The Official E-Newsletter of the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka   |  Issue 47 - April / May 2020


Eng. Lalith Pallegama

One of the brighter side effects of the coronavirus outbreak is the use of scientific advice by experts. Even the president himself has urged the public to trust in science. Similarly, leaders of other nations have identified this crisis situation as a matter needs to be driven by scientific advice.

But this raises the question, where are the engineers in this equation? In order to answer this question, we need to take a step back and thoroughly observe the situation. Can there be any engineering solutions to prevent the further spreading of the virus or to put an end to this disaster?

It was evident that our health care system lacks the safety equipment to meet the needs of the crisis. Therefore, engineering faculty of Peradeniya University and other private sector organizations meddled and provided ventilation machines to hospitals. Also, the outbreak triggered a wave of inventions and innovations leading to manufacturing of robots which can measure body temperature, sanitation pods etc. But are we really utilizing the engineering expertise of the country to its full capacity?

Since the cause of the epidemic is a virus, epidemiology must have the answers for the cure. So, engineering in that sense seems helpless. But the infection needs to be contained and allowed to trickle out in a controlled flow in order for the whole system to be managed safely into a less critical state. Doesn't this sound like a challenge for engineering to you?

South Korea is one of the success cases in containing the further spreading of the virus. Has engineering played any role achieving so? It was reported that 'Corona 100m' app helped to inform the public of infection and possible infection areas preventing people from gathering or moving across identified red zones. Also, the continuous and rapid construction of hospitals in China can be considered as a key fact to their success in managing the crisis situation.

In conclusion, we need to design creative, workable and effective responses that better balance protection from the virus with disruption to daily life. So what could or would have been done to slow down the spreading of the virus without shutting down the day today life?

If we look at the very basic patterns of the spreading, couldn't engineers focus on mass production of on street hand sanitizers, or gloves treated with anti-virus coatings? Can't we think of methods to open doors without touching the door handle? Or press lift buttons without touching the buttons? Cashiers and shop workers are at huge risk since they have to face the customers at tills. Could we design a better protective infrastructure?

It may be too little too late to implement these because of the lockdowns. But since the government is loosening the curfew hours for people to get back to their day today routine lives, some of these can be implemented to prevent the spreading.

When we consider the potentials an engineer can bring to the table, they must be involved in long term policy making to face such disaster in the future. The difficulties we had to face during last couple of weeks is evident that how much input we are actually missing from engineers.

So, as engineers we strongly believe that we have a role to play in this crisis situation and its our duty and purpose as engineers. I would like to appreciate the engineers those who volunteered in different projects by the government to control the spreading of the virus. As this unfortunate event is coming to an end we need to look forward and be ready.

While wishing good health & safety to you all. I invite you to open your arms with kindness and generosity to build a better country where we all can stand on our feet.

Eng. Lalith Pallegama
Editor – SLEN