COVID 19 Could Be Transformative | Daily News


COVID 19 Could Be Transformative

Although with a virus as tenacious it is far too soon to bless the day, relative to many other countries, we appear to have done well in containing and even preventing the spread of the dreaded COVID 19 thus far.

In terms of numbers (of the afflicted), for a densely populated island, Sri Lanka’s figure of only one hundred plus two (as of 25 March), gives reason for optimism. Many Developed countries, possessed of much more resources and advanced medical facilities, are stricken badly, with daily mounting fatalities. COVID 19 is a great equalizer. All the “king’s horses and all the King’s men” of the Developed countries in the form of nuclear submarines, fighter planes and war tanks give no protection against the virus. Today, they find themselves in the same boat as the poor recipients of their development aid. Such is the enormity of the contagion that it is commonly said that some of these rich countries have given up on the afflicted elderly, concentrating on protecting the rest of the population. Almost all developed countries have aging populations, it should be noted.

Small is beautiful in more ways than one. Unlike continental countries, it is easier to lockdown a smallish island. As a country, we are also very well connected via the internet and mass media, particularly the TV and radio, invaluably useful for the purposes of informing and regulating. Although we import a large percentage of the food we consume, including the staples, the country also produces a rich bounty of rice, yams, vegetables and fruits, a definite advantage in a global lockdown. Despite the prolonged dry season, we have experienced for several months, mercifully, it has not been necessary to have either a power or a water cut so far. When this nightmare is over finally, we ought to be on our feet reasonably fast. A small economy, can recover much faster than huge economic systems, provided adequate stimulus is given.

Lessons can be drawn from every crisis. If we don’t learn, we are doomed to repeat our failures. This virus, highly contagious as it may be, is not inescapably fatal. On the other hand, with the Corona virus, the recovery rate of the afflicted is even better than the common influenza. The virus is containable with standard methods of isolation and control. However, the next plague may not be that easily contained nor treated. It is imperative that   each country develops disaster management plans for different scenarios, based on their particularities and resource base. Although we have had a Disaster Management Ministry for many years now, once again, we were evidently caught unprepared, without adequate medical aids, including even basics like masks and gloves. The insufficiency of hospital beds for a wide-spread pandemic like the COVID -19 is talked about endlessly. Every disaster, whether it be a tsunami, a flood or an epidemic, catches the country unprepared, everybody running around like headless chickens when disaster strikes.

While on the matter of disaster management, another element generally ignored in this country is the potential of volunteers in an over-whelming nation-wide crisis such as this. When facing a crisis of this magnitude the administration has too much in its hand, and certain things are handled more empathetically by local volunteers. A friend of mine, a young barrister in London told me that she had joined a group of volunteers of her municipal ward to help out in this world-wide crisis. Their main function is to assist the elderly in the area, particularly those who are unable to go by themselves to the stores or the pharmacies for their regular provisions or medicine. At least once a day, a volunteer would knock on the door of these helpless senior citizens.

Every institution/person in this country would come out of this crisis more alive to the need for preparation and perhaps even the imperative to modernize.  There is presently a heightened awareness of personal hygiene which ought to be a standard rather than a short-lived reaction to a viral threat. Long before the COVID 19, it was confirmed to me by an assistant at a so called premier supermarket that their trolleys and baskets are never washed, despite hundreds of customers using them on a daily basis. The same is true of many public places and public transport, functioning in deplorable conditions, hygiene wise. Culturally, appalling practices like spitting publicly, poor bathroom habits, unwarranted physical contact are ignored, as practices long in use, so perhaps a tradition!  COVID 19 has given us an opportunity to break free, inculcate a greater awareness of community, develop a sense of personal space and uplift sanitary standards all around.

The stresses of the crisis, especially the compulsion to stock the larder during the short non-curfew hours (on Tuesday the 24th of March), brought about a system of queues before all shops and supermarkets in the city. These were not externally imposed, although in certain places there were a few constables present, but by and large, the discipline was by internal compulsion.  The desperate shoppers would tolerate no breaking of the queue, in a few hours the curfew would kick in.

Although a queue could be considered a symbol of civility, for many a Sri Lankan, it goes against the grain to stand in line, considering it an indication of a lowly status. In most countries, an exception would be made for the infirm or the “weaker’ sex, but here it is the “powerful” or the “well- connected” that gravitate to the top of the line, even trampling the infirm. But in the desperate lines of frantic shoppers that day, no such nonsense was accepted, first come was first served.

We can only hope that this develops to a national norm, breaking the queue becoming an embarrassment, not standing in one.

It was suggested that during the curfew hours the employees could work from their homes. Working away from office, needs pre-preparation, if the infrastructure was in place, we could have saved billions in lost hours, workers continuing to work productively from their homes. As it is, only a very few of those confined to home, could contribute meaningfully.

The COVID 19 crisis, while challenging us has also presented opportunities, which, if grasped and acted upon, may not only strengthen, but also transform us.

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