Coping with COVID-19 | Daily News


Coping with COVID-19

With the Coronavirus pandemic assuming calamitous proportions globally and its fallout casting a pall over Sri Lanka too, with the 10th positive case being detected, the Government cannot be faulted for going that extra mile with additional precautions to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading and avert a major convulsion in the country.

Quite correctly falling in line with the rest of the world where the virus has assumed humongous proportions, the Government has taken certain emergency measures to combat the crisis before things could get out of hand. While not going the whole hog like in certain countries where the Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll, it has effected certain restrictions.

A public and mercantile holiday has been declared for today while the first term school vacation has already been advanced. All cinema halls countrywide too have been shut down and sports events cancelled including the England’s Test series in Sri Lanka. The curtain has also come down on the School Big Matches with the ones yet to be played called off, removing another risk factor.

All musical and entertainment events too have been cancelled while restrictions have been imposed on public gatherings that lend themselves to high risk situations. The Catholic Church too has cancelled all Sunday Services until further notice while a solemn mass was held yesterday at the Archbishop’s House in Colombo dedicated to the protection of the country from the Coronavirus, presided over by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

Needless to say, all precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus, however much these measures inconvenience the public. Neighbouring Maldives acted fast at the first sign of trouble when two positive cases were detected putting off its Local Council elections, while Western countries, with all the wherewithal at their disposal to combat epidemics of this nature, enforced total shutdowns.

Sri Lanka’s health authorities are closely monitoring the situation and studying the mode of transmission of the Coronavirus from country to country. In another laudable move, doctors and medical specialists appeared on a live telecast carried by all TV stations yesterday to advise the public on the risk factors and precautionary measures, and, what is more dispel fallacies and counter disinformation about the virus.

At the outset of the global Coronavirus outbreak the Health Ministry announced that with no confirmed cases in Sri Lanka and strict preventive measures in place there will be no immediate restrictions. However, now that 10 cases have been reported, speedy measures are needed to combat the spread of the virus. The Health Ministry is on record stating that if there is an uncontrollable spread and if Sri Lanka is at a very high risk of importing the virus into the country it will be compelled to take more decisive action.

What form will this action take? With the General Election only weeks away and the Election Commission declaring that the polls will go ahead, it will be difficult to prevent large scale gatherings, short of putting off the election. True, the vast expansion of electronic and social media could certainly obviate large-scale election gatherings. Candidates can also be provided with time slots in electronic media to address the public.

However, with the PR system in force and the Manapey battle bound to be fierce there can be no substitute for the personal touch, meaning close interaction between the candidates and the voters. A candidate has also to canvass in a whole district which entails house-to-house campaigning and holding election rallies in all electorates in the district if he/she is to have any chance of success. Can the authorities prevent such a situation is the question.

The Government is working overtime to ensure that proper precautions are taken – without essentially thinking about the cost to the economy. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has already issued orders to halt ‘on arrival’ visas to all foreign nationals. This is an understandable precaution given the global spread of the virus.

This is not to say that the public should go into panic mode and act irrationally. Already there have been reports of shortages of several items of consumer goods as a result of panic buying. There were also scenes of long queues at supermarkets and stores over the weekend where frantic purchasing was witnessed. Queues were also seen at filling stations despite a Government assurance that there was no fuel shortage. There were also reports of unscrupulous traders cashing on the situation to create artificial shortages of essential goods. Law enforcement agencies should be instructed to take prompt action against such opportunistic elements.

It goes without saying that the crisis should also not be exploited for political purposes. It is heartening to note that all major parties have vowed to extend their cooperation to the Government to overcome the crisis. Not just the political parties. The cooperation of every citizen is vital if we are to emerge unscathed from this serious situation.

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