Health guidelines the key | Daily News
Health guidelines the key

Health guidelines the key

The decision taken by the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to cancel all its major election rallies for three days in the face of a mounting threat of a further spread of the Coronavirus is a wise one indeed and hopefully other political parties too will follow suit in this respect. The detection of new cases in the Kandakadu Drug Rehabilitation centre, no doubt, prompted the Government to take this decision which also followed the closure of all schools for one week.

Six hundred persons from the Centre too have been sent for quarantine while the search is on for any more clusters following the careless act by one of the counsellors of this Drug Rehabilitation Centre of attending a party at the home of a friend.

The Election Commission too is closely monitoring the situation following the fresh detection of a large number of Coronavirus cases but has assured that the Elections will go ahead as scheduled. It was President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who cautioned some days ago to guard against complacency urging the public to strictly follow the health guidelines currently in place. There were also warnings by the health authorities particularly the GMOA that the threat was far from over and the social spread of the pandemic was a very real possibility if the guidelines were not followed.

Regrettably though after the initial compliance with the regulations caution was thrown to the winds by the public in typical Sri Lankan style with the rules largely observed in the breach. This was amply seen during recent funerals where mourners were gathered in clusters and police entrusted with enforcing the guidelines reduced to mere onlookers. Protest demonstrations too were held with the agitators minus the regulation face masks and the police too joining in the melee. Some private bus crews too are ignoring the seating instructions with standing passengers once again the norm. The Police Media Spokesman has said the police have been instructed to come down hard on those flouting the face mask guidelines but to little effect.

Perhaps the apparent leniency shown to offenders has made sections of the public disregard the regulations. There are no reports yet of what action was taken against the thousands of curfew violators and the vehicles that were seized. At least now the authorities should be firm with those not adhering to the health guidelines. Perhaps the decision taken by the Elections Commission to gazette the health regulations would make the restrictions legally binding now.

In any event election rallies of all kinds should be cancelled amidst the looming threat. All restrictions are being flouted at these meetings by supporters of political parties. Besides, there is widespread coverage of speeches of all party leaders over TV channels, in addition to talk shows and debates that make these election rallies irrelevant. Time slots are afforded to political parties over the electronic media.

House to house canvassing by supporters in groups too should be made taboo given their inherent danger. It will take only one careless act by an individual for entire communities to be placed at risk.

The pandemic, needless to say, has on the face of it changed many things, behaviour patterns and many other common habits hitherto taken for granted. The democratic exercise too is bound to get stymied in the process with free speech and free movement being subjected to the present restrictions including those placed on electioneering on a lavish scale as before.

In fact Elections authorities are entertaining fears that a large number of voters this time around may stay put keeping away from the polling booths due to restrictions in force. The EC Chairman at a recent press event implored voters to come to their polling stations, saying their safety was assured.

Voting itself this time is going to be a cumbersome exercise with long delays and longer queues for voting that may also discourage voters. Hopefully, the people will not be deterred from exercising their franchise due to these factors. After all Singapore held elections over the weekend with people participating with enthusiasm as shown on television although the city nation was among the worst affected by the pandemic.

With three more weeks to go for Election Day things could well improve here though on no account should the health guidelines be dispensed with. After all, Lankan voters are well known for taking part in the election process with gusto. This was amply demonstrated when the voters even braved death threats of the JVP during its second uprising in the late eighties and went to the polling booths to elect a President. However, unlike then, what is upon us is not open violence or the threat of guns but a hidden menace of a deadly pandemic that has wreaked havoc across the world. Hence caution at all costs is in order. One cannot be more careful under the circumstances.


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