A collective response to COVID-19 | Daily News


A collective response to COVID-19

The level of national coordination in Sri Lanka’s response to the emergent world health threat and, the swiftness of the multiple, simultaneous, actions initiated so far, must surely give the public the reassurance most needed in a time of national crisis: confidence in Governmental leadership and its optimum deployment of resources.

As reported last week, Sri Lanka was among the first of the affected countries to quickly set up a ‘task force’, i.e. a specialised apex level body of experts and decision-makers. It was convened by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, briefed by him and set up with the minimum of fanfare (no grandiose titles as in the past). Most Sri Lankans have begun comparing the on-going no-nonsense, rapid mobilisation of agencies (public, private, international) and expertise with that of previous regime’s responses during national challenges. The President detailed some of these measures during his video conference presentation to the SARC leaders on Sunday. No doubt the current President’s experience in managing a large defence machine to overcome a powerful threat to our very nationhood has stood him in good stead. Now it is a test to manage the whole State system in meeting a far more insidious and potentially catastrophic threat to this island community.

Can the people, the mass of citizenry, rise to the challenge in joining in the State’s defence of our collective health and long term economic stability? Along with the Government, the public administration – especially the healthcare machinery – is clearly now on a ‘war footing’ and has begun receiving the enthusiastic cooperation of the business community countrywide. At the forefront of the immediate logistics, the Armed Forces are already busy rapidly providing the urgently required facilities and medical back-up systems.

The country’s entire medical corps is also mobilising with numerous volunteer teams of researchers and supplementary medical services joining in. Various sectors of business are now harshly affected by the economic repercussions of the pandemic – loss of industry supplies, tourism markets, truncated air and other transport services. Just as in other parts of the world affected by the pandemic, sectoral business leaderships in this country, too, are adopting determinedly positive strategies of surviving this crisis. Large scale events have been voluntarily cancelled, commercial venues shut, with little complaint; rather, with public pronouncements of responsible collaboration.

Just as much as schools have been closed, it is anticipated that school-level sporting and other events will also be postponed or cancelled. The public must realise and understand three critical things. Firstly, there is the invisible nature of this viral threat. Secondly, there is the need for immediate changes in personal behaviour that are essential for our human survival. Thirdly, we need to steadfastly sustain these behavioural practices with a positive attitude that enables rigorous compliance.

Why? Because the nation must achieve certain urgent targets if we are to avert a real catastrophe. We need to slow down the spread of the virus in the country so that the number of victims at any given moment does not exceed the capacities of our medical facilities and expertise. If the medical system is overwhelmed and unable to detect and cure people in time, the existence of infected people in society will only spur the contagion.

Any social debilitation due to casualty levels will simply emasculate the national economy, thereby denying it the ability to recover from the already worsening damage to vital sectors. Past big threats to the nation, such as the separatist war and the 2004 Tsunami, had effects which were devastatingly visible and tangible. COVID-19, however, is not only an invisible microbe, but its early symptoms are also not immediately identifiable thus giving time for the virus to strike down human victims before they can reach suitable medical care. And the most vulnerable, like elders and the physically weak, are struck down first.

Thus, our brave soldiers with guns are not adequate to fight this viral enemy. Rather, it is the strict practise of discipline by all citizens that will fight this enemy. Firstly, we must constantly keep ourselves disinfected (especially our hands) and also our living/working surroundings. Secondly, we must stop going to crowded areas even if we have to give up all out-of-home leisure and other peregrinations. This is how we reduce our contact with other people and thereby reduce the opportunity for the virus to transfer from one human to another.

The younger generation, who tend to be the most active, has a special role to play. Since it is the older people and the physically weak who are struck down first and most by the virus, the younger generation must take special care not only in avoiding crowded venues and areas, but also in ensuing their contact with the more vulnerable is minimal and hygienic. This disciplined behaviour by all citizens, is fundamental for quicker national recovery and the avoidance of any health and economic catastrophe.

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