By Nalin Fernando –
It is said, “If you can stay positive in a negative situation, you Win.”
The population of the World is 7.6+Billion. Therein, the population of South & South East Asia is 2.5+Billion or nearly 33%.
South Asia – 8 Nations, 1.94+Billion people (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan & Sri Lanka).
In end December 2019, the first case of what is now known as COVID-19 was reported in China. On 13 January, the first case outside of China was reported in Thailand, even before any cases were reported in Japan or South Korea. The first case in Sri Lanka was reported on 27 January 2020. The WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. Fear/Trepidation, ignorance or who is fooling whom?
5 April 2020. Globally the COVID-19 reported cases reached over 1,200,000 and reported deaths were over 64,000. Comparatively, in all of South & South East Asia the total reported cases of COVID-19 is less than 21,000 (under 1.8% of the global figure) and less than 610 deaths (under 1% of the global figure). This is nearly 12 weeks since the first case in Thailand and nearly 10 weeks since the first case in Sri Lanka.
Government decisions and actions may well have contributed to keeping the local number of COVID-19 deaths to 5 (with under 180 cases reported). The restriction/suspension of International passenger travel for a month or as needed, closure of schools and universities until Second Term/end April and no public events/gatherings permitted, are favourable.
A look at a few causes of death in Sri Lanka in 2019 (Population 21+Million)
Suicides – 3,500+
Road accidents – 3,000+
Falls & fires – 2,250+
Snake bites – 400+
Dengue fever – 80+
Usually, life goes on with little or no fuss.
As for COVID-19, the rapidly escalating numbers in the World have heightened the fear. Though in reality, not only in Sri Lanka but considering even all of South & South East Asia the COVID-19 reported deaths are less than 610 as of 5 April 2020. Thirteen (13) of the Nineteen (19) countries in the Region are reporting Zero to Nine (0 – 9) deaths each, including Vietnam – 0, Cambodia – 0, Nepal – 0, Myanmar – 1, Sri Lanka – 5, Singapore – 6, etc.. This begs the question – Is Covid-19 as grave or real a threat to Sri Lanka? This should be looked at carefully, as it seems we are away from the path of the storm or death and devastation by COVID-19.
The figures presented/analysed, especially with regard to the COVID-19 reported deaths, may shed more light as to if this is as great a threat to Sri Lanka or not. It may help halt/quell the fear psychosis that seems to be playing out with excessive actions that may have greater repercussions to the economy and its people/country at large.
The decisions taken by the national leadership will have a profound impact as to how we come out of this with our sanity intact and with equitable opportunity. Alternatively, continued clampdown/curfew or extended hibernation/near-paralysis mode may place the nation in a perilous situation at cliff’s edge. When push comes to shove, the select/favoured may be bank rolled while many other businesses, including small & medium enterprises, may have to sell-out or succumb. Now an open invitation to bring in foreign funds without hindrance from the Government and protected under banking secrecy services, could well expose even the listed companies to predatory takeover owing to the prevailing and anticipated further depression in share prices. The fabric of Sri Lankan businesses and by extension the lives of the workers/people will be changed.
Though least prone/affected, Sri Lanka seems to be gripped in a fear psychosis as we are bombarded with months of alarming news/reported infections and death tolls from China, Italy, Iran, Spain, Germany, France, U.K., U.S.A., etc. and are kept primed over a purported impending COVID-19 disaster. It has brought the country to a near standstill. Some are cheering the extended excessive actions with unfounded trepidation or ignorance or a heady mix of both that feeds off each other?
Extended curfew will ensure an economic meltdown. Extreme measures by countries least prone/affected is detrimental. A large number of our breadwinners are daily wage earners, farmers or small entrepreneurs who desperately depend on the local economy being kept alive. The high suicide rates of the past are not comforting. A Rs.50 Billion rescue plan means very little to them.
Unlike in the U.S.A., U.K., E.U., China, etc. we do not record as high a number of deaths from the flu/influenza. U.S.A. alone has over 50,000 deaths annually. World-wide, 290,000 to 650,000 deaths in 2019.
Originating in the cold clime of Wuhan in end 2019, COVID-19 has had over 90% of the over 1,200,000 reported cases and over 95% of the over 64,000 reported deaths mainly spread along the East-West parallel/belt of nations spanning the 30° N & 60° N Latitudes (China, Japan, S. Korea, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Russia, E.U., Switzerland, U.K., U.S.A., etc.). Therefore, these countries must enlist/ensure robust action during this time, especially with the uncertainty of the added strain of COVID-19.
Our inbuilt immune system (patients recover, not cured) and long days of bright sunshine/high temperature, are the most active deterrents that protect us. As an island nation, we have the added benefit of being more insulated and together with the International travel/flight suspension in place, are even less susceptible. Vigilance, quarantining measures and required medical care for the few serious cases should continue as commendably done thus far by the Medical profession and health-care workers.
Given the COVID-19 reported deaths being 5 in Sri Lanka and less than 620 in the whole of South & South East Asia, it may be time for the Government think tank to consider not to extend the curfew – started with 3 days of public holidays and then from 20 March curfew was imposed and extended till 6 April 2020.
The Government can get the country out of its slumber and permit working adults (age 18 – 55) to resume work without delay, or latest by 20 April – made aware to wash hands regularly, wear a face mask to minimise potential spread via droplets and maintain social distancing as best possible. If living with elderly parents, minimise close contact (do wear a face mask) or self isolate.
The global population saw a net growth of over 60 Million in 2019. Over 120 Million births and over 60 Million deaths (of which over 15 Million were preventable cases). Globally, the first 90 days of 2020 had a net growth/gain of over 18 Million human beings. Nearly 200,000 per day.
Even if the worst predictions for the U.S.A., U.K., E.U., Iran, China, etc. regarding COVID-19 are true, it may double the number of pneumonia/flu like deaths that occur annually. Less than the over 1.25 Million deaths from road accidents in 2019. Even as we look away from the over 8 Million that died from hunger in 2019.
Although over 173 or 90% of the nation states have reported at least 1 case of COVID-19, fewer than 70 nations report over 8 deaths. Nevertheless, with all the hype & fear created, even countries far removed from the East-West belt of the COVID-19’s path of destruction are panic stricken and a few are taking over the top/sledgehammer action. This adds to crippling the World. Extreme/Knee-jerk reaction by the least affected/prone countries will gravely flatten the curve of local economic activity, rather than that of COVID-19.
A bulk of the “Top 40” COVID-19 affected nations do have large populations of 50+Mil. Yes, they do wield tremendous economic & military power in the World. In spite of COVID-19 ravaging across the 30° N to 60° N East-West parallel/belt of nations, many of them have kept going with a majority of the businesses/economic activity as best possible, including the benchmark stock exchanges.
Sri Lanka, seems content to be near “freeze” mode or extended curfew (more grievous than lockdowns) for reasons best known to its leader/s. Are the extended curfews and economic clampdown more to arrest COVID-19 or is it to pacify the unfounded fears of the masses or is it for other real/perceived or hidden advantages – political or otherwise?
May sanity prevail sooner rather than later, as the anxiety/stresses faced by the people owing to the continued imposition of curfew and the fallout economic meltdown could exceed the deaths of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. Business closures and job losses in the tens of thousands will only be compounded if we continue with same. Let us not hang ourselves. Stop/quell the fear psychosis. Time to awake, rise and put the country back to work. Schools & Universities to reopen in end April. Then gradually we could open up to the World starting with travel to and from select neighbouring countries (with certain restrictions), possibly by May 2020.
With prudent/rational action, the country can be up and running in good order, then Sri Lanka may be in front of the preferred countries to visit once we are open to accept/welcome travellers from countries that have arrested COVID-19. There could be a “V shaped” rise in the global market for our export products if we are ready to solicit/capture and cater to those valuable orders. For all this, we must get the country working.
Hopefully this experience will humble us and also strengthen us in our resolve to overcome challenges.
Note: This is an alternate perspective that could help quell the fear regarding COVID-19 and get the country working.
Sources: www.worldometers.info ; www.who.int ; www.health.gov.lk ; www.wikipedia.org ; www.jhu.edu ; healthdata.org ; www.bbc.com ; www.aljazeera.com ; www.theworldcounts.com