By Dr. B. J. C. Perera
Specialist Consultant Paediatrician
Alexander Pope in “An essay on man” wrote the immortal words, ‘hope springs eternal in the human breast’. His erudite and philosophical reference was to the spectacle of always having hope in one’s own heart. In an analogy to that belief, just up to about a week or two ago, many of our populace hoped, believed and then even trusted that we in our magnificent isle, had taken this crown of thorns that was SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the current pandemic of Corona, by the scruff of its neck. Some were even convinced that we Sri Lankans had got rid of the miserable thing for good. Over a couple of months, we have had hardly any of within-country community transmissions to speak of. They had even forgotten the lock-downs, the curfews and quarantines of not so long ago. With all those, we did so well to contain the spread of the disease. We were beginning to look around the world through rose-tinted glasses and even had a smirk of complacence on our jubilant faces. Even just a couple of weeks ago, many of our people sported a kind of a blasé attitude to the virus. They were beginning to even act in defiance of the health directives. Even the law enforcement authorities started to look the other way. All seemed to be well in this paradise island of plenty. Verily it must be declared that our Sri Lankan people have very short memories, perhaps even ‘minute-memories’, in terms of time.
However, then all hell broke loose. Lo and behold, not to be outdone and defeated in a hurry, the little virus came back with a vengeance. The first time, close to six months ago, we got it under good and firm control. However, the current reality seems to be that the time for reckoning has arrived in this beautiful island of ours; once again perhaps. What appears to have originated from a cluster in a garment factory seems to have spread far and wide. New positive cases are being detected practically by the day and even by the hour. The authorities are running round in circles, and from pillar to post, to take the positives into curative hospital facilities and the contacts are being cared for in quarantine accommodations. The medical authorities continue to shout from the roof-tops that we need to be responsible, for us to be safe. The three-pronged defensive activities of physical social distancing, wearing of face-masks and washing of hands have been stressed, reiterated and promulgated again and again, as definitive steps in the containment process of the virus. These have been the ‘mantra’ that were being recited from practically the beginning of the year. People followed them faithfully for a few months and then perhaps a little bit of the rot set in.
Although the blame for the current wave, as they call it, has been conveniently placed at the doorstep of the garment factory, there is no guarantee that the blight was not surreptitiously lurking around for quite some time before that.
The garment factory girls have been made the scapegoats. Is it really their fault? The workers are made to work in enclosed, air-conditioned, virtually packed surroundings. Their lodgings are over crowded, sometimes with quite a number of them sharing a room.
They are going through all that through necessity and certainly not by their own choice. They are just trying to make an honest living. They are working and living in environments that are the most favourable of conditions for human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus. It is not at all fair to blame them for the current episode of the spread of COVID-19. We should put ourselves in their shoes and see how we feel. Let us not forget that these are the very same workers who worked very hard to produce Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the frontline healthcare workers at the beginning of the year when there was a real shortage of those PPEs. They are the very same people who were working ever so hard, up to just a couple of weeks ago, to produce articles for export to bring into the country valuable foreign exchange to keep our economy afloat. The least we can do for them is to look after them in their hour of need. This is neither the time nor the place to subject them to the heart-breaking stigma of even the suggestion that they were the cause of this second catastrophe. In addition, we need to firmly keep in mind that there are thousands more of similar workers in other similar establishments. They too are our people; they too are people of the Sri Lankan race. Perhaps we should really be doing some random testing in all these institutions as well. At the time of writing this article, there were indications from the news broadcasts of the media that the Sri Lankan government was thinking of implementing such a venture with immediate effect. That certainly looks like a significant step in the right direction.
The latest bits of evidence from the Western countries suggest that under certain favourable conditions, the virus could remain viable for even up to 28 days, especially on certain types of surfaces. As to how realistic these findings are in our hot and humid climes we really do not know. Perhaps we desperately need to do some worthwhile research on such aspects. Who knows? Our findings might be totally different.
Committed compliance with the health directives by the Sri Lankan people is perhaps the only proven and tangible way to protect ourselves against contracting the virus. There has to be an unwavering and steadfast effort on the part of the entire population of the country to abide by the rules of the health guidelines. It is quite important to realise these cannot be usefully imposed through punitive and fiscal measures. They have to come from unabridged conviction of the preventive value of the health guidelines; right from the heart of our populace. Now the powers-be have taken action to take legal steps to impose retaliatory punishments to those who act in violation of the health directives. We have very serious doubts as to whether these ventures would have any degree of success. The secret is to get the engagement and empowerment of the people rather than to impose coercive efforts, castigations, penalties and even prison sentences. At the moment, our law-enforcement authorities are up to their necks with work involved with Covid-19 as well as with their usual maintenance of law and order activities. Do the powers-that-be really understand the quantum of additional work in detecting, catching, charging, locking up and prosecuting the miscreants that would bring in an extra, and perhaps fruitless, set of punitive actions that would be a real burden to the police as well as the judicial authorities? I believe that this is definitely not the need of the hour. The secret of success would be to get the people of our land to be partners in this fight against a common enemy. We need to put all our efforts in a collective onslaught and fight this blight as one would do to a common enemy.
There is plenty of evidence from the Western World of the absolute folly of not heeding the health directives. They, the covidiots of Europe and America are talking of human rights, the freedom to make choices and the democratic right to ignore the medical advice and the ass’s liberty to go their own way. They totally disregard social distancing, freely congregate in crowds, have parties, go around in hordes to the beach, and generally do everything that should not be undertaken during a pandemic. Their stupidity is unbelievable. They are supposed to be people from developed countries with intelligence well above lesser mortals. The end result is there for all to see; hundreds of thousands contracting the disease, some very ill people crowding their hospitals which are bursting at the seams and thousands dying of Covid-19. In some of those countries, the affected patients have to remain at home till they are really ill, and perhaps be at death’s door, before they could be admitted to hospital. All these could be used most effectively to convince our populace of the folly of disregarding medical advice. At the moment they are an extremely frightened lot. They would be most receptive to reason, coupled with all efforts being made to show them the problems faced by some of the Western nations.
This is not the time for opportunistic people of this island to engage in a blame game. This includes some of the so-called servants of the people who would gleefully start pointing accusing fingers. This is most definitely not the time to try and make cheap gains in the political sphere. Let us firmly resolve to learn from some of the blatant mistakes and errors of judgement made by the Western world. We should not put our guard down till this common enemy is completely defeated. It is definitely the time for all of us, sans race, caste, creed and wealth, to put our collective shoulder to the wheel to ensure that we bounce back from this latest calamity. We need to fight this virus together and fight as one. Divided, we will fail; but united, we will definitely win.
Viva Sri Lanka!