Coronavirus: Looking after our own | Daily News


Coronavirus: Looking after our own

A nation-state’s accountability toward its citizens is paramount, especially when the Government is one that is popularly elected and the Opposition is popularly elected to monitor governance.

When a nation’s citizens find themselves in trouble in distant lands, they naturally look to their homeland for succour - a dependence expected and desired for the sake of human welfare and community well-being. Then, the nation must come forward to fulfil its duty by its citizens, leaving no stone unturned and dedicating the maximum resources.

There can be no question of any delay in fulfilling that duty merely because of some speculation that the locally available capacities are inadequate.Thus, when Sri Lankans are caught in a situation of a sudden outbreak of a disease, such as the current Coronavirus, the national response posture must be one of readiness to immediately or expeditiously bring them home as soon as the host country deems it suitable.

The call by some politicians to not allow the repatriation of the 32 Sri Lankan students currently trapped in disease-stricken Wuhan, China, is either a call based on ignorance of both national capacities and international medical emergency protocols or, a call that deliberately ignores such considerations. Then, such a call could be seen as one with intentions of embarrassing the Government for political party gain.

Any doubts about this country’s capacity to deal with the Coronavirus have now been dispelled by the World Health Organisation itself. The WHO’s country director has already gone on record formally endorsing Sri Lanka’s capabilities in handling such a public health threat.

With the death toll rising in China and person-to-person infections being reported from several other countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has rightly declared the Coronavirus pandemic as a Global Health Emergency. Some would say this was somewhat late in coming, but as a responsible world body the WHO has to assess a variety of factors before coming to such a serious conclusion. This is only the fifth time that the WHO has invoked this global institutional authority.

The WHO designation indicates that international public health authorities now consider the respiratory virus a significant threat beyond China, where it originated last month and has already infected nearly 9,000 people and killed 213. The WHO designation enables the automatic deployment of already dedicated global resources and also validates the mobilisation of supplementary and additional resources. It also enables an automatic inter-state coordination transcending borders – something essential to defeat an epidemic that, itself, has transcended national borders.

Our health authorities have responded well to the Coronavirus crisis, working in tandem with immigration, tourism, travel and other relevant sectors. Within days, they were successful in identifying and isolating a single case of a Coronavirus patient, a Chinese national who had arrived from Wuhan, the epicentre of the viral outbreak. So far there is no indication that any other person, local or foreign, has been infected with the virus, though several persons with flu-like symptoms are being treated at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) and several other hospitals throughout the country. Some have left after the tests proved negative.

It was also significant that local scientists at the Medical Research Institute (MRI) developed a test kit, even before the WHO stepped in. The Government has especially equipped 12 hospitals islandwide with the necessary isolation facilities to treat any suspected cases.

At the same time, the Government is sharing information and is in consultation with the business sector in preparations to meet any longer term impact of this health threat.

Scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine under the aegis of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is made up of and funded by Governments and philanthropic organisations. Sri Lankan research organisations including the MRI and universities should also participate in these global efforts.

One reason why research organisations, both public and private, were able to start work on a vaccine so soon was that China released its genetic code very quickly, having learned a lesson from SARS when it was somewhat slow to react. A company in San Diego called Invio in fact developed a potential vaccine in just three hours, though human trials are expected to take some time. The University of Queensland is working on a “molecular clamp” vaccine, which it says “enables targeted and rapid vaccine production against multiple viral pathogens.” Moderna Inc in Massachusetts has also joined forces with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a potential vaccine.

Sri Lankans, too, must appreciate Beijing’s ready co-operation and transparency in ensuring the welfare of Sri Lankans (and other foreigners) in China.

What is most needed now is local public co-operation in strictly observing health guidelines while the various political leaderships should also join in the national effort to meet this health threat rather than seeking take partisan political advantage.

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