Public cooperation vital for opening-up | Daily News


Public cooperation vital for opening-up

The eighth death due to COVID-19 last evening is a sombre reminder of our health crisis as the nation begins to slowly ease the lockdown. The number of COVID-19 positive patients stood at 721 yesterday.

The annual Vesak Week began yesterday, enabling Buddhist Sri Lankans to focus their meditations and charitable energies towards social solidarity in meeting the epidemic challenge. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa personally participated in religious observances under the auspices of the Maha Sangha for blessings to the whole nation.  

Over a month’s continuous curfew and shutdown of much of urban and suburban economic life has its impact not only on livelihoods, education and family upkeep. This lengthy ‘lockdown’ has many adults, children (and pets) with pent up energies and emotions and frustrated agendas.

Such is the diversity and complexity of our middle-income-country modernity that we have many things to do and want to do – from career ambitions to leisure pursuits to culinary fancies and medical needs. But despite some grumbling, the nation has ultimately buckled down and stayed home.

Indeed, as the pandemic continues its lethal progress through our society even if relatively mildly compared with the human devastation wreaked in some wealthy and powerful nations, most Sri Lankans are continuing the extended lockdown with equanimity.  

The speed and suddenness with which COVID-19 invaded the country and began dragging down our fellow citizens quickly reconciled us to accepting the need to ‘stay safe’. Sri Lankans, like all South Asians, think ‘family’ and ‘community’.  As the epidemic gripped the land, our immediate thoughts were for the home crowd, neighbours, relatives, friends and how we could all survive this potentially deadly scourge together.

We are too close to each other in numerous and interlocking layers of social circles that we can hardly forget or disregard our relationships. Our proximity to each other is such, our interdependency that organic, that the risks we might want to take entangles not just ourselves but our spouses, children, siblings, parents, in-laws, neighbours and colleagues.

Aware of these social compulsions and ramifications, even as COVID-19 invaded, we were quick to give up on our big matches, our Test series, sports, entertainments, birthday parties, and the whole gamut of pursuits that would put us at the mercy of the epidemic.

The ready compliance of South Asian populations with the intensive anti-epidemic strictures is already being compared with the self-indulgent non-compliance with similar strictures in affluent Western societies. The Governor of COVID-19-ravaged New York State, USA, lambasted his fellow citizens for being “disrespectful” in failing to wear face masks when stepping out in the gradual relaxing of the lockdown there.           

The Delhi-based correspondent for a reputed Western newspaper has remarked in awe at the degree of compliance with the numerous anti-COVID rules by South Asians.  Nevertheless, the number of (intercepted) curfew violators here stood at over 46,000 yesterday. As the eighth fatality adds to the tragic impact of the epidemic, we know we cannot be complacent about our laxity with the curfew. 

This week the 21 districts outside the Western metro urban and semi-urban region begin an easing of the intensive curfew. Next Monday, the Western Province and Puttalam district which comprise the ‘high-risk’ region begins a similar gradual easing of the lockdown.

But the easing of curfew times does not imply an easing of the actual pandemic situation itself. Rather, the eighth death, yesterday, after a welcome interval in fatalities of over a month, should serve to warn us that the pandemic yet wields its lethal force across the land.

We are being allowed to step out not because things are getting better but because economic, social and other imperatives require us all to begin moving around to start getting things done. The country cannot afford an extended hiatus in public activity without a necessary break to meet those imperatives. 

Thus, we begin stepping out into a yet COVID-19 permeated environment and the disease risk remains as lethal. It is entirely up to the citizenry to persist meticulously with all anti-COVID practices and rules: wear your masks, maintain physical distancing in all public areas, do NOT visit potentially crowded locations and keep cleaning your hands. Equally importantly, change your outdoors clothing immediately after you return home.  

Our alertness will be continuously guided by the health announcements conveyed through the media and Sri Lankans are asked to closely monitor such news bulletins. The bulletins and additional information is available from a wide choice of professional news media web outlets as well with alerts coming in on a 24-hour basis. Readers should take advantage of the modern technology they possess in the form of the Internet, smartphones, tablets and computers to access this array of quality information media rather than rely merely on gossip being circulated on social media.

 It is our careful compliance with all the rules that will enable us to make the curfew relaxation a success rather than a miserable, if not tragic, failure, thereby delaying our overall societal recovery in the long term.

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