We, Sri Lankans have fought among ourselves so many times when we should have been united. Subsequent to receiving Independence, at a time when unity was paramount for the development of the country, we started to bicker over language and sowed seeds for a thirty-year war.
Some of us found holes in the first ever development scheme after Independence, the Gal Oya irrigation project and made it a platform for communal discord. Lately, at a time when we had to join hands against the terrorists who killed around 300 innocent men, women and children on Easter Sunday last year, some of us attempted to alienate a section of Sri Lankans by spreading hatred against them.
Now, again we are encountering a situation where we might wipe out a sizable number of our fellow-citizens from the surface of the earth, unless we unite forgetting all racial, religious, caste, political and ideological differences. The rapidity of the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and the toll it has been taking even in developed countries such as Italy demands a concerted and united effort by people in individual countries in particular and the world in general to protect the lives of people across the world.
The current threat by the latest member of the coronavirus family is not an issue over which we can or should find excuses to fight each other, seeking economic or political gains. Nothing would justify selfishness, or selectivity on the part of individuals or communities or countries in facing this calamity, as the wave of coronavirus is rolling over the surface of the globe like a worldwide tsunami. It has left no community on the basis of race, religion, region or colour. Starting to eat up the Mongoloids in the East, it has now transcended the geophysical barriers and invaded the other two races of mankind, the Caucasoid and Negroid. Only nine out of 197 countries (including the Vatican City, Palestine, Taiwan and Kosovo which are not UN member countries) had been left by Sunday by what the World Health Organisation called last week the “defining health crisis of our times.”
Since the first coronavirus patient was detected in Wuhan city in China until March 11 when the first local COVID-19 case, the tour guide was found in Sri Lanka we, including the authorities were under a false belief that we were safe and everything was perfect, despite a Chinese woman infected with the virus having toured several areas in the country. However, now it is clear that by then something had seriously gone wrong which had resulted in the detection of COVID-19 cases on a daily basis ever since. What is worrying is the fact that more than half of the positive cases detected since are domestic infections which could have been averted.
We started interning people in specially set up quarantine centres only on March 15 until which the foreign and local air passengers arriving in Sri Lanka were just asked to confine themselves in their local destinations for self-quarantine. Subsequent to the first few cases starting with the tour guide were detected the authorities made an open request to those who arrived from overseas between March 1 and 15 to report to the nearest police station. By then they would have mingled with thousands of people. However, nobody, including the Opposition parties can take the moral high ground to blame the authorities for this as they too did not point out or warn about the lapse in time. Besides, self-quarantining is an accepted method across the world. Yet, those who undergo it too should understand the gravity of the situation and be honest at least to themselves.
There is no point in wasting time arguing over the horse that has bolted. The best option for political parties, voluntary organisations, religious organisations and the media is to provide everything possible – physically and intellectually -- to the authorities to wipe out the threat from the shores of the country. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has expressed its willingness to help the authorities in whatever way the latter wishes. The corporate sector could also contribute by facilitating the health sector in this time of great need.
The only hitch is that of fixing a date for the general election. If the election is to be held before we conquer the pandemic, the people would definitely politicise it which is disastrous. Hence it is prudent for political parties to agree to hold the election on a later date.