Dr Upul Wijayawardhana, in Island, 4 May 2020, where the title is “Which is more dangerous, Covid or Covidiot?”
“Where knowledge is sparse, experts proliferate” is, perhaps, the most important lesson I have learned during this troubled time we all are going through. At times, I wished Sir Tim Berners-Lee patented his invention – the World Wide Web – rather than gifting it to humanity. That would have prevented so many of my friends, and relatives, from forwarding many frivolous items, by e-mail and WhatsApp, as I am a Facebook shunner. Had they been obliged to pay, even the tiniest amount, they would have thought twice before forwarding most of these which, at best, are silly and, at worst, laden with darned lies. Had Sir Tim been selfish, he would have been a multi-billionaire, the richest man in the world, perhaps, and could then be a ‘philanthropist’, like some Americans, doling out millions to help the fight against the unseen-enemy. But that is another story.
Thanks to some friends, who have drafted me to their WhatsApp groups, I have been able to utilize the forced ‘free’ time available to do my own sociological study. I have been impressed, to my dismay, how gullible even the most intelligent can be; how their interpretations are clouded by political affiliations, etc. It is very unfortunate, indeed, that they help in disseminating wrong information. Had Sir Tim patented ‘www’, I would not be spending so much time deleting these silly messages. Mind you, I need time to read and watch before I delete. Unfortunately, it is too late by the time I realise that I have wasted time! It would, however, be ungrateful of me not to thank them, as well, for sending interesting items to lighten the boredom, which has become a universal problem.
There is absolutely no dotubt tha the Coronavirus causing COVID-19 is extremely dangerous; mostly because of the rapid spread, aided by extensive air travel of modern day. We are still not sure how killing it is, as death rates from different countries differ widely. Even if the mortality rate is not as high as with other recent epidemics, due to similar viruses, as it has infected over three million, all over the world, the total number of deaths would be high, even if the mortality rate was low. The SARS epidemic, of 2002/3, resulted in 8098 infections, with 774 deaths, the average mortality rate being around 11%, but nearly half of those over 60 died, unfortunately. So far, COVID-19 has killed more than 233,000. The current death rate, which works out to around 14%, is very likely to be a gross overestimate as in most countries, unlike in Sri Lanka, no active contact tracing is done and many who harbour the virus are not counted. For instance, in the UK, the current advice is for anyone with suggestive symptoms to self-isolate at home and contact the NHS only if they develop problems, like breathlessness. There is no count of how many have done this!
It is very likely that, in many countries with rapid spread, the total number infected would rise exponentially once extensive testing is done. Though the PCR test, done for diagnosis, is reasonably accurate, there are still no accurate antibody tests to diagnose past infection in those who had mild disease, or got the infection without any symptoms. In spite of the WHO cry ‘test, test, test’, accurate testing is hampered by the lack of validated tests. Some doctors have exploited people’s anxieties and a doctor in the UK made a killing with antibody tests. Dr Mark Ali set up website ‘New Harley Street Clinic’ and charged £375 for tests he got a private laboratory to do for £120. Fortunately, this COVIDIOT was exposed and he had to pay back a part of the millions he made!
Every day, we are shown graphs of deaths in various countries leading to unjustified conclusions being made. Some journalists, in the UK, are very keen to paint a bleak picture and try to portray the UK as having done worst in Europe so far. With the recent decision by the UK government to include out-of-hospital deaths as well, the UK now has more deaths than Spain, or Italy — the figure on 30th April being 26,771. In the USA, almost 64,000 have died, but the US population is five times that of the UK. Further, different countries collect data in different ways. Therefore, death rates should not be used for comparisons but only to gauge how the epidemic is progressing in that country. The UK has just turned the peak, as was announced on 30 April, by the Prime Minister at his first press briefing, following his near-death struggle with the virus, and it is to the credit of the government that the actions taken prevented overwhelming of the NHS. No patient was denied intensive care, or ventilatory support in the UK, whereas many other European countries struggled in providing appropriate care.
In spite of the recent spike, Sri Lanka can be very proud of the way the epidemic was handled. Of course, the international media have their favourites and will never give us the credit, even when we deserve. A few days ago, I read an interesting comment from one our top ex-diplomats, Dr Palitha Kohona, “Why do only some countries like New Zealand, Israel and South Korea get the glittering international media headlines for managing the COVID-19 challenge, while Sri Lanka hardly gets a mention, despite its sterling performance”. Maybe, it is because Rajapaksa’s are doing it. After all, they are like Marmite, most love, some hate and the Western Press are among the haters!
In fact, the recent spike in Sri Lanka is most likely due to the action of five COVIDIOTS from the Suduwella area, who were drug users, and [were] avoiding quarantine. Whether Naval officers, who got infected by trying to apprehend these drug addicts, did not take adequate precautions, remains to be established, but the underlying problem was the anti-social behaviour of these idiots. In spite of the spike, there being no further deaths is very reassuring and a testament to the high quality of medical care that has been provided, during this grave emergency.
In response to my article “When experts disagree” (The Island, 23 April), Dr Sumedha Amarasekara has commented (COVID-19, experts and Ayuveda; The Island, 28 April) that I am no expert, in Ayurveda, and has stated “Ayurveda may not have infective theories that we can understand, through a set of western medicine glasses, but it certainly has the concepts of spread of disease, through contact, immunology and the concept of social distancing (Deyyange Leda) which, ironically, the developed world, where western medicine is being practiced, has trouble coming to terms with.” Though I am no expert in Ayurveda, I cannot comprehend Deyyange Leda being a reference to an infective aetiology, being more of a divine curse! Perhaps, we have outdone these gods; vaccinations introduced by Edward Jenner led to the elimination of small pox 40 years ago.
As most patients who develop COVID-19 get cured with no treatment, many can claim cures but peddling unsubstantiated cures in the midst of the most devastating epidemic of our time is plain stupid! Or, for that matter, advancing implausible theories ,the too, do great harm. A number of misguided fellows, in the UK, went round destroying 5G masts, as some COVIDIOT propounded the theory that the virus takes a ride on 5G waves!
A video which has just started doing the rounds is from a doctor who used to practice in the UK, who earned a name for himself by clarifying some aspects of Buddha Dhamma. He spoke sense but, like some others, got intoxicated with knowledge and claimed that he has attained Sotapanna. Maybe, from this exaltation, plus his medical knowledge, he has developed an insight into COVID-19. He opines that our immune system is damaged by wheat flour, genetically engineered to increase gluten levels, and local immunity of mucosal membranes are diminished by milk. He is confident that if we all give up using wheat flour and milk, the COVID-19 epidemic, in Sri Lanka, will be finished in two weeks. To make such claims, without any scientific backing is, to say the least, is very dangerous.
Having to battle a tiny virus [that is] wreaking havoc is bad, but the attempts of those trying to be experts, COVIDIOTS is even more dangerous!
A NOTE: “I have taken the liberty of modifying Dr Wijayawardhana’s punctuation –mostly by deleting his puzzling use of commas … The Editor, Thuppahi