It isn’t over till it is over. Today our leaders are speaking in terms of restarting ‘Normal life’ –post-coronavirus. Plans are afoot for the gradual reopening of the country especially opening of ports to commercial activity, relaxation of rules governing social gatherings, and employers gradually bringing back their full quota of employees.
The first case of the Coronavirus was confirmed in Sri Lanka on January 27, 2020, when a 44-year-old Chinese tourist woman from Hubei Province in China was admitted to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (IDH).
On March 3, the first reported case of a Sri Lankan origin outside the country contracting the disease was reported in Italy. On March 7, the BBC reported the death toll in Italy had passed 230, with officials reporting more than 50 deaths in 24 hours. The number of confirmed cases jumped by more than 1,200 to 5,883 cases on Saturday. This led to panic among Lankan expats in Italy many of whom fled their adopted homes, to seek sanctuary back ‘home’. Unfortunately, most of the returnees on arrival evaded going into quarantine and returned to their villages, spreading the virus as they travelled and meeting with hundreds of their friends and relatives.
By March 23 around 3,500 persons had been quarantined in 45 quarantine centres. As of March 25, health authorities aided by the Armed Forces had tracked down over 14,000 people who had contacted identified patients. They were ordered to self-quarantine To halt the march of the pandemic the government imposed a stringent country-wide curfew banning movement and congregation of people in addition to enforcing strict lockdown measures.
Gatherings for major religious festivals like Vesak, Id-ul-Fitr fell victim to the pandemic lockdown. But the public understood and co-operated with authorities. A single disharmonious note was struck over the cremation of Coronavirus victims, which a particular religious sect felt went against their religious beliefs By June 15, the number of confirmed cases country-wide had risen to 1,905 with 11 deaths. But the moment passed, soon the numbers falling victim to the virus, lessened. In mid-May government announced the lifting of the 52-day curfew and a phased restarting of an effort to take the country back to what is now referred to as the ‘new normal’, entailing social distancing, covering ones face with a mask and strictly limited numbers at social gatherings.
Churches, Temples, Mosques and Kovils remained closed during the curfew period and even today, gatherings at these places of worship are limited to particular numbers of worshipers. While Lanka kept the numbers of affected patients and its death toll down by imposing stringent rules and regulations, leaders of particular countries refused to see the dangers the Coronavirus pandemic posed, rejecting the need for lockdowns, social distancing or even encouraging the wearing of masks to curtail the spread of the virus.
In the US, President Donald Trump disregarding his medical advisors and claiming to lock down the country would devastate the US economy rejected imposing such measures. Resultantly the US -the country, hardest-hit in the world by the pandemic- has a total caseload of more than 3.1 million cases, with 133,195 deaths. On Thursday, July 9, it notched up 65,551 new cases in just one day, according to John Hopkins University.
Worldwide COVID-19 has now claimed more than 550,000 lives across the planet and infected more than 12 million people. These numbers continue to rise. The UN has warned that the pandemic could push 45 million people from the middle classes into poverty. On Thursday last the Coronavirus struck again in Sri Lanka. A single case, a prisoner at the Welikade jail-Prisoner X- was diagnosed with Coronavirus Positive. The detection sent chills down the collective backs of all Lankans.
Fortunately, no other prisoner at that facility tested positive, but more than 900 prisoners at the facility -a Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre (DTRC)- from which ‘Prisoner X’ came from in Kandakadu, have tested positive. At the time of writing, no one knows how many others have had interacted with the infected persons.
Dr Anil Jasinghe, Director-General Health Services leading the fight against the pandemic said the number of Covid-19 patients reported from the DTRC could increase when the PCR test results were out. Last week the government announced it was planning on reopening the country to international commercial traffic. But as we said at the beginning... “It isn’t over till it is over”.
While the economy of our country demands reopening, judging by the lessons from the US, we are in a Catch-22 situation.