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Editorial: Not out of the woods

On Saturday (23), Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 death toll exceeded 4,000 deaths – a milestone the country did not expect to surpass in the initial era of the pandemic, when Sri Lankans were extremely concerned about the gravity of the situation. At this time, community spread of the virus was extremely minimal, because the public fulfilled their responsibility by adhering to safety guidelines. 

Over the past few months, however, many Sri Lankans have stopped caring, but we must remember that the nature of the pandemic is such that the situation can change at any time. The best examples are the second and third waves – the two waves broke out at times when the Government and public were carelessly revelling in the success the country had achieved. What’s worse is that the ignorance and arrogance of a few can entirely reverse the little progress Sri Lanka has achieved as a country; the consequences of their actions threaten everyone around them as well, as the virus has no boundaries.

It was emphasised from the very beginning that the vaccination drive alone cannot put an end to the pandemic, and that the public must always adhere to safety guidelines. Even though some countries have given fully-vaccinated people the liberty to decide whether to wear a mask, this practice is not approved by any recognised health authority, because being vaccinated does not guarantee immunity to Covid-19. 

When it comes to the vaccination drive, we have to understand, and the authorities have a responsibility to raise awareness about, two things; namely, the purpose of getting vaccinated is for protection against severe Covid-19-related complications while even a vaccinated person can still contract and spread the virus, and the majority of Sri Lankans are still not vaccinated and are therefore at risk. The worst part is, a vaccinated, careless person can spread the virus very easily, while it is the unvaccinated who will have to suffer severe complications.

It is good to get vaccinated and have confidence that you are protected against the virus to a great extent. However, many people seem to be too confident about the protection the vaccine provides, and they can be seen freely roaming around without wearing a mask or any idea of keeping some distance between two persons, even when there is ample space to do so. This situation can be seen everywhere, be it shops, public transport services, events, or other places where people gather at night, and safety guidelines have been conveniently disregarded. 

It would not be wrong to say that as far the public’s responsibility is concerned, the situation seems to be changing for the worse. Even though the public should ideally be more careful and aware about the situation now than before, the vaccinations programme’s expansion seems to have brought about fresh complacency regarding public safety. The fear of the virus also appears to have vanished, despite Delta variant cases having been reported from various areas including Colombo, Ratmalana, Piliyandala, Galle, Dambulla, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, and Negombo.

The Government has a responsibility in this matter; there is no argument about it, and in fact, various parties have repeatedly emphasised it. In addition to the Opposition parties, the National Intellectuals Organisation (NIO) also recently slammed the Government’s management of Covid-19, claiming that cases have started increasing again, even though the first few days of July recorded relatively fewer cases. They also claimed that a similar situation can be seen in other Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal, and Indonesia, and that if the Government continues to ignore the seriousness of the situation, the country would have to suffer the consequences.

However, the public also has a responsibility, and it is up to the Government to raise awareness among the public about their responsibility. Most importantly, people should be made aware of the fact that being vaccinated does not make one immune to the virus, and it is most certainly not an excuse to be careless and spread the virus to the unvaccinated.