Sri Lankan Muslims face racism on a daily basis, but it wasn’t expected that it would reach this level. It is at its peak when the final rites of a human have become nothing more than an opportunity for the racist to enjoy. More importantly, it was the final rites of a 20-day old Muslim baby who unfortunately contracted COVID-19.
According to Dr. Wijesuriya, the Director at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, “The infant was confirmed COVID-19 positive in the afternoon, while it was also confirmed that the parents were not exposed to the virus.”
However, Ali Zahir Moulana, a Sri Lankan politician, has inquired about the incident from the father of the baby, and here’s what he gathered:
The whole incident still has unsolved issues that the government would hardly believe because we, Muslims, are minorities. It’s disheartening to witness that Muslims’ bodies are burnt while there’s an option to bury. The WHO has approved burial, but Sri Lanka is against it, and one thing that I can comprehend is Sri Lankan government is racist.
Dr. Sugath Samaraweera, Sri Lankan’s chief epidemiologist, said to the media that “burial might contaminate ground drinking water.” Shockingly, experts have denied the WHO’s take on groundwater contamination. The WHO discusses this misconception in their 3rd episode about Myths Vs. Science on 9th September 2020. They are clearly indicating that water cannot transmit the virus, but definitely, close contact with an infected person could.
Therefore it’s essential to maintain social distancing, which we don’t see in Sri Lanka. There are many instances that I can cite, but one of the major incidents was “Appalling Scenes In Kagalle: Thousands Gather Near The House Of Witch Doctor To Obtain Mysterious “Local Cure” For COVID19.” But the government is more worried about cremating the minorities even if it doesn’t have any scientific evidence that it could increase the spread.
Along with that, another illogical reason for denying burial is that Sri Lanka has massive rainfall. This might be reasonable if other countries with higher rainfall followed cremation instead of burial. Here is the world map of annual rainfall, and Sri Lanka is definitely not the country with the highest rainfall.
It would be appreciated if the Sri Lanka authorities could actually spend some time reading, listening, and understanding the WHO’s interim guidance on Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the COVID-19 virus. This discusses everything that the experts in Sri Lanka are refusing to accept. The WHO’s interim guidance on Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 shares every detail required when burying the dead. If the UK can follow it and provide respected and dignified final calls for its citizens, why can’t Sri Lanka? Here’s a first stand experience shared by Dr. Arshath on Twitter on how his dear father-in-law’s final rites were dignified in the UK.
While a 20-day old baby was cremated against his parents’ will, many other inhumane cases were on this political agenda. According to reports, more than 50 Muslims have been cremated though some of the cases remain mysterious. As if denying the final rites is not enough, the government further extends its ruthless take on minorities by charging around LKR 50,000-60,000 for cremation.
Initially, families would have paid the cremation cost, but now they are refusing the bodies and the ashes because it’s impossible for a family to afford this amount in a time like this. Yes, the government charges for the ashes too. I don’t think these families consider it a fight against injustice; instead, their hearts would get heavier every passing second. In Islam, we usually bury the dead within 24 hours, and to think that our loved ones have not yet reached eternal peace because of a cruel government is painful.
It’s somewhat insane that we, Muslims, still expect the government to treat us equally. The unfair treatment of Muslims isn’t new; it has always been there. There were attacks carried on Muslim houses, businesses, and worshiping places in 2018, fueling extreme racism, violence, and discrimination. The Easter Sunday Bombings in 2019 was another gloomy day for Sri Lankans. The Islamic Extremist groups and politicians (including Muslim politicians) took it as another opportunity to make the Muslim community miserable.
The victims of Easter Sunday are still waiting for justice, and it doesn’t look like the government is ready to give its due respect for minorities. The Government of Sri Lanka needs to understand that treating its citizens equally should be the top priority of a country if it needs to thrive.
When a country is purely focused on demeaning the minorities, it’s nearly impossible to make them understand where they are heading. Even though there were 12 petitions from Catholic and Muslim families and civil society challenging the decision of cremation, the Supreme Court rejected all the petitions even though the science says otherwise. For most of us, it’s not contracting COVID-19 that scares us the most, but it’s the fear of losing a loved one and not being able to offer the dignified final rites deserved.
Forcefully cremating the Muslims without letting them bury their dead according to their religious beliefs is not a sign of good governance. A country should treat its citizens with due respect and dignity regardless of race or religion. According to Islam, cremating is forbidden, and there are spiritual reasons supporting it. Even though racism against minorities has been common in Sri Lanka, it didn’t reach the level where one cannot die in peace. Right now, Sri Lanka has caused the damage, and they still have the time to repair it. But the million-dollar question is, would they?
The Prime minister of Sri Lanka actually did respond on 10th December when most Sri Lankans raised their concerns over forceful cremation using #StopForcedCremations. However, the response wasn’t satisfactory because the same decision was taken exactly a month before, as published in Daily Mirror, “President says to search for dry land to allow the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims.” But it was later denied that there were no such decisions as to allocate burial lands. We have to wait and see whether the government would walk the talk this time, although it has been 3 days since the decision.
It’s actually heartwarming to see most non-Muslims standing in solidarity against cremation, and currently, a silent protest against cremation is taking place in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the government is under pressure by several organizations, including the UN.
All in all, Ali Zahir Moulana’s tweet, “Heartening to note that the #WhiteClothProtest is spreading through business and homes across the country in less than 24 hours. A peaceful protest against the denial of basic rights, ignorance of science, and the embrace of racism. #StopForcedCremations” has restored hope in humanity.
How China’s Zero COVID Policy Killed Thousands in Shanghai?
Under China’s unbending virus control policy, the country’s most populous city, Shanghai is under full lockdown. In addition, an atrocious policy in place by the ruling regime is separating young children and babies from their parents when tested positive for COVID-19.
But, what has led one of the most developed cities to the nightmare, it is living in today? How China’s Zero-COVID policy is killing thousands across the nation? And is there a way out?
Shanghai and Zero COVID Policy: The Unfolding Nightmare
On many fronts, Shanghai, one of the biggest city globally, is under a strict lockdown. Amongst the deserted market and streets, over 26 million residents are confined to their homes and breaking through the silence, the drones dictating restrictions and instructions of the locked citizens.
Shortage of food, water, and medicines, over-burdened delivery network, and growing protest to open the lockdown depict the chaotic picture of Shanghai. But, Shanghai is not alone; across China, some 23 cities, homing 200 million people are living under full or partial lockdowns.
The impact closure poses a severe impact on the Chinese economy and global supply chain. The lockdowns in the first wave of COVID led to a historic collapse in economic activities in China, and now with the Omicron lockdown, indicators are plunging again.
But, despite the draconian lockdown and security measures, new COVID cases are shooting off the roof, reflecting the high transmissibility of the mutated virus.
What is China’s Zero COVID Policy
As one of the strictest steps taken toward curbing the spread of the contagious virus, China has once again adopted the Zero COVID policy.
The matric watched the number of cases found among people who aren’t yet in quarantines. Unfortunately, this figure may continue to climb in Shanghai, and the authorities will consider an outbreak contained until the indicator known as Zero infection in society reaches zero.
The current approach tries to reduce transmission and extend the time available.
China believes that removing sick people from society is the most effective way to stop the spread of the disease. Still, quarantine facilities are divisive, producing widespread concern and terror among residents.
The primarily variant resulting in the situation is China’s low vaccination rate for the elderly, especially amongst the most vulnerable category of citizen over 80-years-old( a little over 20%). Furthermore, to add fuel to the fire vaccination campaigns have been slowing down dramatically.
How Bad is the Situation in Shanghai?
Shanghai’s local government has some special autonomy under President Xi Jinping’s China; as a province-level city, it is officially under the supervision of the central government, but it has a unique status as the country’s financial capital and an emblem of China’s accomplishments for the rest of the world.
The local administration had managed the pandemic adequately up until March, with no major breakouts. However, the quick arrival of the Omicron variety and the severe government actions accompanying it are pushing some residents to the edge.
Shanghai reported 27,719 new infections on April 14, a new record high for daily cases. But, astonishingly, 95% of these new infections are now among people in quarantine or living within a closed-loop system. The government has been testing the entire city’s population every day, and anyone who tests positive is removed from their homes and sent to centralized quarantine facilities.
The Chinese political leadership has put itself in a difficult situation by emphasizing the zero-COVID goal. If it persists, it will hamper the country’s economic recovery by exacting expenses that the people no longer consider justifiable.
However, if COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, illnesses and fatalities will skyrocket as the virus spreads across a population lacking the protection observed in most other comparable nations.
When Will the Lockdowns End?
Once the zero COVID is achieved, Shanghai can start reopening the city. There is no timetable on when this can be achieved; however, with the new cases rising every day, it is most likely that the nightmarish lockdowns can continue for several more weeks.
Also Read: End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?
But, people are frustrated, mentally exhausted, and begging to get out. For many, this ordeal will shift how they view China as the future. While different variants of COVID killed millions around the globe, China remained a safe haven.
But, now the tables have turned.
The Urgent Needs for a Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy
Though the Chinese authorities will ultimately get the situation in Shanghai and around the country under control, the collateral damage created by the rigorous lockdown much outweighs the actual deaths inflicted by COVID at the moment.
As more cities in China sweep under lockdown, the country may again be cut off from both the inside and the outside. Moreover, what residents have gone through for the past few weeks can negatively impact their physical and mental health. As a result, the government must likewise place a premium on citizens’ mental and physical well-being.
The most vulnerable individuals should be vaccinated first, and strong safety measures should be put in place to allow regular life to continue in the state. Without these changes, the country’s economy would plummet, local firms would be forced to close, unemployment will soar, and public opinion will shift.
As a result, it’s critical to implement a dynamic zero-COVID policy that allows residents to normally go about their daily lives.
End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?
Sajid Javid, UK’s health care secretary, warns COVID could be here forever. Many European countries are calling for a new approach, claiming the infections must not be dealt with as a health emergency but an illness. So, is the pandemic approaching its end? Is it time we learn to live with COVID?
Pandemic to Endemic
After two years of multiple crippling waves, strict lockdowns, and millions dead, several countries are ready to leave the pandemic in the past. The new Omicron wave is breaking infection records across the world, but the hospitalization need and deaths are way down compared to previous waves, especially for vaccinated individuals.
The low mortality is sparking hope in many health care experts that COVID infections can now be treated as an endemic. We have learned to live with many illnesses in the past, and officials are proposing to add COVID to the list.
Despite the skyrocketing infections, many countries are easing the curbs, while countries like Ireland and the U.K. are dropping most of the restrictions.
Contrary to the European countries, the World Health Organization is declaring the pandemic far from over. According to the officials, the death rate of the current variant is still too high to go easy on the infections.
“Now is not the time to give up on the strategy. The virus (omicron) is circulating at a very intense level around the world.”Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, American epidemiologist
The Forever Pandemic
Omicron complicates the question of when this pandemic will end, but pandemics do eventually end. Yet coexisting with a virus as contagious as the Coronavirus would not be as easy as flipping a switch.
As an exhausted world tries to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious omicron mutant, cases are at an all-time high and causing chaos. However, this time we won’t have to start from scratch.
Although vaccines do not always prevent mild infections, they offer strong protection against serious illness. Omicron does not seem to be as dangerous as some earlier variants. Those who survive it will have a chance to bolster their defense against other variations of the virus that are still circulating. And perhaps the next mutant will emerge, too.
It won’t be long before the World Health Organization determines when enough countries have curb COVID-19 cases sufficiently – or at least, deaths and hospitalization have fallen – to officially deem the pandemic over. However, the exact threshold is unclear.
In that case, some parts of the world will still struggle – particularly those without enough vaccines or treatments – while other parts will be able to transition more easily to what researchers call an “endemic” state.
Could More Deadly Variants Emerge?
The coronavirus is not certain of remaining less deadly: It might evolve again and become more dangerous. Scientists in Sweden share that concern, writing in an opinion piece for POLITICO: “Allowing large amounts of contamination to circulate is like opening Pandora’s box of unpleasant surprises. The last variant we have seen is hardly the last.”
According to Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, there is always the risk of a dangerous mutation. However, he noted that the high level of immunity in the U.K. should guide a different approach. We should perform our own risk assessments instead of relying on top-down decision-making methods like lockdowns. You could, for instance, test yourself before leaving the house for dinner, or avoid potentially infected people if there is a risk, says David.
“The pandemic is no where near over. With the incredible growth of Omicron globaly, new variants are likely to emerge.”Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General WHO
Fighting & Living with the COVID
Despite the fact that industrialized nations actively aim to protect their populations by boosting their vaccinations for adults and extending vaccinations to children, we can no longer expect to inject people every four to six months in the face of new variants. To counter this threat, vaccinations will have to be provided annually – preferably with products that are effective against all types of Coronaviruses – and repeated exposure to an infection that is certain to become endemic sooner or later.
In the world “living with COVID,” governments and regulators should encourage the innovation of new vaccine technologies that will complement Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer’s mRNA products duopoly. Furthermore, more investment should be made in antiviral drugs that might play a greater role in suppressing symptoms among infected people.
At the beginning of 2020, we might have had a slim chance of eliminating Covid-19, but they are long gone. Controlling the pandemic has been justified so far as a global health emergency; however, they cannot continue forever.
Too many collateral damages would result, including harm to social cohesion, mental health and wellbeing, and the global economy. Sars-Cov-2 and its descendants will require more resilience in the coming year so that the most vulnerable can be protected while causing less disruption.
Plastic Pollution: Environmental Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic
2020 was supposed to be the “Supper Year” for nature. The world was all set for major opportunities to bring nature back from the verge. And then the catastrophe happened, Coronavirus, setting long-held plans for battling climate change back. And, now the pandemic is adding more complexities to the already dire crisis: Plastic Pollution.
2022: The New Dawn
After falling significantly due to the great lockdowns, Carbon Dioxide emissions are expected to return to the pre-pandemic level in 2022. China has already surpassed its emission due to the extensive use of coal.
The coronavirus crisis has only given the environment a small intermission. Now an unprecedented consumption boom, encouraged by the leaders to boost the economy, is fueling the demand. Furthermore, as a safety measure, people have started avoiding public transportation and driving more.
But, the most visible legacy of the pandemic, plastic waste, is filling water bodies with toxins.
Masks: Life-Saving Plastic Pollution?
Do you wear masks? How many masks do you own? Are all your masks reusable?
The recent popularity of masks has made them an integral part of our lives. Without a shadow of a doubt, it saves lives and protects us from infections. Yet, the disposal of used masks has been sparking major waste management and plastic pollution discussions worldwide, especially in South Asia.
A new form of wastes is now turning up into the ocean, masks. Whether higher-grade respiratory masks or basic surgical masks and single-use gloves, these used clinical wastes all belong in incinerators. According to an estimate, over 1.5 million plastic masks ended up in oceans. just in 2021.
Face masks, gloves, and wipes are composed of a variety of plastic fibers, primarily polypropylene, which remains in the environment for decades, possibly centuries, forming smaller and smaller microplastics and nano plastics. According to a study in Environmental Advances, one face mask releases as many as 173,000 microfibers per day into the sea.
Single-Use Plastic Packaging
In spite of the closure of physical shops and financial uncertainty, online sales of goods are on the rise even though consumption (and packaging) may have declined overall. There has been an increase in the use of plastic and another single-use packaging for parcel deliveries from e-commerce.
Also during the lockdown, there has been a decline in the use of single-use plastic containers for food. As many restaurants have shifted to takeout services, packaging has increased and commuting, traveling, and leisure activities decreased. This may have reduced the demand for on-the-go food and drinks.
But the staggering spike in at-home deliveries, drying up recycling market, and economics of plastics have added more to the complexities.
Efforts to curb plastic waste have come at a complicated time with regard to PPE litter. The ocean’s plastic waste is expected to triple, and there is no clear solution in sight. However, the shift would reduce the projected tripling of plastics by just 7 percent if every corporation kept its pledge to use more recycled plastics.
Due to the pandemic, disposable packaging has also increased as people purchase more takeout food. Plastic bag bans have been suspended because of fears that reusable bags will spread the virus. Similarly, a third of recycling companies in the United States have closed due to cash-strapped municipal budget cuts.
Elevated Plastic Pollution
Even before the pandemic, South Asia was the largest source of plastic wastes. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are amongst the top 20 countries notorious for creating the most mismanaged plastic waste.
The Ganges and Indus, flowing through these countries, are listed as some of the most polluted rivers systems, swallowing over 90% of the region’s plastic waste. A report from Washington Post reveals that the world has created about 8 million tons of plastic during the pandemic, most of which are now in the oceans.
Littered masks and gloves are carried like tumbleweeds into rivers and streams, where they reach the sea. As a result, the presence of sea turtles has been documented on beaches in South America, river outlets in Jakarta Bay, in Bangladesh, on the coast of Kenya, and on Hong Kong’s uninhabited Soko Islands. In addition, wasted personal protective equipment has clogged street drains from New York City to Nairobi and is clogging Vancouver, British Columbia’s municipal sewage system.
Plastic Pollution: No Silver Bullet
Now, entering 2022, the super year for nature is still on the waiting list. A single silver bullet can’t solve the plastic pollution problem globally across the rivers and oceans. For sustainable production, management, and disposal, plastics require interventions at all stages of their lifecycle: from production and preventing contamination to solid waste management and transitioning to a circular economy.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic pollution has been exacerbated in Asia. The World Bank is working to reduce plastic pollution in South Asian nations for the billions of people whose livelihoods rely on clean rivers and seas. However, to recover from the pandemic in a greener and more resilient manner, countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, will need new policies, investments, and innovations.
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