These days it is all about the coronavirus also known as COVID-19. Having had its epicenter in Wuhan in the Chinese Province of Hubei, it has spread its tentacles to nearly all parts of the world with Italy being the worst affected European country. Its massive obituary columns show the extent of the tragedy that has overwhelmed the country.
Italy reported 345 new coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours taking its total death toll to 2,503 and the number of infected patients rising to 31,506 from the previous 27,980 while governments around the world stepped up restrictions on the movement of their citizens to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic which, according to the WHO, has killed nearly 5,800 people and infected more than 153,000 globally.
Spain became the second European country to impose a nationwide lock-down after 2,000 new cases were confirmed and the number of reported deaths doubled. Iran announced more than 100 deaths in the past 24 hours, with confirmed cases nearing 14,000 with Tehran saying its fight against the virus is being severely hampered by US sanctions.
Philippines has sealed off its capital Manila and its 12 million residents told to avoid travel for a month. Schools in the city were closed and large events banned while in the United States, increased screening measures for people returning from Europe have caused chaos at airports.The situation worldwide has led to the Vatican taking the drastic step of cancelling Easter week observances.
Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka the number of patients who have tested positive to the coronavirus infection has risen to 50 resulting in the government announcing a three-day holiday from Tuesday till today. On the instructions of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa all passenger arrivals at the Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake have been stopped while members of 60 families in Puttalam were placed under house arrest after they were found moving around in the area having recently returned from Italy and other European countries.
It is important to note that without the cooperation of all our citizens, especially those who are likely to have come in contact with a COVID-19 infected person or persons, surendering themselves to the health authorities or to the Police and undergo the mandatory period of quarantine, the fight against the pandemic would be an uphill task.
The great religions teach us that we need to live not only for ourselves but for others as well, sadly though, selfishness and self-centredness were clearly evident during the recent episodes of panic buying where racks at supper-markets were emptied by early shoppers leaving little or nothing for the latecomers.
Be that as it may, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa urged the government not to act like Nero, who is said to have been playing the fiddle while Rome was burning and announce a complete lock-down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Many countries have cancelled all public events and imposed nationwide lock-downs. France has cancelled the second round of its local elections; Britain has postponed its local elections while the US is currently in discussions with regard to postponing its presidential election even though it is only due in November. However, the Sri Lankan government is having election mania and is hell-bent on obtaining a two-thirds majority in Parliament,” he said.
Mr. Premadasa said the number one priority of the government should be to protect the people and concentrate all its resources on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
This has prompted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to say that even during the height of the 30-year-war the then government saw no reason to impose any lock-downs and as such he saw no reason for doing so now and added that with regard to the postponing of the general election, it was a decision that needs to be taken by Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya.
There is no gainsaying the fact that people do not come to polling booths in ones and twos but in large numbers with the voting process posing the ever-present risk of someone or the other being the cause of spreading the infection. Amid holidays being declared and workers asked to work from home wherever possible, the rationale behind the need to hold the election, come what may, is hard to understand.
No matter what our political leanings maybe let us cooperate with the government to eradicate this deadly pandemic, described by the WHO as the “global health crisis of our time”. The WHO has urged countries to test all suspected cases of COVID-19, which has infected 184,976 people and killed more than 7,500 globally.