While combatting COVID-19, a wide range of lessons were learnt, many best practices were identified, and new knowledge, insights, competencies, and experiences were gained. They ought to be further studied, refined, analyzed, interpreted, and documented for the benefit of posterity. This should be done without delay lest a lot of the valuable information gathered, and the knowledge gained is lost forever. 

Against this backdrop, the National Science Foundation functioning under the ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation will conduct a 2-day national conference titled “COVID-19: Impact, Mitigation, Opportunities and Building Resilience” under the theme “From Adversity to Serendipity” in January 2021. It aims at bringing all the key players of the relevant public and private sector institutions under one roof to deliberate and reflect on the above aspects of the pandemic so as to build a robust and resilient community and economy in Sri Lanka. The 2-day conference will have the following tracks in relation to the objectives of the event: 

While combatting COVID-19, a wide range of lessons were learnt, many best practices were identified, and new knowledge, insights, competencies, and experiences were gained. They ought to be further studied, refined, analyzed, interpreted, and documented for the benefit of posterity. This should be done without delay lest a lot of the valuable information gathered, and the knowledge gained is lost forever. 

Against this backdrop, the National Science Foundation functioning under the ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation will conduct a 2-day national conference titled “COVID-19: Impact, Mitigation, Opportunities and Building Resilience” under the theme “From Adversity to Serendipity” in January 2021. It aims at bringing all the key players of the relevant public and private sector institutions under one roof to deliberate and reflect on the above aspects of the pandemic so as to build a robust and resilient community and economy in Sri Lanka. The 2-day conference will have the following tracks in relation to the objectives of the event: 

1. Health

Scope:

“Covid-19 and the Sri Lanka health sector response: what we did and what we learnt from the epidemic”

This session will describe and analyze the policy measures, strategies, plans and actions adopted by Sri Lanka to prevent, mitigate and control the epidemic. The session will also explore the lessons we have learned from Covid19 and propose health policy options and actions that could be taken to prevent such epidemics in the future. Topics will include the governance and legislative processes during the epidemic, different population health services, clinical management, laboratory services, research and innovations, and risk communication to engage the public and preventive services.  It will also look at the strategies adopted to maintain the emergency services for other diseases and essential maternal and child health services. The key resource persons will be the leaders and professionals from the health and health related sectors. There will be a few expert presentations on the experiences from other parts of the world.

 Key topics:

1. Role of the Task Force and National Coordinating Centre
2. Role of epidemiology: surveillance, rapid response, case investigation and quarantine
3. Risk communication and community engagement
4. Pandemic, molecular epidemiology and research
5. Testing - national laboratories and their role
6. Patient management
7. International and Regional collaboration 
8. Maintaining emergency services during the pandemic (e.g. other patient care services)
9. Legislation and policy measures to prevent future contagions

2. Mental health and well-being

Scope:

Sri Lanka has successfully managed to contain the epidemic, revealing promising physical outcomes. However, we do not know the sequelae: the psycho-social impact as much as the clinical impact, which follows.

As stated by the WHO, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused widespread concern, fear and stress, all of which are natural and normal reactions to the changing and uncertain situation that everyone finds themselves in. Therefore, the mental health and psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic should be better understood and addressed by individuals, communities and governments. The WHO has identified mental health and maintaining good mental wellbeing as a priority during this pandemic.

Therefore, this session (or theme) will describe and discuss strategies, plans and actions adopted by Sri Lanka on Mental health and well-being. The session will also explore the lessons we have learned from Covid19 and propose health policy options and actions that could be taken in the future. The key resource persons will be the leaders and professionals from the mental health related sectors. There will be a few expert presentations on the experiences from other parts of the world.

Key topics:

  • Responsiveness of services (Mitigation)
  • Impact on mental health (Impact)
  • Stigma and impact of media on stigma (Impact)
  • Determinants of mental health and ill health (Mitigation)
  • Coping and Resilience (Resilience)
  • Post traumatic growth (Opportunity)
  • Culture, community, and lifestyle may cover many aspects of the track

3. Economy

Scope:

The grave changes brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significant implications for global and national economies. Described by some as the worst economic crisis in recent history, the pandemic extracts an economic toll at both micro and macro levels. These effects include weakened monetary and fiscal stability, reduced investment, diminished human capital, fragmented global trade, and a changed social contract. The effects are not limited to the short term, but will also have longer-terms consequences, which need to be anticipated.

Reducing the pandemic’s immediate economic costs, safeguarding, and supporting the vulnerable, and setting a path for future economic advancement, requires a studied response. This conference session seeks to draw out the available knowledge, on the impacts and options for Sri Lanka, through economic research and analysis.

Therefore, this track on the Economy will focus on learnings for Sri Lanka, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, from various fields of economics. It will seek to enlist research papers addressing Sri Lankan policies and consequences on several dimensions of economic theory and practice. How can Sri Lanka navigate amidst the existing fiscal and macroeconomic weaknesses? What new challenges have been faced by the industrial and services sectors? How can the negative impact on jobs and employment be mitigated? Are the country’s social protection measures adequate? How can behavioural economics inform methods to reduce morbidity and mortality risks?

Key topics: 

  • Fiscal and monetary policy navigation amidst Covid-19 (Macro Economics)
  • Impact on jobs and employment income from Covid-19 mitigation (Labour Economics)
  • Trade, demand, and supply chains effects of Covid-19 on industry and services (Trade and Industry)
  • Social protection challenges alongside Covid-19 mitigation (Welfare Economics)
  • Economic techniques to improve public response to Covid-19 (Behavioral Economics

4. Environment

Scope:

Covid-19 an “Emerged Infectious Disease” – turned in to a Pandemic. The response to the pandemic situation resulted in the “normal” life systems been affected. The vast shutdowns and restrictions that became necessary to fight corona virus in the country has had rapid and profound impacts on the environment. Further, action to prevent the pandemic recurring have also been implemented. Taking note of the impacts to the environment actions to reverse the situation to a “new normal” has been taken and in some situations planned for future action.

To document, review and elaborate on the impacts and future actions are crucial to ensure that the “new normal” is properly defined and understood. Rhetoric by many that the “new normal” is going to be the same as what was in light of the vast changes that have happened to the environment is a myth.

To understand and respond to move in to the “new normal”, it will be prudent to document and strategies proper actions in the future. For this the environment should be recognized as consisting of three components – NATURAL, BUILT & STRUCTURED, and THEORETICAL (Kotagama 1998).

Deliberations therefore need to understand the three elements: 

NATURAL – all the elements into which the humans evolved, and thus it is those components that is left today with NO human influence. (Most unlikely today)

BUILT & STRUCTURED – all the elements which humans have built or put in order materially – fields, buildings, roads infra-structures etc.

THEORETICAL – All subjects that make us what we are? Health, Education, Culture, Social, Economics etc.

4.1 Natural Environment

Key topics:

    • HOW IT IMPACTED THE NATURAL ELEMENTS of the environment, eg- Biodiversity, ecosystems, fauna and flora. (disturbed, undisturbed, whatever is left?), Protected Areas etc. (e.g. impact on exploitation of resources both legal and illegal wildlife)
    • Lithosphere – soils, geology etc. (e.g. Enhanced soil degradation through neglect, or soils improvement through neglect?)
    • Hydrosphere – water (e.g. quality change resulting from reduced disposals)

The impacts should be considered in terms of NEGATIVE or POSITIVE impacts. They need to be quantified if possible.

    • IF NEGATIVE – how to reverse it?
    • IF POSITIVE – how to benefit from it?

4.2 Built Environment

Scope:

Built Environment constitutes where the humanity is at present!   Having migrated from caves to special dwellings and then creating a varied system of services and amenities the great human migration to cities has become an environmental problem.   However certain practice both known and unknown continue to push pressure on us to change.   The recent example of wet markets where perhaps species come together where they may not come together even in their natural habitat has moved us indoors and away from each other.  Wet market too is an artificial construct of ours.   Covid-19 has made us to rethink and rekindle the importance of change.  Of course, the overarching climate change has been dictating us to do this for quite some time.   Sri Lanka having so many pluses as a mid-size island and a biodiversity, which we can truly be proud of should understand the importance of change for sustainability.  

This should consider from emerging design to actions taken

Key topics: 

    • Biodynamic Building design
    • The nature of social distancing and masking - social behavior model on science
    • Issue of waste management under Covid-19
    • Sick care to Healthcare in Urban settings
    • The transportation paradox
    • Social Innovations in times of Covid -19 becoming the new normal

5. Building Resilience

Scope:

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need to scale up global efforts to strengthen resilience at all levels. The challenges of managing disasters while reducing disaster risks in countries, cities and communities have been exposed. Systems approach to disaster risk reduction, engaging with all sectors and stakeholders with the aim to reduce disaster risks from all hazards. Countries have failed to act on the science and warnings about the threat of a pandemic and prepare for COVID-19, and have failed to incorporate pandemics within their  national disaster risk reduction strategies, recognizing the multi-hazard and systemic nature of disaster risk have created. Many countries are now challenged with responding to extreme weather events such as cyclones, drought and storms while struggling to contain COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights we need to transition to a “new normal” that allows interaction, trade, communication, wealth creation and development. National and local authorities can use this as an opportunity to shape new and innovative policies that strengthen health systems, improve social protection, pursue climate-friendly solutions, and continue the pathway towards resilience.

We know that the pandemic is far from over but the better we know what has worked well and what hasn’t thus far will help us in tackling the next phases, reducing its impact and recovering faster and better. We need to recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resilience building is a long-term journey. Thus, this track aims to present and discuss the experiences in preparing for, responding to and efforts to recover from COVID -19. It will also explore what we need to visualise as the new normal and how planning, preparing and recover from COVID-19, in a way that can strengthen the resilience of the society and the community while remaining vigilant about the ongoing pandemic.

Key topics: 

  • COVID-19: best practices of responding, re-opening, and Recovery
  • Combating dual challenges of COVID -19 and natural hazards: current status of Systemic and cascading risks and the need to prioritize integrated disaster risk management.
  • multi-sectoral approaches and systematic integration of public health and disaster risk management
  • Business Reactivation from Systemic Risk Management: local practices in preparedness and prevention of the private sector in response to COVID-19
  • Urban preparedness for an effective response to COVID-19
  • Effective and integrated risk communication  
  • Multi-hazard disaster preparedness incorporating pandemics

 

6. Society

Scope:

The impact of Covid19 pandemic is pervasive, transcending diverse sectors. Given the disruption of long-established social life of people, its social impact is clearly observable. It is important to monitor and objectively measure these changes. On the other hand, some of these changes have an adverse impact on individuals, families, households and the wider society. These negative impacts need to be identified and mitigated through appropriate, evidence-based policies and interventions. On the other hand, some of the changes might create opportunities for desirable changes in society and other sectors. These need to be identified and made use of to enhance the resilience of societies impacted by Covid19 pandemic. Yet, resilience of societies has varied widely across the world, both developed and developing. The factors involved are diverse and cover economic, social, cultural, political and environmental areas. It is necessary to identify factors that enhance or undermine societal resilience in order to develop appropriate strategies and interventions. Under the broad conference track " Society", papers dealing with the following areas are invited: 

Key topics:

  • Impact of Covid19 pandemic on urban and rural communities 
  • Social Inequality (vertical and horizontal) and impact of Covid19 
  • Impact of the pandemic on employment and livelihoods 
  • Social protection systems: coverage and adequacy 
  • Role of social infrastructure investments in building resilience (education, transport, housing, childcare, youth development, social security, etc.
  • Protection and the welfare of the marginalized (disabled, homeless, urban poor)
  • Role of integrated rural and urban settlement planning 
  • Digital divide and its implications for life chances and participation 
  • Role of education in preparing citizens, in particular, of children and youth for a post Covid19 society 
  • Public discourse, public perceptions and the role of mass media in guiding Sri Lankan society for a sustainable recovery 

Cross cutting themes 

1. Governance

The response to Covid-19 has involved actions by all levels of government and other public bodies and agencies, especially those responsible for health, civil protection, education and social issues. It has also rested on the front line role of local authorities as those who are the closest to citizens and their needs. The effectiveness of the response to the Covid-19 emergency greatly depends on the level of coordination and cooperation between the different actors involved. It also depends on the active participation of civil society, as regards not only the respect of confinement measures but also the direct involvement in voluntary work aimed at sustaining the response effort. Hence the research related to governance aspects connected to Covid-19 will be timely and insightful. It can cover a wide array of topics ranging from democratic frameworks to delivery of people needs in a free and fair environment.

2. Building a Robust and Resilient Supply Chain

A disaster such as the pandemic being experienced is a low probability, high impact event that threatens the viability of the social system that has an ambiguous cause, effect and resolution. As such, a viable supply chain should be Agile to respond to the nature of demand at each phase; Lean to eliminate all types of waste during the supply linkages between producer and customer by getting earlier demand information to effectively match supply and demand; and Green to meet the standards of sanitation needed for consumption, particularly in a time of a pandemic. Hence, the research related to a LeanGreen and Agile. Supply Chain for Food is of utmost importance. It can further be extended to cover areas other than food as well.

3. Research, Invention and Innovations

Sars-CoV-2 garnered undivided attention and any intervention in overcoming any resulting challenge is sure to get attention and appreciation.   The impact of the novel virus definitely offers a rich ground for inventive actions.  Developed countries have challenged their innovation eco-systems by indicating that they have failed in supporting the pandemic response.  An emergency always offer chances within the response mode of fight!  The inventiveness is not only for managing the issue but also in response to post event situation.  As Covid-19 has impacted all economies in ways that has never happened before the opportunity space is significant.  Also, the situation provides an opportunity to take decisions that may not be possible in normal times.  Now that is the opportunity to Sri Lanka.  This is about innovations that took place and did not!

Key topics:

  • Understanding the genomics of the virus
  • Inventions and efforts from Community (medical, engineering, school, public)
  • Inventions in interventions (Allopathic and Ayurvedic)
  • Artificial Intelligence and Data Science in Epidemic curve
  • Industry 4.0 accelerated – Robotics and Drones
  • Inventions in Sanitation (different sanitizing systems)
  • Software for remote working etc.
  • Future research (e.g. BCG, Blood Plasma studies, Antigen and Antibodies, Vitamin D)
  • Innovation Drivers (Different Idea challenges – Hackathons - What happened? Setting up new companies (Ceylon Robotics & Technology Corporation; Special funding)

National Science Foundation,
47/5 Maitland Place,
Colombo 07.