Now we, especially those living in Colombo and Gampaha Districts are enjoying a new kind of freedom which interestingly we ourselves have voluntarily curtailed. In many parts of these two districts, people are obeying the health and defence authorities despite the fact that they can disregard their instructions.
In fact, working amidst curfew or lockdown situations, a concept introduced by authorities of many countries is a new and interesting experience. Despite there being regular reports of violators of curfew, it is unreservedly adhered to ironically even by those who have challenged the legality of it, since it is a measure taken by the authorities, in line with other countries to mitigate the effects of the deadly coronavirus.
Even in other districts where there is only a dusk to dawn curfew in force, people have limited their movements voluntarily, apart from the instructions given by the health and defence authorities. Now that the government has lifted the dawn to dusk curfew in Kalutara and Puttalam Districts on Sunday, the indefinite day and night curfew is in force only in Colombo and Gampaha districts. Given the population density in some areas in Colombo District such as the now famous Bandaranayake Mawatha, indefinite curfew might continue in Colombo District for at least another few weeks.
Needless to say the government cannot continue with a prolonged lock down situation, as it would be disastrous for the country’s economy. Already economic activities except for those in the agricultural sector are at standstill for two months. Even in the agricultural sector, farmers have been severely affected by various marketing issues which have resulted in unprecedented losses due to low prices for their products.
The country’s main revenue sources - garment industry, tourism, transfers by the migrant workers and the traditional export crops - have been severely affected by the curfews and restriction on the work force. For a country largely depending on foreign loans and grants, this is a terrifying situation.
On the other hand, for the people the isolation in homes is killing; besides economic losses incurred by them due to the curfew instructions which are sometimes confusing. Apart from possible lay-offs, measures such as salary cuts by employers in some private sector institutions and the uncertainty of working conditions are also tormenting a section of the society. Public sector employees have also been “requested” to donate a month’s salary or a part of it. One cannot imagine the plight of the daily wage earners.
Similarly, the country is fast heading towards a Constitutional crisis. Even if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agrees to reconvene the dissolved parliament for the moment to avert it which lurks ahead in June, if the COVID -19 threat continues for another three months, the country would see an even intricate crisis when the term of the parliament that was elected in August 2015 ends. Besides, the ruling party seems to be in a haste to hold the Parliamentary election for many reasons. All these facts demand an end to the lock downs.
Many countries have eased the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic while they were facing a more serious situation than what prevailed when those restrictions were imposed. This has been inevitable as the future trajectory of the virus threat is unclear. One cannot wait for a complete eradication of the threat to ease the restrictions. Yet, at the same time, this is a dangerous manoeuvre as there could be a sudden explosion of the outbreak, creating clusters of COVID-19 patients. Sri Lanka cannot cope with a situation like the one in Italy, Spain or the US. Therefore, it is pertinent for the authorities to ensure that politics does not creep into the decision making process, in respect of handling the deadly COVID-19.