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Coronavirus Diary-No. 9 If you get infected, it’s your own fault

1 December 2020 12:08 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Borella, slowly  limping back to normalcy

 

 

You can’t escape Covid 19. Just when you’re beginning to feel complacent in your thin-walled cocoon (which the virus can penetrate), it builds its own cocoon around you.


When things start going wrong, they do relentlessly and at a baffling speed. First, the startling news of the ‘Brandix Cluster’ in early October (this has now been conveniently changed to the ‘Minuwangoda Cluster). 
Gampaha district came under curfew, but the incorrigible virus kept attacking elsewhere. Negombo became risky, followed by Colombo. Parts of the city went under curfew. It finally happened in the Colombo 08 sector, where I live. A month ago, like scenes from a recurring nightmare, these scenes re-enacted themselves in the town – queues in front of supermarkets and groceries before they closed, shops being shuttered up, everyone looking worried, and that familiar dread in the guts.

 

Western governments may subsidise the new vaccines for their citizens who can’t afford it because Covid 19 is deadlier than AIDS. But there are many millions, in the West as well as the Third World, who are at the bottom of the list of recipients. 


You remembered the April-May lockdown when the entire city went dead but for the moving traffic. But the virus was an invisible presence. This time, it was almost tangible, quite like a drone from a horror movie watching you with silent menace. You heard that the Borella police station had been incapacitated by the virus. The grey and old apartment blocks housing policemen’s families face my house, just across the street. Thanks to the last government’s senseless ‘road development,’ the teeming tenement area of Wanatamulla is now within sight.
One fine morning (it was Nov. 09), blaring loudspeakers announced that the police flats were being quarantined. All of a sudden, two police squads were guarding them, making sure no one entered or got out.


But the policemen were watching from my side of the street – one squad at the entry point from the junction, and another right in front of my gate. The first post was inside a tent. The second had no shelter, and it started raining two weeks ago. Suddenly, Colombo looked like the London Leonard Woolf left behind when he came here as a colonial civil servant – ‘grim, grey and grimy’ – minus the grime.

 

There is no shelter for these policemen guading quarantined flats at Borella. One policeman in protective gear (extreme left) can be seen on duty on a rainy day. They have to take shelter elsewhere when it rains.

 

It rained mercilessly, during the day too, but especially at night. I noticed that the two constables and one inspector at my end were getting drenched. Feeling sorry for them, I invited them into the garage.


Next thing you know, my garage had become the police post. The policemen shifted their chairs inside, and they were there even when they didn’t rain. They had their lunch there and used the garden tap. They put their food leftovers and paper cups in the garbage bins. They put their files and caps on my scooter. For toilet needs, they went to the dispatch company next door. But they were there at my doorstep day and night, and they listened to the radio till about midnight.


As the days passed, this routine became unbearable. I did my best to be hospitable. I gave them mosquito coils. I gave them a chair. I gave them tea, biscuits and bananas. They were having a hard time; and so was I. 
They were from Anuradhapura, but that did not mitigate my safety concerns. I learned that they had no beds and quarters to sleep in. They slept on desks at a school. Above all, they were bored. All-day and night, they sat there and watched the gates of the police flats. I didn’t understand why the authorities could not at least provide these men with a tent. I wanted to help, but I had two problems. I had no privacy, and the risk of getting infected with Covid 19 at my doorstep was now a real possibility.


I could have forgone the privacy concern, but not the risk factor. I phoned a police inspector of my acquaintance, a resident of the flats, and told him about the need to provide shelter for these policemen. He said all residents had undergone PCR tests, and he would make a decision once the results came.


I learned from an outside source that an unspecified number of residents had been found Covid-19 positive. At the same time, the policemen stopped coming in (except to charge their phones, which I don’t mind). I called the inspector, who said he had told them not to use my garage and take shelter at the first post if it rains.
It’s raining again, and last night they were back again with their chairs in my garage. This is a new lot, and clearly don’t know they are not supposed to come here. My dilemma is a sense of decency. I don’t want to the close the gate when they are miserable out there. But my fears are back with a vengeance, and it looks as if it’s going to rain for a while. This is how the government puts citizens at risk – by not providing a basic facility to these policemen who are doing a high-risk job here. The onus is on me to give them what the government can’t. If I don’t, my sense of decency is at risk. But, If I get infected in the process, the blame will be laid on my shoulders.

 

As the days passed, this routine became unbearable. I did my best to be hospitable. I gave them mosquito coils. I gave them a chair. I gave them tea, biscuits and bananas. They were having a hard time; and so was I. 


My fears are not about death. I believe I am strong enough to survive. It’s about the disruption of normal life. I don’t fancy a stint in our overcrowded hospitals with stressed, overworked staff. With Covid 19, you no longer have options, you don’t have a life left. Things are already bad enough even if you are not infected. Life isn’t normal, you feel it everywhere you go, and whatever you do. Everyone is exhausted. We are barely ticking over.
After a while, I noticed that our favourite garbage collector Nihal was missing, and his phone was switched off. My gas supplier is his neighbour. I called him and found out that he was infected and has been sent to Kandakadu. This photo of him was taken in May. His is a high-risk job. He had to wait for weeks before getting protective gear, and it didn’t last long.


Garbage collectors are a grim lot, but Nihal is the exception, always smiling and helpful. I wish him a speedy recovery and can’t wait to see him again. His neighbourhood of Wanatamulla is still under curfew. It was lifted in Borella town on November 23, which is slowly limping back to normalcy, but many shops remain closed.
In the meantime, the West has successfully tested several vaccines, which changes the whole picture. But it’s expensive. This happened with AIDS too, in the 90s, when a ‘cocktail’ of drugs which could contain it, though not cure completely, was found. But it was so expensive that people died in droves, anyway.


Western governments may subsidise the new vaccines for their citizens who can’t afford it because Covid 19 is deadlier than AIDS. But there are many millions, in the West as well as the Third World, who are at the bottom of the list of recipients. The WHO has warned that the West can’t afford to ignore anyone if Covid 19 is to be contained worldwide. There are too, huge logistical problems, and ‘vaccine rollout’ could be a nightmare.
In Sri Lanka, as well as India, the vaccine will have to be subsidised as the majority won’t be able to afford it. It could be many months before it arrives in quantities large enough to cover the entire population. The task of administering it to millions of people can’t be done overnight. 


Russia announced the testing of a successful vaccine months ago. Turkey recently said it will manufacture it under license. China too, said it has got a successful vaccine. 


The West doesn’t trust anything Russian. But neither Sri Lanka nor India, which have excellent relations with both these countries, have made a move to obtain this vaccine. That too is a mystery.


On the plus side, if Western Europe and the United States recover substantially by mid-2021, that could be beneficial to Sri Lanka’s exports and tourism, a silver line in the dark cloud. All over the world, the turning point will be reached during 2021, but making the vaccine available to everyone is the key.

 

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