A multitude of challenges | Daily News

A multitude of challenges

An extended lockdown beyond June 7 was always on the cards and came as no surprise to many given the chaos that reigned during the intervening period where all health protocols were observed in the breach for the most part defeating the very aim of the travel restrictions. In any event medical experts were all out for an extended lockdown which they asserted was the only alternative to prevent a further spread of the runaway Coronavirus.

With Sri Lanka a long way off from acquiring herd immunity with confusion regarding the efficacy of the vaccines and ambiguity on the required dosages, it is a safe bet that the country will have to gear itself for more extensive lockdowns in the near future.

The authorities including the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) blamed the irresponsible conduct of the public for the extension of the present lockdown till June 14 but there is no knowing if there will be a further shift in dates beyond this, if the conduct of the public is anything to go by. Long lines of vehicles were observed even yesterday after warnings by the Police the previous day that the Essential Services criteria would be observed in the strictest terms.

It was claimed by authorities that many of those who entered the City in vehicles had abused the “Essential Services” stipulation to go on private jaunts. On their part, motorists too protested claiming that they were headed for Essential Services duties but were turned away by the Police.

Herein lies a dilemma. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has repeatedly said lockdowns should not in any way interfere with economic activities as far as possible under the circumstances, which necessarily means that some leeway should be afforded for those keeping their businesses going and the economy ticking. Besides, a long line of vehicles in itself does not give the correct picture. With the expansion of the economy and commercial activity there is naturally a larger workforce which is reflected in the large number of vehicles on the road.

True, a few of these may contain mischief makers but it is a safe bet that a vast majority of them are involved in the business and commercial world that is the driving force of the economy and another lot involved in Essential Services. Hence, it would be ill-advised to cast them into a generalized category of lockdown violators and turn them away from their legitimate duties. If not this would be tantamount to seeing the wood for the trees, resulting in a breakdown of the economy. Hence a careful evaluation should be done on those entering the cities and those connected to essential services however vague should be allowed to proceed in order to keep things going while at the same time taking action against any bogus elements.

It is doubly unfortunate that the Government had to confront a myriad of challenges thrust on it while having to deal with a deadly pandemic. The disaster that befell the MV X-Press Pearl boxship has caused a devastating environmental nightmare and the consequent economic cost could have not come at a worse time. The economic cost of the pandemic is grave enough with several vital sectors in the doldrums and a vast workforce languishing at home.

On top of this came the recent inclement weather and flood devastation that saw tens of thousands being displaced requiring the Government to provide aid. Now with the ocean destruction caused by the burning vessel a large swathe of marine territory extending from Pamunugama to Galle has been declared a ‘No Go Zone’ for the fishing community, dealing another blow.

Already there is agitation by the large mass of affected fisherman and His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has pledged leadership to any organized protest of the fishing community, a vast majority of whom are Roman Catholics.  In any event there is little the fishermen can harvest by way of their regular catch given the tremendous destruction caused to marine life. Any compensation sought from the vessel owners should also include payments to the fishing community who have lost their livelihoods. Any environmental damage assessment should also have a long-term focus.

It is reported that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to extend the Rs. 5,000 relief handout now given to low-income families and those out of employment, to the fishing community who have lost their livelihood due to the devastation caused by the burning vessel. While this gesture should be appreciated, the fishing community needs a far greater relief package if they are to survive. Fishermen, especially deep sea fishermen, have made heavy investments towards their seagoing vessels and other equipment sometimes running into millions of rupees most often with loans obtained from banks. The current moratorium on bank loans obtained by businessmen could be extended to the fishing community as that would help them to tide over their difficulties. The fishing fraternity, as is well known, is a volatile community and addressing their immediate grievances would save a lot of problems for the Government in these difficult times.