Re-starting an embattled economy | Daily News


Re-starting an embattled economy

The country’s most populous and urbanised region and the centre of economic and political decision-making, the Western Province, begins a cautious resumption of normal economic activity today after over a month’s shut-down as the nation battled the COVID-19 pandemic. Urbanites will be eager to resume livelihoods but they step out today into a pandemic girded world.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a special statement yesterday that the country had no option but to strike a careful balance between resuming economic activity on the one hand while managing the pandemic on the other.

The Health, Police and military authorities have all issued special announcements in time for today’s economic ‘opening up’ to guide the population as it moves out of homes and on to roads and into work places.

Even as the core manufacturing and services operations of the economy resume full operations today, in the other eight provinces, the curfew was reduced to a night-time restriction in mid-April to enable agriculture and provincial industries to operate at optimum level. This was critical in order to keep the economy ticking over and, most importantly, to keep the nation fed and various domestic services functioning.

That the pandemic still holds the country in its grip is obvious: the number of ‘positive’ cases continues to rise, if remarkably slowly. The total of infected persons increased to 856 at yesterday evening. But this number is reassuring when compared with the thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths currently experienced in similar developing countries with populations and economies of comparable scale as ours. And most bigger and richer countries are struggling under far worse pandemic conditions.

The nature of this deadly and swift contagion is such that whether severely affected or mildly affected, all economic activity and population movements had to be severely curbed in all countries to slow down the spread of the infection.

The nation now begins to take its first cautious concrete steps because the economic shut-down cannot be sustained even if the pandemic remains a scourge besetting the country.

Thus, we step out today under a very tight discipline to protect ourselves and our loved ones and our national community as a whole against the deadly virus that lurks unseen. Months of gradual learning of the lethal effect of the contagion, including the speed at which it spreads and its deceptive intrusion into human lives without any warning, has helped all of us realise the importance of complying with the health and hygiene measures that have been put in place.

Indeed, as these columns pointed out earlier, the South Asian region, crowded and impoverished as it is, is noteworthy for the population’s relatively high level of compliance with the health restrictions. As we see on our TV screens, the public in many of the rich countries that have been far worse hit, yet insist on leisure activities and try to attend to businesses normally while most people do not wear face masks and rarely maintain social distancing. This is certainly not the case in our own country and in most of the SAARC region.

But it is critical that we continue with this disciplined compliance with the health rules. Resuming livelihoods does not mean that our life goes back to the normalcy that existed before the pandemic.

That cannot be so, because we now live in a pandemic-affected world and that pandemic will be with us for many months to come – if not years.

The authorities have, in any case, made sure that our resumption of economic activity will not be in the ‘normal’ mode. The principal objective is to reduce congestion and thereby reduce the risk of contagion spread.

In the first place, there will be only limited public transport in this first phase. So people will travel to their workplaces with difficulty and this will reduce the number of people moving around.

Also, our workplaces are not expected to bring in their entire staff cadre but only the most essential staff.

Meanwhile, most shops will remain shut and all leisure places, such as restaurants and entertainment spots will be closed.

Finally, those who are not authorised to travel to work must stay home. They are allowed to leave only for the limited purposes of procuring food, medicine and other domestic essentials. Even in this case, their movement outside may be done in accordance to their NIC numbers, thereby further limiting public movements.

Detailed guidelines have been announced and well circulated in the news media. The citizenry is expected to access the media and familiarise themselves with this new pandemic social world that we must now live in as we fight and survive this awful, unseen, enemy.

We can only wish ourselves “Good Health” as we step out or, wish others to “Be Safe” as we ourselves stay home in accordance with the rules.

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