A laudable response | Daily News


A laudable response

The Government took the correct decision by enforcing a partial shutdown of the entire country yesterday by declaring a three day public holiday as a means of countering the rapid spread of the Coronavirus that has taken a cataclysmic turn the world over. We say partial shutdown since all essential services such as transport, health services and food supply chain will remain intact as are other services that are vital to the public and to ensure there is no paralysis of the administration. The Government also took the prudent step of shutting down the Bandaranaike International Airport and the Jaffna Airport for passenger flights.

This is in the backdrop of all Western nations enforcing total lockdowns with television showing world capitals like London, Paris, Rome and Madrid reduced to ghost cities. In Sri Lanka too certain restrictions were put in place at the very outset such as the shutdown of schools, cinemas, zoological gardens and wildlife sanctuaries and bans imposed on group excursions, pilgrimages. There were also artificial food shortages created by panic buying and hoarding by unscrupulous traders to cash in on the situation as is common in such situations in this country.

The Government had little option other than going for these extreme steps what with 28 positive cases detected as at yesterday although the situation is not as drastic as elsewhere. The Government also should be commended for taking all precautions at the very first sign of the global outbreak of the virus arranging for quarantining of foreign visitors and setting up isolation centres and having close scrutiny of visitors at the airport.

In this respect the signal role played by the Security Forces cannot be overemphasized. Led by Army Commander Lt General Shavendra De Silva the soldiers worked round the clock to ensure things moved at a fast pace in ensuring all requirements were in place and in mobilizing all the resources, reminiscent of the efficiency shown by the military during other national emergencies in the past. The Government also should be praised for taking all measures to educate the public on the risks and putting out a list of do’s and don’ts that to a large extent helped contain the spread of the virus. Television and radio channels too did their part by cancelling their regular programmes and in their place had doctors and medical experts giving advice and guidance to the public that helped a great deal in minimizing the ill effects.

Although these are temporary measures, the economy is bound to be affected. Already the bourse is feeling the effects having closed down early on two consecutive days. The worst hit is the tourist trade with hotels and gust houses running virtually empty, according to local television. The fallout is bound to linger for a while even after the all clear is given since in an industry like tourism the recovery always takes time. Hence, the Government should lose no time in getting things back on track immediately after the danger has passed. There is no doubt that it will stand up to challenge the same way it successfully did during the global economic recession in 2009 when Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President.

However, the immediate challenge lies in controlling the spread of the pandemic within our shores. Of course plagues cannot be fought by armies with guns. The cooperation of every single citizen is essential if we are to counter the threat successfully. The citizens should carefully follow the guidelines issued by the authorities in matters such as sanitation, personal hygiene, contact with individuals etc. In this regard the advice as regards public gatherings should be adhered to by all if the virus is to be contained with any degree of success.

With nominations for the General Election coming to a close on Thursday political party leaders should advise their supporters against mass gatherings. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has already shown the way by deciding to halt public meetings and the Government too decreeing the postponing of all public meetings and events for the next two weeks. However with the Elections Commission assuring that the polls will go ahead as scheduled there naturally will be heightened enthusiasm after nominations with candidates going to any length to woo the voters even disregarding the risks and dangers.

It will be interesting to see what response there will be from the public. Will they gather in large numbers as before at election rallies or will the Coronavirus keep them indoors? From the looks of it, the upcoming General Election will be sans the fire and thunder of elections of the past going by the empty roads and public places and the pall in the air since the Coronavirus announced its arrival in this country. Of course there is still over one month to go and the scene could change for the better as the days go by. A lot will depend on how we manage the crisis.

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