Joining a global lockdown against COVID-19 | Daily News


Joining a global lockdown against COVID-19

Our country is now in complete ‘lockdown’ on human movement – that is, with the exception of emergency services of all kinds and also the Police and security forces enforcing the two-day curfew. Not only are Sri Lankans, visiting tourists and, expatriate residents now required to be immobile within the country, but human movement in to our territory has also been frozen.   

This enforced suspension of human movements came only after a week of appeals by the President, the Government and health administrators for people to voluntarily reduce, if not halt, their movements in order to drastically slow down the COVID-19 epidemic. Partly due to the enthusiastic cooperation of the business sector which voluntarily began reducing their services, many people were drawn into participating in this essential exercise of civic discipline. But not all people. And, certainly not enough.  
Some sections of our society were slow in realising the gravity of the situation and its specifically, uniquely, intangible nature: until one is struck down, one does not know that the deadly infection has set in. So deceptive are the symptoms. 
Thus, with Sri Lankan life initially barely slowing down, the disease has continued to spread at speed. Even if the Government shut down schools and universities, the ‘big matches’ went on. While Sri Lankan pilgrims in north India were trapped by the pandemic in that country, pilgrims within Sri Lanka  persisted in attempting local pilgrimages. 
Within a week, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections doubled while the number of suspected cases also doubled. It is the rate of the spread of the infection that is most dangerous. If the number of infected people exceeds the number of isolation and treatment places available in our healthcare system, that results in infected people remaining in society further transmitting the virus to fellow humans. 
Thus, with the imposition of the curfew, Sri Lanka joins a growing number of countries now going into similar lockdown exercises to save themselves from this looming, invisible monster. 
The global picture is bleak. The Geneva-headquartered World Health Organisation reported that by March 19th, there were 209,839 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. There have been 8,778 confirmed deaths.  
Of nearly 200 nation-states and territories, 169 states are identified by WHO as having cases of the COVID-19 pandemic on their soil. Of that 169, Sri Lanka is among those nations identified by WHO as countries with ongoing community level transmission. That is, the virus transmission is occurring due to spreading within the local population itself.  
Reports from around the world have clearly shown that those countries that have responded most rapidly are those that have managed to reduce the speed of the spread of the epidemic. 
China, where this new disease was first identified – with the first cases the mystery illness recorded in December 2019 – has yet the largest number of infected people (under treatment), but has now succeeded in slowing down the spread. For the past two days, the WHO says, China has not recorded a single new case of local infection, though there were several 'imported' cases.
This remarkable success in beginning to curb this epidemic was the result of the drastic lockdown measures imposed across large provinces (each with hundreds of millions in population) swiftly and sternly. In fact, at that time, the Western news media – yet to realise the deadly reach of the pandemic – was quick to denounce the Chinese government’s actions as ‘draconian’. Today they are eating humble pie as the virus has most rapidly spread in the West itself, precisely in those countries that scorned tight population control measures.   
Today, a country far richer per capita than China, namely Italy, has the largest number of infections with more infections reported daily. It also has the largest number of deaths. With all of Europe reporting alarming rates of spread of the disease, all governments have begun their own lockdown measures. European borders with the outside world have been closed for human movement. And even within the EU itself, some member states are blocking foreigner movements across their national borders – something antithetical to the spirit of the European Union. 
It is to be hoped that the initiative among SAARC leaders for a constant regional consultation for collaboration against COVID-19 will proceed apace. Our region is home to a population of over 1.5 billion with much of it very poor and semi-educated as well as malnourished. Currently, the impact of the epidemic is small compared with East Asia and Europe. Given the poverty of the SAARC region and the consequent lack of medical facilities and expertise, a severe epidemic will cause social havoc and a humanitarian tragedy. 
Compared with much of the rest of the world, this country is fortunate – not only for its relatively small, manageable, population and economic affluence, but also for its abundant human resources and its current, able, State leadership which has already shown itsef to be adept at deploying optimum resources for the best results. 
Let us aim to learn from the global experience of the pandemic and then show the world our own capacity to deal with it.  

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