On March 3, 2020, coronavirus or COVID-19 made its first appearance in Sri Lanka when a foreign national tested coronavirus positive. However, despite the country’s state of unpreparedness to face what was to become a world-wide pandemic, local doctors were able to save the patient’s life and she was able to leave the country.
Sadly, a few of the people whom she had interacted with, were soon found to be coronavirus positive. Our people almost and immediately went into panic mode, with questions being raised as to why the government was not blocking the entry of foreigners into the country.
Today, around three weeks after that unfortunate day, the day-to-day life in the country has radically changed. For the past two weeks, our country has been placed in virtual lockdown, a country-wide curfew has been imposed. But pharmacies and supermarkets were permitted to function. Unfortunately, as is common in our country, a few selfish persons abused the privilege and today only the state-owned pharmacy, the Osu Sala is permitted to remain open on a daily basis. Supermarkets too have been ordered close down except on particular days, resulting in further burden being imposed on the populace.
According to statistics, around 25% of our people receive Samurdhi benefits and live below the poverty line. Most of these people depend on a daily wage. The island-wide curfew means that at least 800,000 people do not now have the means of purchasing their basic needs, especially food requirements. For this section of the population, the coronavirus pandemic is disastrous and leaving them on the brink of starvation. At present, the government has not implemented a scheme to help them keep their body and soul together.
Globally, at time of writing, 30,880 people have died of the virus, over 663,749 persons have tested positive to COVID-19. However,142,184 have completely recovered. A tiny silver lining, indicating the virus can be controlled if guidelines are strictly followed.
The US, probably the richest country in the world, has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country at present, with over 100,000 confirmed cases, according to Al Jazeera and 2,000 deaths.
Yet, the US has spent about $3.5 trillion on healthcare expenditure in 2019 alone, but has yet been unable to protect its people.
But then again, the US has been in denial regarding the spread of the disease and refused to implement World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, fearing market repercussions.In our own Sri Lanka, nearly 3,500 people have been in quarantine in 45 quarantine centres. This number includes 31 foreigners from 14 countries, but most importantly, only a single patient succumbed to the virus.
Whether we be in the US or in little Sri Lanka, today we are, one and all, living in fear. Fear has gripped our hearts and minds. The roads, streets and parks are deserted and run empty. Whether we be rich or poor we are all so-to-say in the same boat.
Making populist remarks, like linking the virus to China and making false claims as to how prepared one particular country, is over the other in the battle to defeat COVID-19 is not going to win anyone brownie points.
We have to realise that we can no longer think only of ourselves. We are in this battle against the pandemic together and we need to pool our resources. COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities and the false certainties we have created.
For example, the US defence budget today stands at a phenomenal $750 billion, its healthcare budget for 2019 was in the region of $ 3.6 trillion, but the coronavirus, has exemplified the fallacy of these beliefs. Today the US has over 100,000 confirmed cases with over 1,700 deaths as at 28 March. Whereas Sri Lanka with a total budgetary expenditure of Rs. 3,149 billion for 2019, was able to better cope with its confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases, save a single fatality.
According to Sri Lankan doctors who treated the first COVID-19 case, they were constantly in contact with doctors in China’s Hubei province. They were not ashamed to ask for help and gave credit to where it was due, when the patient recovered.
Again, the Sri Lankan government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not afraid to take hard decisions like the imposition of curfew to stop the movement and gathering of people at particular places.
This is direct contrast with the so-called developed western countries, who condemned methods used in China to halt large gatherings and movement of people citing human rights violations.