police said.

        The dodger Mohammed Haris Mohamed Hafeez (31), a driver attached to the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) from Kiripattiyawatta in Pannila, has been reported to the police by residents of the area after he had gone into hiding with the development of cough and fever.

        Commenting on this, Kalutara SP Kapila Premadasa said when the Beruwala Police received the information, a team of police officers visited his residence with health officials and brought him to the Nagoda District Hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19.
        “The man was referred to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) from Nagoda last noon. His family members and neighbours numbering to at least 100 from 20 families have been isolated. Health authorities and the police were on the lookout for others associated with him for the last two weeks,” he said.

        Thus, Pannila becomes the fourth village to be isolated for 14 days quarantine after Kadayankulum in Puttalam, Atulugama in Kalutara and Kolombugahawatta in Akurana.

  • 9
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    The first Sri Lankan resident fatality of covid – 19 reported to the media by the authorities would have died primarily because of the compromised immunity he had as a result of other health conditions and which therefore made him far more vulnerable than a healthy young man who would perhaps not even have shown any symptoms of the infection. I believe the author must improve his knowledge of this outbreak and the behaviour of SARS-cov 2 . Yes, the virus did get brave and it cannot be “bloody funny” although I acknowledge the author’s strength in history and literature as well as political analysis.

  • 6
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    Though some people are not co-operative, the responsible authorities in Sri Lanka are doing a truly commendable job. I read in another newspaper today, a report published by healthreviewglobal.com:
    “ We have studied the responses of many countries to the coronavirus pandemic. We at healthreviewglobal.com decided to select Sri Lanka for its swift and impressive response to the global epidemic despite being a second world economy. On top of it, we learned the importance of investing in public health, the Health Review Global reported,” it said.
    The report further said, “Sri Lanka, dubbed as the pearl of the Indian ocean, is a very famous tropical destination among thousands. The island nation ranked as the number 01 tourist destination by lonely planet.
    This pandemic has given an opportunity to journalist and other socio-cultural, political, and economic analysts to find out what exactly many nations had been practically doing in the past. The people in the world, as one nation should decide who had been just boasting and who had been really working.

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      Richmond Peiris,

      Yes, the authorities have done a great job in trying to contain the virus. The number of daily infections seems to be leveling off, despite the initial misters. The people must put up with this for a week or more. Otherwise, they will be like Italy or USA, late to the containment procedures.

  • 6
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    So far, government has done well. Let us appreciate good work of forces, health workers and government officials. they have been doing well far better than Italy, Spain, and other countries.

  • 0
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    In the essay: ” Hours before the death, a soldier convicted of murder was pardoned. But was there an urgent necessity?” YES. That “Imminent Death” at IDH was the most opportune time. The whole country is on high alert and enforced curfew. The people are struggling to find a way out for survival. They have no time and energy to give ear to these matters of “Pardonings”. Do you find this “Pardoning” must be talked of at this moment? So it was good “Timing”. That was a “Necessity” and an “Opportunity” thanks to “COVID 19”. Now “ONE MORE” death needed to grand that “Pardon” to another in the “Waiting List”. That “pardoning” of the soldier in my village vocabulary is ” MUTTIYA DALA BALANAWA”. The timing, so far good. “One More” death awaited to “pardon” the next. It will “Happen” and another “Pardoning” will be DONE.

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    Hello Sarath,
    The key message of the article is that the world economy will not be what we knew it was. COVID-19 exposed the vulnerabilities of reasonably well operating global supply chains, which were being slowly undermined by Trump’s Make America Great agenda. The human cost of deaths from COVID-19 is of no consequence to those who run the world (who reside at Wall Street).

    US will pump many more trillions of USD to fight the economic consequences of COVID-19 and thereby de-base the USD leading to massive losses to those who hold US debt – primarily the countries with surpluses. The country that stands to benefit most is the USA, whose debt is in US Dollars.

    USA led the world in Engineering (the FANG, which are larger than most countries) and an unrivalled University system. The dark side of US policies (a good example is the designs to acquire and control Venezuela’s oil wealth) will continue notwithstanding COVID-19.

    A major change, in my opinion, is the inevitability of the adoption of the SDR as the world currency. Once that happens, the USA will no longer have the monopoly of ‘the reserve currency’ that allows it to print money at the expense of the rest of the world.

    I am afraid the deaths of ordinary people will be just, that deaths of ordinary people – of no consequence. What I say may sound callous but it is what it is.

  • 2
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    It was a sixty-year male. The official announcement stressed that the man had other complications. I thought it was bloody funny. The man was dead because of the virus. Is it suggested that the virus got brave because of other complications?

    Only an ignorant fool would think that statement “man having complications” is bloody funny. The man was a transplant patient. All transplant patients take drugs that suppress their immune system. On top of that he was diabetic. True, the virus is the same but his ability to fight it off would have been much less than for someone of his age leading to acute pneumonia. His death was not just due to coronavirus but a result of a multitude of factors. On the contrary if he had no other complications and was one of many such cases then that indicates something is wrong with management at IDH. Please stop writing nonsense for the sake of criticizing the government. Even Hilary Clinton has been asked to shut her trap after a quick jibe at Trump recently.

    • 1
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      Noname,

      “Man having complications “.

      However, he would NOT have died if not for the Corona-19 virus,

      Many will die with complications and without complications. Fewer younger people will die because they have better innate immune systems, and generally healthier.

  • 3
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    PART 1

    Death In Angoda
    Sarath
    *** Wonders in Sri Lanka never cease to exist. What a poignant piece of work. Every death is regrettable but I don’t know if it ever occurred to you 8 deaths in a family was far too many without any PETILENCE. You were quick off the block to praise the BRAVE President to save the Nation from PETILENCE although there was a Caveat when you revealed that you didn’t vote for Gotha . This was a Secret Ballot so you didn’t have to reveal but you were BRAVE to reveal which could be costly.
    As for the essay let me prick your conscience if you have any and there are some fancy words to console everyone.
    I heard of the death in Angoda from two busybody acquaintances late Saturday night. The tenor of one was gossipy. The other was condemnatory of all who chose to live and work beyond our shores but decided to return when pestilence threatened them.
    1) Death at our doorstep should have diminished us.
    *** Oh really.
    2) This Saturday and Sunday were filled with intoxicating anxiety. At 8 pm on Saturday, we learnt of the first death from COVID-19 at the IDH at Angoda.
    *** Have you ever thought about our anxiety when you beloved Gotha put his hand up and blessed the killer of 8. I pardon you from the bottom of my heart.
    3) A man on his way to buy a pack of cigarettes is run over by a motorist. The motorist applies brakes that did not function. The brakes did not function because the mechanic who attended to the faulty brakes had been negligent.
    *** You are mixing Science with Fiction. Wonderful.

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    PART 2

    4) The need of the hour is for solidarity and social distancing. That is not a problem for a nation that thrives on contradictions. We abhor murder and we pardon murderers. We don’t care if the murder was on a luxury Highrise or in a war ravaged jungle.
    *** Pardon Murderers was SUGAR COATED to hide the Criticism and hidden in a pile of bodies. You forgot to add in addition to Social Distancing Ethnic Cleansing.
    5) Thousands have died in China.

    *** 30,000 to be exact. . His death was in a germ-free cocoon. I am sure the doctor who attended would have looked at him kindly with forlorn eyes.
    6) “Humanity is always made up of more dead than living.”
    *** You are damn right Sri Lanka is a living embodiment. The funeral Pyre is still burning for the missing ones.
    7) The COVID-19 pandemic has devastatingly exposed the fragility of this globalized system.

    *** *** But Gotha D 1950-2020 has blighted the Tamils. For over 70 years without any vaccine

    I dedicate this essay to the girl in exile. With apologies to Ismail Kadare. I take liberty to add the following on your behalf and the “ Thousands of Tamils who perished without any one to administer death due to Gotha-D 1950 – 2020 “

  • 1
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    The article is an Eye opener on what is to come …Today the death of a 64 year old person in Negombo Hospital was reported as follows ;
    ” A 64 year old male who was admitted to Negombo Hospital this morning died due the infection of Corona virus .. He was with a history of Cardiac problems and complications in lungs .. the infection was observed at the treatment “…the new trend that people die due to other complications but not Virus… What a Country..

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