With sweet freedom comes great responsibility

Despite travel restrictions being extended until tomorrow (21) to curtail the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, scores of people can be seen travelling between provinces, and during the past two weeks, severe traffic congestion was reported at several exit points of the Southern Expressway. Even though travelling across provincial borders has been permitted only in certain circumstances, depending on the necessity and urgency of the reason, social media posts imply that a large number of these travellers are in fact going on trips. To make matters worse, photos circulating on social media showed people travelling in large groups, and sometimes to famous tourist destinations such as Ella.

Even though it is human nature to revel in freedom to move about once travel restrictions are relaxed, the world has suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic long enough to know that being complacent with a mere decline in Covid-19 cases and related deaths is not wise. As a matter of fact, it is how this freedom is enjoyed that decides how long this freedom can last. Not so long ago, especially after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April of this year, Sri Lankans experienced the bitter results of irresponsibly enjoying post-lockdown freedom. Therefore, should we conveniently forget what behaviour, among other reasons, led to lockdowns in the first place?

Underestimating a challenge is what often leads to failure, and that is very relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic. The circumstances are such that even though vaccines against Covid-19, on which the world relies in its battle against the pandemic, have proved quite effective for the time being, the world is coming to the realisation that vaccinating the people alone is not enough to fight the pandemic.

According to foreign media outlets, the UK has begun to report more Covid-19 cases than it did during the same time last year, when certain parts of England were under lockdown. Even though Covid-19-related deaths and cases of severe complications have waned in the UK, the authorities of that country fear a further increase in Covid-19 cases. They also point out the risk of more infections among vulnerable groups, the high prevalence of the virus can cause despite vaccine-induced protection against Covid-19.

As far as restrictions are concerned, which the UK relaxed before most countries in Western Europe, media reports claim that with the relaxing of restrictions, people in the UK started going out and attending huge gatherings. Sri Lanka too should perhaps pay attention to several factors the UK is taking into consideration when analysing the status quo in that country, such as wearing facemasks, less stringent restrictions, and also the effectiveness of vaccines and vaccination programmes. Even though it is practically impossible to reach a conclusion as to which factors have a bigger role in worsening the Covid-19 situation than others, being vigilant about what we have learned about the spread of the virus so far is key.

What laws and regulations can do is limited, and the law enforcement agencies cannot practically cover every exit/entrance between two provinces, and therefore, there will always be roads those trying to enjoy the regained freedom can use without being spotted by the Police. The authorities are doing what they can – the vaccination process is continuing targeting different age groups, and restrictions are being lifted in phases. Whether we are doing what we can is the real question, and perhaps, in the same token that we question the authorities regarding their responsibilities, we should ask ourselves whether we are doing our part.

Travel restrictions are slated to be lifted tomorrow, and during the next few weekends, especially this weekend, more and more people will go out of Colombo. As much as freedom is essential to the people, especially after a few frustrating and anxious months, we cannot let that freedom cast a shadow over the next few months. To prevent another outbreak, while the people need to understand that we are not fully safe from Covid-19 yet, the authorities will have to tighten the Covid-19 safety regulations and sensitise the people about their role concerning the pandemic.