Editorial/Opinion

Save us a second innings

It is in the best interest of Sri Lanka to wrap up the Covid-19 situation as a limited-over cricket match rather than letting it morph into a lengthy Test match as a result of letting down our guard. There is every possibility of such a scenario unfolding, given the situation in remote Kandakadu as of Friday (10) and what’s happening in other parts of the world.

The beleaguered rehabilitation centre, which has now been turned into a hospital to treat over 250 individuals who were detected to be infected with Covid-19 within a 48-hour period, is a stark reminder that the time for extreme caution and vigilance is far from over. The centre is situated in an isolated location in the North Central Province, on the fringes of Somawathiya National Park, and has very little interaction with the rest of the world. Therefore, one is at a loss to understand how the dreaded virus made its way to this remote location.

Many countries have been forced to reverse the easing of restrictions following the detection of new cases, and notwithstanding the disruption it may cause, the health authorities should not hesitate to act fast and in a similar vein, if even the slightest threat exists of community spread.

All it takes is one careless individual or one lapse in testing at this juncture to undo all the sacrifices the people have endured since March to keep Covid at bay. Sri Lanka can ill afford such a misadventure at this point in time.

It is an accepted fact that we Sri Lankans tend to take things for granted and have very short memories. As a former warlord once famously observed, the people of this country forget everything in two weeks – hence, constant reminders are necessary. Today, ordinary life is more or less back to what it was pre Covid, with very little concern among the public on personal or community safety. Therefore, constant reminders from the health authorities will not be in vain.

Be that as it may, it will be disastrous if we do not take note of what is taking place in other parts of the world. For instance, in the US, federal authorities are still scrambling to contain the first wave that is now raging through its southern belt. The numbers affected are simply mind-boggling. Australia is in a second lockdown with Melbourne, where there is a heavy concentration of expatriate Sri Lankans, being among the hardest hit, while many countries including China, which endured a relatively well-controlled first wave, showing signs of having been caught off guard with the second wave.

Having managed things well so far, keeping the numbers to a minimum, there is absolutely no necessity for Sri Lanka to go down that same route as that we are an island with just a couple of entry points. Therefore, the big question facing the authorities right now is to consider when and to which extent these entry points need to stay open. Given that PCR testing has an average accuracy rate of around 75%, there is a one in four chance that the results produced may not be accurate.

Covid-19 is here to stay for a while whether we accept it or not. As the country slowly but surely shifts into election mode, the level of public interaction is bound to increase. There is very little policemen or public health officers on duty could do to tackle intoxicated supporters without exposing themselves to greater risk. For its part, the Government is equally handicapped, other than resorting to impose harsh restrictions equivalent to another lockdown in the absence of regulations to penalise those who are uncooperative. At the end of the day, it is the people who have to be more responsible in carrying out their civic duty by at least adhering to the minimum safety guidelines.

Given the evolving situation and potentially dire consequences, one is at a loss to understand the delay on the part of the health authorities to gazette the health guidelines that have already received the nod from the Attorney General. After all, there is no point in locking the stable after the horse has bolted – a scenario we are all too familiar with.

The public health officers (PHIs) are up in arms over this undue delay, claiming that there is no legal basis to impose the 14-day quarantine restrictions in the absence of a gazette to that effect. The PHIs are on record stating that they are powerless to prosecute those who violate quarantine orders as there is no legal provision for the mandatory 14-day quarantine under the century-old Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance. Making matters worse, if the PHIs stick to their guns and withdraw from election-related activities by next Wednesday (15), the election itself could turn out to be a ticking bomb as far as Covid control is concerned.

Needless to say, the first wave of the pandemic brought the country’s economy down to its knees and recovery is yet a long way off. Therefore, a second wave is not an option that can even be considered at this juncture as another lockdown will certainly sound the death knell for many businesses whose survival is now hanging by a thread.

And by extension, the effect of such a scenario on the macro economy would be nothing short of catastrophic, and no government from any or all of the political parties will be able to offer life support no matter the bombast emanating from political platforms these days.

What is needed now to prevent such an outcome is a radical shift in mindset of the average Sri Lankan who has over the years been conditioned to demand the maximum by way of remuneration and contribute the minimum by way of effort – be it the white collar workers or blue collar workers. A sense of civic consciousness must emanate from the political leaders who would do well to lead by example rather than through their pompous preaching. They need to set the example by minimising the need for community interaction.

The health guidelines that were in place when the lockdown was first eased towards end-May must be strictly enforced as any letting down of our guard could lead to dire consequences. If requests made of the public for maintaining personal and community hygiene are falling on deaf ears, then new regulations must be issued via gazette to hold to account those who do not fall in line – which in other words is what the PHIs are demanding, but to no avail as yet.

Kandakadu has turned out to be an eye-opener that many nations now enduring a second wave did not receive or chose to ignore. The consequences are plain to see. We should not go down that deadly road and every effort should be made to protect the people whenever the need arises, irrespective of political considerations, while minimising the economic impact of such precautionary action. In cricketing parlance, a second innings is the last thing we need now.