Needed: Strict social distancing | Daily News


 

Needed: Strict social distancing

When the ongoing curfew in different parts of the country is briefly lifted, people rush to stores, banks, clinics, offices and other places to hurriedly re-stock supplies and transact business before the curfew is re-imposed. After that the country returns to another several days of curfew or, at least, to a regime of ‘work-from-home’ imposed to keep the public from congregating. The Western Province however remains under complete ‘lockdown’, being the region worst affected by the deadly contagion.

Actually, in Sri Lanka, the epidemic has not caused any fatalities (yet) due to the efficiency and capacity of our public healthcare. The fact is that our healthcare system, although somewhat threadbare due to our relative poverty, is well structured in terms of systems and facilities and, fairly well staffed with qualified personnel. Even the staffing would be much better if not for the brain-drain. The World Bank places our healthcare system closer to the class of the First World, rather than the Third World.

Thus, even though we lack the money to have enough millions of testing kits to test whole sections of the population now at risk, the infection detections, and related exposed communities are dealt with swiftly and efficiently. This reflects the hard work of all the operational agencies ranging from the Health Ministry and provincial health systems, to the administrators, the Police and the Armed Forces.

Other, far richer countries in the First World, which began to be affected by the contagion later than Sri Lanka, are already staggering under hundreds of new infections per day and hundreds, even thousands of deaths. In sharp contrast, Sri Lanka has actually just reported two days free of any new infections.  

China and some other East Asian countries where the human toll under this pandemic soared in the early stages, are now slowly showing signs of recovery, with a decreasing number of new infections.

We know the secret of this rapid reversal of a potential catastrophe: very diligent responsive medical and administrative measures and, strictly enforced restrictions on social behaviour. The richest nations allowed the ‘show to go on’ despite mounting reports of infections and even deaths. Festivals and sporting events were allowed while businesses were not asked to shut down on the grounds of avoiding an economic slowdown. Finally, as casualties mounted, the business sector and other sectors, including the sports industry, on their own, scaled down daily operations and ended tournaments and other events.  

But it was already too late, with Europe now declared by the WHO as the ‘epicentre’ of the pandemic. The USA is fast catching up in terms of the deadly impact of the pandemic, again, due to the laxity of epidemic control measures.

The lavish month-long Mardi Gras Carnival in New Orleans which ended on February 25, was attended by revellers estimated at over a million. Significantly, two weeks later, New Orleans and the whole state of Louisiana, which had hardly any infections, was hit by a wave of infections, with nearly 46deaths so far. Now that state is in lockdown although, the US as a whole has still not imposed strict social distancing practices.

Clearly, strict social distancing practices are the primary means of breaking the community transmission of the virus arising from close and continuous social contact.

In this country, even as the imposed curfew is ensuring a modicum of social distancing practices in the population, it has been noted that while this practice is clearly the secret of our slowing down of the contagion, not all our citizens have the sense to voluntarily comply to the full.

Despite curfews, exhortations by Governmental leaders and medical experts, there is enough of the population that is happy to barely observe social distancing practices. Even during curfew times, people in the same neighbourhood visit each other. When curfews are lifted, bunches of people rush together to the markets. Only some larger grocery centres enforce social distancing with queues and customer access in batches and provide water and soap for cleanliness prior to entry.

As Army Commander Lt. General Shavendra Silva has appealed to the public, it is only the complete and diligent public compliance with these requirements that will ensure the successful overcoming of the pandemic.

And, as the success stories and case studies in other countries have shown, this social discipline must be thorough: it is not enough to avoid crowds but, rather, people must keep their physical distance from each other on the streets, in offices and shops and, finally, even inside their own homes.

Two more new infections were reported yesterday. This simply means that we must all continue to strictly observe the required social measures of cleanliness and blocking of transmission if we are to get through this latest disaster with the minimum of casualties and corollary socio-economic devastation.


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