As the world heralds New Year 2021 tomorrow, who would have, even in their wildest dreams, ever imagined that their wishes for good health, peace and prosperity conveyed to family members, friends and colleagues at the dawn of 2020 would be metaphorically turned upside down during the unfolding year, and that instead it would be filled with misery, pain and tragedy. The pandemic, which devastated most countries across the globe, left in its wake a trail of death, travel restrictions, lock-downs and curfews, job losses and economic ruin.
The coronavirus figures worldwide draw a grim picture of one which the current generation has never had to face during their lifetime. As of last morning, there were 82,322,170 people infected with the virus and a staggering 1,796,292 deaths.
Returning to home turf, Sri Lanka came face to face with the coronavirus on January 27 when a 44-year-old Chinese woman from Hubei Province in China tested positive for the virus. She was subsequently cured after undergoing treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Angoda and left to China with lots of hugs and kisses, probably in the hope that she was taking the virus away with her.
After a spell of quiet, the virus made its presence felt in March, but a prolonged curfew and several clusters later it was, to a large extent, brought under control even prompting government politicians to portray Sri Lanka as a model to other countries on how best to eradicate the deadly virus. The euphoria was short-lived until all hell broke loose on October 4 with the detection of a COVID-infected employee of the Brandix Garment Factory resulting in the Minuwangoda cluster, followed by the Peliyagoda cluster and the Prisons cluster. This set off the second wave of the viral infection, more virulent than the one previous, spreading rapidly to nearly all parts of the country with more areas being subjected to lockdowns and hundreds quarantined. As of last morning, Sri Lanka reported 42,056 coronavirus cases and 195 deaths. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic from March to September, the number infected stood at around 3,000 with 13 deaths but between then and now the figures tell a pathetic story, making many to wonder whether the government has lost control of the situation.
Sadly though, the COVID crisis in Sri Lanka has taken another twist over the government’s mandatory requirement to cremate the bodies of all COVID-19 victims, irrespective of their religious persuasions. This led to protests by the Muslim community unhappy about the cremation of the bodies of their dead brethren. The simmering crisis flared up into a burning issue after the body of a 20-day-old infant, said to have been COVID-infected, was cremated despite repeated pleas from his Muslim parents to handover the body to them. The growing number of protests for and against the cremation or burial controversy appears to be taking a turn for the worse and if not resolved with empathy, compassion and tolerance, the New Year is bound to begin with more fires burning and a deepening COVID-related crisis to be tackled by the government.
Meanwhile, 2020 which began with the promise of so many good things, is coming to a close with the alarming news of a new strain of COVID-19 reported in Britain being blamed for a sharp increase in the number of cases—prompting new lockdowns in London and more than 40 countries including the entire European Union and Canada having temporarily banned incoming travel and cross-border travel from Britain.
According to media reports, though scientists say there is no evidence that the new strain is more deadly, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it could be up to 70% more transmissible than others, while the health secretary said it was “getting out of control.”
The new strain has also been detected in Denmark, Australia and Gibraltar, according to the British government; and in Italy and the Netherlands. But the US has so far not stopped incoming travellers from Britain or Europe—sparking fears it may have already crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
“Today that variant is getting on a plane and landing at JFK,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, referring to New York’s busiest airport. “How many times in life do you have to make the same mistake before you learn?”
Amid the encircling gloom of fear and uncertainty; with a tinge of optimism, we wish our readers Hope and Strength in the New Year -- Hope that it will turn out better than 2020 and the Strength to hold on until it does.