Living with a Pandemic | Daily News


Living with a Pandemic

Understandably there was a cautious response to the reopening of the country yesterday following two months of self- quarantine by the public in a bid to confront the monstrous Coronavirus pandemic that has now claimed the lives of close to 280,000 people the world over with nearly four and half million afflicted cases, going by the latest count. From all accounts and media reports there was no over-eagerness on the part of the public to venture out in their numbers, perhaps in strict conformity with the guidelines issued by police, health authorities and the Government, understandably not taking any chances despite the high success rate in combatting the spread of the virus.

In this respect, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should deserve the plaudits of all countrymen for his steadfast commitment to ensure the virus is contained to manageable proportions for which he has received praise of the World Health Organization (WHO) with Sri Lanka ranking the ninth among the countries making headway in successfully grappling with the problem.

It also was a signal revelation of the quality of the country’s leadership, particularly in the area of decision making which was carried out with single minded purpose free of vacillation. In this context one cannot but help compare the situation with the immediate past. Needless to say, one would have cringed to have been placed in the same position under the former regime whose governance singularly lacked firm leadership and whose tenure was marked by indecision with the leaders at each other’s jugular and acting at cross purposes.

In contrast, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not hesitate to take unpopular measures even if it cost the Government politically- an essential quality of a leader. The law enforcement agencies were given strict instructions not to condone any violations of health and quarantine guidelines. Close to 100,000 curfew violators were taken into custody. Political expediency and political patronage were thrown overboard for the larger good of the public at large. All sectors of the Government, with the health workers, police and Security Forces standing out worked round the clock to their optimum to ensure the Coronavirus was localized preventing its spread to the far corners of the country.

Social distancing that was found to be the chief cause for the mass contraction of the virus was strictly enforced while painstaking measures were taken to trace the source and prevent the spread of the virus in clusters. As a result - the authorities have today succeeded in neutralizing 31 of the 32 clusters in all parts of the country and thereby almost totally eliminating the social or community spread of the virus within our midst. But there is hardly any room for complacency.

The US which is under virtual siege from the Coronavirus (nearly 80,000 dead) and other Western countries that are already counting their dead in the tens of thousands are already bracing for a second wave, even though some of them are relaxing the strict lockdown measures. There is also the ‘asymptomatic’ phenomenon, with victims not showing any outward signs of the virus but who can nevertheless transmit the disease to their close contacts. Incidentally, it such “contact tracing” by our Intelligence agencies that has enabled the authorities to contain the virus spread up to this extent.

The Health authorities here too are not taking any chances. They are not overly optimistic that we have seen the last of the pandemic on our shores and have made a strong case for the prevailing restrictions to continue for some more time, warning that it would be several months before the green light can be given. Hence it is incumbent on all citizens to abide by the prevailing regulations and help Sri Lanka come to grips with the worst health emergency yet seen in this country, and, arguably anywhere in the world in the last 100 years. In fact, it was exactly 100 years ago that the dreaded Spanish Flu took more than 50 million lives. Medical science has progressed by leaps and bounds since 1920, when no one had even seen a virus yet (the electron microscope was invented only in 1931).

Nevertheless, there is still no cure for viral diseases and doctors can only treat the symptoms. Devices such as advanced ventilators can help patients recover and some anti-viral drugs such as Remdisivir are reported to be somewhat effective in treating COVID-19 cases. But an effective vaccine remains the holy grail of the fight against COVID-19. At least 80 research teams worldwide are racing to develop one at least by this time next year. But the catch is that countries such as Sri Lanka may not immediately have access to such a vaccine, with the developed countries clamouring for the initial millions of doses. But we will eventually have it – these social distancing and other steps will have to be practiced at least till then.

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