Social Distancing – the best answer | Daily News


Social Distancing – the best answer

Social distancing. Self Isolation. Working from Home (WFH). Most of us had not even heard of or thought of these terms until well into the Coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak that has engulfed the world. The disease caused by a microscopic pathogen has now affected more than 280,000 people around the world, with nearly 12,000 deaths. This is indeed a global disaster of an unimaginable scale.

This is not the first time in history that pandemics have overwhelmed humanity. From the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages to the Spanish Flu exactly 100 years ago, to modern illnesses such as Ebola and SARS, Mankind has suffered from time to time by invasions of tiny microbes that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Of the two groups of pathogens that cause these contagions, Mankind has more or less vanquished bacteria, which are actual living beings with a cellular structure.

But viruses are a different story altogether – it is a microscopic piece of genetic material surrounded by a coat made of proteins. Many experts say a virus is not even a living being per se. It enters healthy cells and hijacks them, creating copies of itself. They can ‘jump’ from animal to animal, animal to human and of course, from human to human. Scientists believe that the current Coronavirus jumped from a wild animal to a human (Patient Zero) in Wuhan, China. Given how interconnected the world is, it was only a matter of time before it became a pandemic, as described by the World Health Organisation. Today, only around 30 countries and territories have so far escaped the Coronavirus or COVID-19.

While antibiotics are available to successfully treat most bacterial diseases, viral diseases really have no cure. Vaccines do exist for some viral diseases, but viruses can mutate rapidly, rendering vaccines useless. Hence the race among scientists around the world to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible, but this might take at least 18 months.

The long and short of this is that there is no cure or vaccine at the moment for COVID-19 – though scientists are hard at work on both fronts. But until that happens – and it won’t happen in a hurry – the best defence against COVID-19 is prevention. We have said it earlier and we are going to say it now – the Government, Security Forces and the healthcare system alone cannot prevent the spread of the Coronavirus – YOU must do your part too.

The best way to achieve this is social distancing – keeping your social engagements to a bare minimum. This is why the Government decalred holidays and a work from home week, but most Sri Lankans squandered that opportunity by going on leisure trips and engaging in other social pursuits that actually potentially increased the spread of the Coronavirus. Worse, some returnees from Europe had slipped through the quarantine process and had contact with many others in the wider society, most probably giving an opportunity for the virus to  infect more people. Such behavior is simply inexcusable and criminal.

It is in this backdrop that the Government has decided to impose an islandwide curfew to keep people confined to their homes. This seems to be working to a large extent, though Police have arrested more than 300 people islandwide for violating the terms of the curfew. It will be in the interest of everyone if the public heeds this call and stay indoors. Such measures have been undertaken in various countries as an effective deterrent against public movement. In fact, China records no new domestic cases today thanks to its complete lockdown of major cities including the initial epicenter of Wuhan. We have to look at what has worked overseas and adapt them to suit our needs.

There is no doubt that the economy will be hard hit in an extended curfew scenario, but there seems to be no other alternative. On the other hand, if the disease spreads rapidly among the population the economic and social damage will be far and unimaginably greater. Just look at Italy, France and Spain, which have far stronger and bigger economies than ours. This is not a place we want to be in. All pre-emptive steps must be taken to avoid going down that path. There is no use of closing the stable doors after the horse has bolted, after all.

Given the impact on the economy and social life of the populace, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced a series of relief measures for the economy and the public last week. The Cabinet too has approved an emergency allocation of Rs.500 million initially for economic recovery. These are laudable steps that will help mitigate the devastating impact of the virus.  The Government has also assured that ample stocks of essential goods are available and hence, there is no need to panic.

The public must cooperate with the Government to defeat this unseen enemy. Only then will we able to overcome this enormous challenge.

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