Deadly Covid Abyss looms in Si Lanka: Two Grounded Essays by Peiris versus Peiris

The recent article presented by medical specialists Malik Peiris and Kamini Mendis  has led to informed ethnographic set of comments by Gerald Peiris of Kandy**.…a nd drawn a Response from Dr Malik Peiris that is exrtemely disconcerting. The situation in Sri Lanka is DIRE …  and going to plunge to further depths.


Thuppahi can present the volcanic ABYSS that looms in front of Sri Lanka via Comments from the geographer Gerald Peiris of Kandy based on ethnographic observations within  a broad readng of the difficulties confronting an under-resourced state ..… and, THEN, a response to this intervention from the medical specialist Malik Peiris which warns one and all about the situation of  EXTREME DANGER of the catastrophe that is at the island’s doorstep  …  or rather, already ensconced in the island’s verandahs and kitchens.

A graphic photograph displaying the cremation of dead bodies from the Indians scenario has been placed upfront in order to drive home the ABYSS that is at the island’s doorstep.

Gerald Peiris to Malik Peiris, 23 April 2021

Dear Malik,

This is to convey my immense gratitude to you (and your core-researcher) for the ‘Science based Strategy …’ article. There is such a glut of ‘expert’ pronouncements on what has gone wrong in Sri Lanka and why, which receive wide media publicity that it has become almost impossible to sort out the realities. There is an absence of consistence even in the well-intentioned WHO announcements.  It is in such a context that I find your diagnosis and the prescription so lucid, comprehensive and, needless to stress, so authoritative. Michael Roberts has given it fairly wide publicity through his blog. I also circulated it among my friends. But that it not enough. It is a pity that ‘information’ of such refinement and value seldom reaches our Sinhala readership.

I thought of sending you two contrasting scenarios in your home town that might supplement the impressions you probably get from your kith and kin in our part of the town. The first is what I saw in my visit the Keels supermarkets last Friday evening, a few hours before the3-day all-island shutdown was to begin that night. The prescribed regimen of personal hygiene and venue sanitation (hand-wash with disinfectant and temperature check at the entrance) was confined to the main entrance. What was seen inside was a melee of panic buying by a clientele consisting almost entirely of the “better-off” people (that is to say, roughly, my level of income or higher), everyone duly masked but none caring about ‘social distance’ or not even the norms of social etiquette. The long queues at check-out counters made it possible for me to note that, in general the purchases were canned, bottled, packeted and wrapped foodstuff and confectionery, and the entire range of fresh foods. At the counters, the only cash transaction I saw involved the offer of three Rs. 5,000 notes to pay for two trolleys brim full of goodies, obviously for hording in anticipation of a fortnight shutdown.  

That supermarket clientele that evening probably represented the ‘top 5%’ stratum of the socioeconomic pyramid in our main provincial towns – perhaps broader in Kandy than elsewhere. What of the ‘bottom’?  I still have a fairly wide network of contact in all such strata established during the surveys I conducted for my book, Planning for the Future of Kandy, published last year. ‘Greater Kandy’ (the city and the surrounding townships), as you might know, has a large number of people whose employment is in the amorphous ‘informal sector’ of the economy. At least about 10-15% among them very definitely  fall into the ‘ultra-poor’ category (a recent definition: equivalent of 2US$ per day – numerically, at least about 10,000 earners sustaining about 25-30,000 dependents. What they do to keep alive is to set out from home each morning to find some employment (at roadside, home garden, farm, larger market premises, construction site, metal quarry) and return home with whatever is left from the diurnal earnings. Above that layer, but with marginal overlap with that of the bottom, is a large segment of our population – skilled or semi-skilled, self-employed workers, hired on a casual basis by random employers. They depend on ‘potluck’ in the labour market. The most prominent among them in the Kandy landscape are the ubiquitous three-wheeler drivers, pavement hawkers, and “nattals” (porters) working for tradesmen in the larger markets and the wholesalers.

It is in these lower socioeconomic strata that you find many thousands of people pauperised by the Covid pandemic. Some (only some) among them receive Samurdhi payments (the regularity of which is often disrupted due to curtailment of services provided in general government administration. Some also benefit from ‘relief’ payments and the distribution of ‘dry rations’. But many are in a state of despair. Typically they live in unsanitary and overcrowded hovels. The nature of the labour they provide is not conducive to the donning of face-masks or maintaining social distance. Understandably, the enforcement of such ‘preventive’ measures is perfunctory.  

These considerations appear to have been foremost in the presidential mind when he pursued strategy of restricted lax social controls and tried to avoid shutdowns. With other impending hazards such as the monsoonal floods and landslides in the months ahead, with ‘relief measures’ absorbing a large part of the government income, with the main sources of earned foreign income (remittances by expatriate workers, export of garments, tourism, aid) drastically curtailed, with supplies of immunisation drugs inadequate to eradicate the Covid menace unlikely to materialise in the foreseeable future, and with the ‘West’ hell bent on teaching a lesson to the regime they failed to uproot, the ‘Science-based strategy’ – admittedly the only hope – remains a distant dream.
That doesn’t detract from the value of your paper and the gratitude we owe you.

With all good wishes,


**** ****

Malik Peiris to Gerry Peiris, Chubby Arseculeratne [and, implicitly, All Sri Lankans], 23 April 2021

ITEM REMOVED  after this protest
Dear Michael, 

I am very distressed to see a personal note (indeed that is the heading of that e mail) that I sent to a personal friend Gerry Peiris, is now on your Blog, openly accessible to all. 

This is certainly not what I would expect from a senior academic such as you. If you wanted to put any part of my private and personal e mail to Gerry on your blog, I would have expected that you would get permission to quote from such a private e mail, both from Gerry and me. 

I request you to take this PRIVATE correspondence down from your blog immediately

** A NOTE: Malik Peiris and Gerald Peiris are not  related. However, Malik is the son in law of Professor SN “Chubby” Arseculeratne from the Medical Faculty at Peradeniya  University [now retired] who is a good friend of both Gerry and myself. 

PLUS — see FOR latest Covid statistics as of 23 May 2021

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