Security personnel gesture to stop motorists at a checkpoint in Divulapitiya on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo as police imposed a curfew on the towns of Minuwangoda and Divulapitiya following the discovery of a Coronavirus patient, the first case reported from the community after several weeks (AFP)
The detection of a COVID-19 patient for the first time in two months has triggered a fear psychosis regarding the possible of community transmission of the viral infection. A garment factory worker from the Gampaha district tested positive for the disease beginning the third outbreak of the disease in Sri Lanka, a country that had contained the spread successfully until then. Worrying is the fact that health and defence authorities are at a loss to trace where she contracted the virus. Previously, the point of origin of the infection could be traced and action taken appropriately to stop further spread. In this instance, the source of origin has not yet been identified, leading to fear whether infection remains at community level. The health sector is perplexed, but the absence of other identified causes that cannot be linked to the present cluster is a reason for some relief.
The latest outbreak posed fresh challenges to the Government which just started laying the groundwork for economic recovery in the post COVID-19 context. The newest cluster is the most challenging one to be tackled as announced by chief epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera.
The economic and social impact of COVID-19 has been enormous. Economic growth is projected to shrink, though the Government has earmarked ambitious plans to achieve at least a one percent growth rate by the year’s end. Sri Lanka’s situation is relatively better, though.
According to the World Bank, the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown measures to contain it have plunged the global economy into a severe contraction. According to World Bank forecasts, the global economy would shrink by 5.2% this year, the deepest recession since the Second World War, with the largest fraction of economies experiencing declines in per capita output since 1870. The disease is still raging in most parts of the world including neighbouring India where the day-over-day increase is well over 50,000. As long as the global situation remains risky, Sri Lanka is bound to have limited prospects in propelling its economy. The resuscitation of the tourism industry is unimaginable without global recovery. The pandemic has drastically impacted transnational trade and cross-border movement of people for business purposes.
As such, the Government cannot afford to allow the newest outbreak of the disease to spiral out of control. So to speak, the Government is determined to confine the disease only to the Gampaha district. For that very reason, it took steps promptly to isolate people who tested positive and their close contacts. The curfew was clamped in the police divisions of the Gampaha district in measured steps, all aimed at preventing the outbreak beyond the borders of Gampaha. Health authorities, backed by the defence establishment, will leave no stone unturned in trying to confine the disease only to the cluster of patients that emerged from the worker at the leading garment factory. Already, employees who are residents of the Gampaha district, but work in Colombo or elsewhere have been given leave or facilities to work from home in terms of COVID-19 guidelines. Gampaha residents attached to the parliamentary staff were also given official leave.
Despite fear in society, community transmission of the disease has not taken place, and it is a reason for a sigh of relief. An island-wide curfew is unlikely as a result. But precautionary steps are being taken to avert such a scenario by suspending all Government activities that warrant public gatherings. The suspension of one-day services for issuing passports and National Identity Cards is one of them. Bus operators have been instructed to board passengers according to seating capacity. Further decisions will depend on day-over-day monitoring of developments.
The Government has to grapple with the latest wave of corona cases at a time of some challenges on the political front. It is aiming to enact the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with two-thirds approval from Parliament. It only enjoys 149 seats without the Speaker. It received a jolt again since its MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe cried foul at the content of the 20th Amendments which is now before Parliament. Since then, political circles are abuzz with talk of him not voting in support of the Bill. If that is the case, the Government would run short of two seats for the two-thirds majority. Nevertheless, it is determined to proceed with the enactment of the Bill with a few changes to be incorporated during the Committee Stage of the debate. To secure the two-thirds, the ruling side has to rope in two more MPs from the opposition.
The All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by Wanni district MP Rishad Bathiudeen appears to be willing to team up with the Government. But the Government is under pressure from its proponents not to accommodate this party no matter what because of its leaders’ alleged links with those who aided and abetted the Easter Sunday attacks.
That the ACMC joins the Government as an alliance partner is being ruled out in this context. It is a party with four MPs. However, the likelihood is that a couple of its MPs may join the Government in their individual capacities.
The talk of the town is that Anuradhapura district MP Ishak Rahman who contested on the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) ticket, but represented the ACMC would raise his hands in support of the Government to pass the 20th Amendment into law. It is a tricky business for the Government to accommodate on board anyone associated with Bathiudeen.