COVID-19 is showing no signs of going anywhere soon other than to further entrench itself in the country in a more virulent mutation than during its previous incarnations. Sri Lankans are known to be people with a high rate of literacy but why are such literate people refusing to heed the repeated advice given by health authorities on how best to remain safe from contracting the disease.
They are now paying the price for their carelessness, complacency and lackadaisical attitude towards health guidelines during the festive period when the pandemic, which was to a large extent under control, was turned on its head with the youth being among the most affected.
Despite being cautioned to avoid moving outside residential areas or gathering at shopping centres; we saw people in large numbers at Pamunuwa, Nugegoda and Pettah or travelling in similarly large numbers to the outstations to spend time with family and friends or at hotels in the hill country or elsewhere.
We have oftentimes heard the truism that neither man nor woman is an Island and especially at times such as these we need to be mindful of the fact that each other’s safety is each other’s responsibility. This is why we are frequently reminded to wash our hands, maintain physical distancing, wear face masks and keep away from areas where people gather in large numbers and to avoid moving out of our homes other than on essential errands.
Meanwhile, the health authorities said in the wake of the New Year period, COVID sub-clusters had emerged from several areas across the country such as Colombo, Gampaha, Kurunegala, Narammala, Alawwa, Puttalam, Trincomalee and Jaffna with schools being closed and hospitals overwhelmed.
Public Health Inspectors Association (PHIA) Secretary M. Balasooriya told the media that in a bid to contain the situation, the Health Ministry had decided to conduct at least 15,000 PCR tests a day and that the next few weeks would be crucial and urged people to strictly adhere to health guidelines with the failure to do so undoubtedly resulting in a perilous situation.
The Health Ministry warned that if urgent steps were not taken to control the crisis, Colombo, which had re-emerged as the epicentre of the infection, would face a similar situation as New Delhi, where according to the BBC, there was a huge surge in COVID-19 cases with hospitals in Delhi and many other cities running out of beds while people have been forced to find ways to seek treatment for sick patients at home.
It said many Indians, in desperation, were turning to the black market, where prices of essential medicines, oxygen cylinders and concentrators have skyrocketed and questionable drugs were proliferating.
The BBC said this was a familiar story not just in Delhi but also in Noida, Lucknow, Allahabad, Indore and several other Indian cities where families were desperately cobbling together makeshift arrangements for home treatment. But most Indians cannot afford to do this and there were several reports of people dying at the doorsteps of hospitals or on the streets because they were unable to buy essential drugs and oxygen on the black market.
Against such a catastrophic backdrop, the possibility of obtaining more vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (SII) is remote, to say the least. This is a cause for concern to more than 900,000 Sri Lankans, who received the first dose of the Covishield vaccine a couple of months ago and were now uncertain as to when, if at all, they would receive the second dose for maximum immunity from the virus, which is continuing on its deadly mission with no end in sight.
Sounding a cautionary note, Professor Neelika Malavige, Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Biology of the Sri Jayewardenepura University, told a news conference recently that COVID-19 was airborne and as such the wearing of face masks was that much more important to restrict the spread or transmission of the disease mainly via exhaled particles or droplets of infected persons.
Whatever is said or not said about the precautions that people need to adopt in the face of the more virulent form of the virus, the Government too on its part should speak in one voice without spewing out contradictory statements as in the case of vaccinations.
The bottom line, in any case, is whether the people can be confident enough that the Government and the health authorities were taking the necessary steps to contain the worsening situation in Sri Lanka.