COVID-19 and public responsibility | Daily News


COVID-19 and public responsibility

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was justifiably angry at the irresponsible and lackadaisical attitude of certain members of the public towards efforts to contain the Coronavirus and gave a piece of his mind as to what he thought of such individuals during a meeting of the Special Coronavirus Prevention Task Force meeting on Tuesday morning.

Citing specific instances, the President bemoaned the irresponsible conduct of certain individuals who placed the safety of the rest of the public in jeopardy by failing to adhere to the advice and guidelines laid down by the authorities, for combating the virus. Specific mention was made as to how between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals had slipped through the dragnet without being subjected to a quarantine process in the first week of March. Of these some 800 persons were from various parts of the Puttalam district who had failed to follow the laid down guidelines.

According to Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra De Silva who has been put in charge of the National Covid-19 Operation Centre action would have to be taken in those areas in the coming days to ferret out these individuals and subject them to the due process. The President was also not happy with the decision taken to go ahead with the Royal Thomian Big match despite his advice.

We noted in these spaces yesterday that the cooperation of every sector- in fact every citizen- was vital to combat the deadly virus since the situation has assumed serious proportions. Surely saner counsel should have prevailed and the school authorities should have put off this Big Match which after all is only a sporting event which cannot by any stretch of the imagination assume more importance than all the efforts being taken to halt the spread of a killer virus. After all, all international sporting events have been cancelled and entire countries placed under lockdown, haven’t they?

There is only so much that the Government or the Army can do. It is left to the citizens to extend their cooperation to the utmost if we are to see through this emergency. But it appears that most of our citizens do not want to be inconvenienced or undergo some form of sacrifice. If not how can one account for such large numbers defying the advice for compulsory quarantine? Thus the Government has decided to resort to drastic measures. It has planned to take legal action against those failing to comply with the health guidelines.

While placing all safeguards the President also allayed fears of the public. In his address to the nation on Tuesday night the President underlined the fact that all steps that need to be taken to combat the emergency were in place and that they were equipped to face the challenge. He also dismissed the need for enforcing a total lockdown which he rightly claimed would lead to a disruption of normal life and render the state administration paralysed.

After all, as the President pointed out, even during the 30 year war the country did not go into lockdown for even a single day. Besides, the economy would suffer dire consequences if the country were to go into a prolonged lockdown since the Coronavirus is an all pervasive one that will not go away in a few days as is being witnessed elsewhere. It is therefore vital to keep the wheels of the State moving.

That is exactly why elections are slated to be held on schedule. Like the President noted, Parliament as was constituted before dissolution, did not give a majority for the Government and therefore all financial bills and supplementary estimates were bound to be defeated, leaving the Government hamstrung to even release funds to fight the Coronavirus. But there have also been loud calls from many quarters, including the GMOA, and Election Monitoring bodies for a postponement.

In any event, the elections, this time around, will be low key, with large gatherings prohibited under the prevailing conditions. With nominations due to close today (19) and campaigning proper due to commence in earnest it would be interesting to see how things will pan out on the political front.

For now though the immediate issue is dealing with the prevailing threat brought about by an invasive virus that has caused havoc the world over. There is no gainsaying that all resources would have to be mobilized to see off the danger while at the same time ensuring that business goes on as usual. In this respect the incentives granted by the President to the business community by way of loan waivers and concessionary borrowings should be commended in the face of the slump in business and commercial activities due to the partial lockdown. The relief granted to consumers too through the reduction in the prices of certain essential items would no doubt be appreciated by the public who are hemmed in by the Coronavirus, the biggest public health crisis of our time.

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