The country seems to be inflicted by a serious attitudinal deficit as people go on free train trips and having big-matches
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa while addressing the nation on Tuesday in view of the current panic over the sudden upsurge in the number of COVID-19 patients in the country said that the Royal-Thomian Big Match organisers had gone ahead with the cricket encounter, ignoring his suggestion not to hold it.
He said this in the wake of a SriLankan First Officer, who attended the match having been tested positive for the disease and subsequently several other attendees also had gone into self-quarantine.
Despite the question remaining as to what the message the President gave to the nation with his address was, his remark on this matter naturally raises several questions. Why did the President fail to stop the match, instead of merely suggesting to do so and accusing the organisers later for ignoring his words, if he had realised the gravity of the situation?
On the other hand, why didn’t the law enforcement and healthcare authorities intervene at least after the President’s suggestion to stop the match, if they had understood the gravity?
Why did the organisers of the match who are supposed to be educated and well-informed people fail to understand the danger of the life-threatening virus entering the pavilion with the revellers?
The match seems to be so close to their hearts that they failed to realise the seriousness of the situation even after the President’s suggestion reminded it to them?
The country seems to be inflicted by a serious attitudinal deficit. A simple and appropriate case in point was the railway authorities’ refusal to issue tickets to passengers in fear of contagion of Coronavirus through money transaction with the passengers, which led to the Government to allow passengers to travel in trains without tickets.
However, the owners and the crew members of private and state-owned buses seem to be brave enough to collect money from their passengers.
The difference between the collection by the railway authorities and those handling the bus services is that the former receive salaries irrespective of passengers buying or not buying tickets, while the latter earn profits and salaries only if they levied the fare from the passengers. Had the case with both the groups been other way around both groups would have swapped decisions.
After the Government’s announcement of holidays in view of coronavirus threat and its decision to allow train passengers to travel without tickets, many people had resorted to exploiting the opportunity. They had organised excursions and pilgrimages.
A group of youth interviewed by a local television said they made use of the holiday and the free rail travel facility to visit Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak). They seemed to be oblivious of a possibly oncoming dangerous situation, which might claim thousands of lives unless the Government and the people handled it prudently with sacrifices.
The description of the COVID-19 threat first as a pandemic and later on March 17 as the “Defining global health crisis of our time” by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the current situation in Italy, a country that is far richer than Sri Lanka is a stern warning to all.
The irony is that some people returning after working in Italy and South Korea - two well-off countries but severely hit by the latest version of coronavirus - have not realised this warning. Unlike in those countries, already many hospitals in Sri Lanka occasionally complain about overcrowding and shortage of medicines.
The Government recently attempted to get the approval of the Parliament to obtain more loans, claiming that it needed money for essential recurrent expenditures. Therefore, it would be extremely calamitous for a country like Sri Lanka if the deadly virus invaded the whole country.
Yet, some of the returnees from countries such as Italy where the Government has locked down the whole country in the light of the Coronavirus outbreak and South Korea had evaded mandatory 14 - day quarantine process in specially designed centres and gone home.
They may not be carriers of the dreaded virus, but if they were, the first victim might be his or her immediate loved ones - spouse, children, siblings and parents. In turn, they too would carry the killer virus to their schools, workplaces and other extended relatives. It would be a chain reaction.
They are returning to see their nearest and dearest after months or years or sometimes decades and they may be in an impatient mindset. However, it is not any way an excuse for them to gift a deadly virus to their loved ones.
"It is an illogical decision as one day’s (At most three days’ including the two weekend holidays) restriction of public movement would not suffice to control the spread of the virus which could be carried by a person in his body for about two weeks."
Besides, the quarantine centres may not have enough facilities to stay, especially after a relatively luxury stay in a European country, yet, that too does not warrant one to mingle with his family members, friends and relatives, carrying a virus with him or her. Considering the severity of the threat one must be prepared to tolerate even the worst for the sake of their loved ones.
The Government decided to establish three quarantine centres at the Hendala Leprosy Hospital, former Eastern Province Governor M.L.M.A.Hizbullah’s Batticaloa Campus in Punani and the Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre for those arriving in the country from South Korea, Italy and Iran.
Then, some people including politicians and Catholic priests from Hendala area protested against those returnees and foreigners being housed in the Leprosy Hospital. Later, the Government took those air passengers to Batticaloa and Kandakadu where the authorities were received by similar protests.
It is pertinent to note that even those air passengers who had the first-hand experience of the virus hit situations had protested against them being quarantined in special centres whereas it was they who had to find places to stay for a fortnight away from their loved ones.
People in Vavuniya and some other places in the North and East too agitated against the purported plans to establish quarantine centres in their areas. Some Tamil politicians alleged that the Government was planning to destroy Tamil people using the Coronavirus.
They questioned as to why the Government meekly submitted to the protests by the Hendala people. What they were blind to was that the first quarantine centre was established in the Diyatalawa Army camp when the 33 students were brought from Hubei Province in China, the then epicentre of COVID-19 outbreak. And it has been expanded now by annexing another 23 bungalows used by high ranking Army Officers while the Navy is going to set up another quarantine centre at the Boossa Navy Camp deep in the south.
Most important point is that only the people who might be virus carriers (Most of them are not) are being housed at quarantine centres whereas the real COVID-19 patients found in those centres and other places are being taken for treatment at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which is commonly known as IDH (Infectious Disease Hospital).
Besides, the returnees include people from the North and the East as well.
On last Friday the Public Administration and Home Affairs Ministry announced last Monday as a holiday in a bid to restrict the people’s movements following the detection of five COVID-19 patients on previous three consecutive days.
It is an illogical decision as one day’s (At most three days’ including the two weekend holidays) restriction of public movement would not suffice to control the spread of the virus which could be carried by a person in his body for about two weeks. Our highly overcrowded trains and buses would be ideal breeding grounds for the virus.
The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in a televised interview charged that Government was more concerned about the General Elections scheduled for April 25 (Now postponed) and did not extend the holidays beyond Monday in fear of disturbing the nomination process.
However, the Government extended the holiday for another three days, but in the dead of midnight on Monday. Again yesterday the holidays were extended up to March 27.
Former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa had called on the Government to impose a total lockdown which had been rejected by the President.
In fact, in a country where there are millions of daily-wage earners, strictly controlled holidays would be more prudent than an imposition of total lockdown. However, if the number of domestically infected cases surpassed the cases found in quarantine centres, then it would be an appalling situation.