Today, May 11, after almost a month of near total lockdown was imposed to stop the spread of the destructive coronavirus, Sri Lanka will be taking its first limping steps towards getting the country back to a semblance of normalcy.
By some extraordinary coincidence, a number of countries worldwide have also decided to lift some of the restrictions today. For instance US President Donald Trump, now the epicentre of the coronavirus, with over 1,644,817 cases and 77,557 deaths has called on states within the US to lift the more stringent sanctions imposed on the population. Likewise, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of our past colonial ruler - the UK - whose coronavirus death rate comes only second to the US, is also expected to relax limits also today.
Yesterday (May 10, 2020), while the worldwide of persons contracting the coronavirus stood at approximately 4.11 million cases and the number of coronavirus deaths stood at a little over 280,000, our country has been largely spared by the ravages of the virus, with a mere 847 contracting the dreaded disease with nine deaths. Numbers have been kept to such relatively low figures, thanks to the quick, far-thinking and firm action of the government. Many a shiver has passed down the spines of concerned citizens, merely imagining the mayhem that may have resulted had the past executive leader and his governing partners been in power when the pandemic struck.
Be that as it may, for all of us - irrespective of whether we be young or old - the lifting of restrictions on movement comes as a big relief, especially to those who are dependent on a daily wage.
This category of persons, have been left with no means of sustenance - with the restriction on movement killing their avenues of employment. Again, the pay cuts imposed by the mercantile sector added to the misery of many of our countrymen. Big industrialists, especially those in the hospitality sector too took a big hit. For them it was a double blow, coming just as the hospitality sector was beginning to pick up after last year’s deadly Easter Sunday massacre. For the farming community, the relaxing of the curfew would open up markets again.
Students though, are still left in limbo and there will be much catching up to do once the education sector is opened up. Of course it will be everyone’s fervent hope that students - specifically the university types - will concentrate on the pursuit of broadening their intellectual capacities, rather than blocking the streets of Colombo, and disturbing economic development, to fulfil particular political party goals. Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) forecast the economy would grow at 4.5 - 5%, however, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Asian Development Bank on April 3, down-graded Sri Lanka’s anticipated economic growth to 2.2% in 2020. If the pandemic is contained by mid-2020, economic recovery could begin towards the latter part of the year, according to the ADB.
Like our economic growth, relaxation of restrictions on the freedom of movement and accompanying freedom, is going to depend on the COVID-19 pandemic being contained. A lot therefore is going to depend on whether the country can restrict the rise in numbers of people who may be affected/fall victim to the dreaded virus in the aftermath of the lifting of existing restrictions. A surge in numbers, within a short space of time or the rise in the number of deaths may force health authorities to call on the governing powers to clamp down curfew once more.
In the end, it will be up to the citizens of this country to use the new-found freedom wisely and help authorities by following advice regarding social distancing. We will necessarily have to put up with travel difficulties especially for those who have to depend on public transport. The authorities too, have a responsibility to ensure that these facilities are available to the public; else, we will once again, be faced with a situation where ordinary citizens will be packed into buses and trains and made unwilling facilitators in the resurgence of the virus.
In reality, we are in a Catch-22 situation – social distancing is necessary to prevent the resurgence of the coronavirus. But citizens ‘Perera’, ‘Sundaram’, Mohamed and ‘Pereira’ need to be at their work stations in time, else their employers would penalise them… Perhaps we need to be thinking of staggered or flexible working hours to ease the strain on the public transport system, which in turn will help overcome the problems posed by social distancing.