By Noel Berman –
So far it appears that the curfew is working as people are indoors but and that’s a big but, what happens when people run out of food?
First, let me state that the system of curfew for a few days and then lifting the curfew is obviously a recipe for chaos. It was anticipated that there will be a stampede on Tuesday (March 24) and the expected stampede did occur while there was discipline in some areas.
So, now, in response to that abysmal failure, we are about to repeat it on Monday (March 30) when curfew is lifted. Or maybe at the last minute we hear that curfew will NOT be lifted throwing everyone into a panic.
Let’s face the facts, I tried, and many others tried calling too, going online and messaging the many shops that are claiming to be distributing during curfew and I personally couldn’t get through to any one of them. Moreover, my friends and family form outside of Colombo tell me there appears to be no system to provide the same services outside of Colombo.
Meanwhile we keep hearing that certain neighborhood grocery stores are open, but people have no way of getting to them because of the curfew. A totally ad hoc system where a bread delivery man gets to go in some areas, is unavailable in other areas is all contributing to a general sense of unease and increasing fear among the people. Bad enough people are afraid of the virus now they are afraid they will starve to death.
So, it is understandable when I hear voices of frustration being raised. If people go hungry there is no saying what they will end up doing. Your guess is as good as mine.
So, what must the government do?
The idea of a curfew is not the solution if there is no efficient system of delivery of food to the citizens (rich and poor) in the entire island and not just to some privileged areas.
Therefore, what is needed is a two-pronged strategy of ensuring an efficient supply-chain and a lockdown where people can go and buy their essential needs once in 3-4 days.
And while we may not have prior experience in dealing with a pandemic, we have the experience of China, Italy and other countries in enforcing a proper lockdown. We can learn from them as the data is freely available if one wants to research and then draw up a similar plan and implement it.
As to the supply-chain we do have a proper supply chain that has worked, under proper medical and police supervision (where transporters are screened and made to wash their hands etc.) are given passes to keep the food moving from the stores, the farmers and the godowns to the retail outlets. This should be properly planned, implemented and monitored by the various government agencies including the local government.
And finally, the government needs to communicate clearly without creating more confusion. Announcing that curfew will be imposed at 2 pm, then at 12 noon and then again at 6 pm only creates more confusion and the last thing we need is a total loss of credibility.
Will the government take up the challenge and get this working properly or will it let it slide into chaos?