By Lihini Fernando –
The present situation of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka is alarming to the extent that any common man can easily arrive at the conclusion that the level of diligence and the control exercised by the government in handling the first wave of the pandemic has degenerated at an alarming rate.
The government’s general approach to handling COVID-19 was nothing but “I did it best”, “We are the best to handle it in the world”, “We will be the first to vaccinate the entire population”. They continuously neglected to apply scientific or strategic thinking to assess the situation and manage the pandemic.
The COVID management in Sri Lanka initially was all about embracing the Chinese lady who was first identified with the virus. Then the pandemic became a political trump card for the General Election. Then it turned out to be a weapon to hurt the Muslim Community with the entire saga over burials.
Another manifestation of their lousy pandemic response was the Government’s reliance on an Ayurvedic Paniya developed by a witch doctor (aka Dhammika Paniya) without adopting a scientific approach and duly placing orders for the vaccine.
The vaccination drive too became a flop with the inability to source sufficient stocks for the second dosage and enormous gaps between the first and the second jabs. Even at present, we see that the COVID-19 task force is headed by Military personnel, and not by a Medical Specialist or a Virologist. The right person is not given the right position, to take the right decision.
The mafia of quarantine tourism, leading towards the importation of a foreign COVID-19 variant to the country, clearly arises from the shortsighted nature of the actions of this Government. I recall reading a controversial social media post written by William Dalrymple stating that Sri Lanka is indeed a transit point for those who want to flee from India, provided they have money and contacts, calling it his “Great Escape” to Sri Lanka.
It is alarming to note that only 6% of the COVID ITUKAMA fund has been utilized thus far, with the country grappling with a shortage of ICU Beds. Minister Sudarshini Fernandopulle states that in the coming days, the patient count can rise to over 10,000 per day.
Are we ready as a country to handle this pandemic in the event it escalates beyond its present status?
One can criticize the Government endlessly and it rightly deserves such criticism. Criticism alone, however, is not the solution.
The people of this country should not be the victims of inept politicians or political warfare. The people of this country deserve to be led by people with knowledge and education. When Sri Lanka invests billions of rupees to educate doctors, produce academics and empower professionals in various sectors, the country is run by unqualified politicians and some military personnel. Doesn’t this reflect a failed system and a failed country?
It is rather disheartening to note that the public healthcare system is collapsing. COVID-19-infected patients are now left in their houses as hospital beds are exceeding capacity and the duration to obtain an ambulance is over 4-5 hours (Source: MOH Doctors).
On 29th April, a COVID19 patient died at his home because there was no ambulance to take him to the hospital. A pregnant mother also became a victim. If Sri Lanka does not act fast, and think proactively, it is inevitable that we will turn out to be another India in the coming days. We are still in denial and distorting the truth regarding COVID-19 as has been the case with many other things in the country.
Trying to be World’s First in vaccinating the public or Using COVID-19 as the next election trump card for this government should not be the name of the game. The Opposition delivering fantastic oratorical speeches in parliament saying ‘we told you before’ should also not be the name of the game. People comparing the present government with the previous government and stating that we are better off now with this regime, though in hindsight they are worse off, is also not the name of the game.
Time has come to work collectively to resolve this Crisis. The nation is calling out to the politicians to work together, irrespective of their political differences. All 225 sitting in parliament are all elected representatives, be it the opposition or the government. They all are accountable to the people of this country. They all have a responsibility to act beyond their conventional framework.
It is unheard of in Sri Lankan politics, where the government and opposition collaborate and work together. But today I say so.
The people of this country are calling you all out!
Step up and be the change for our sake and not for your own sake.
Collaboration is the only way forward if Sri Lanka is to recover from this devastating situation be it the pandemic or the economic crisis.
The time has come for collective action, collective responsibility. The people of this country cannot change the ruler now, neither the MPs sitting in Parliament. We have no choice but to lead our lives with a set of rulers, who in the eyes of the common man are incapable, inept and uncouth. It is best the remaining educated or the sensible parliamentarians sitting in the opposition support the pandemic management process and the Government too seeks the assistance of the opposition, to work together and refix the economy and to build sustainable policies.
If Sri Lanka is to ever overcome this crisis, we need ‘Consensus-based Politics”, “Politics with Principles”, and long term sustainable policies devoid of political agendas. This can only be developed if parties collectively work together to arrive at broad policies be it economic, education, tourism, social welfare, foreign policies with a “Sri Lanka First” approach without championing a party agenda.
Coming back to COVID, if the numbers continue to rise (God forbid not), the present centralized system that is in place will not be able to handle the patient numbers. It’s better to act proactively and strategize instead of ‘learning on the job’ and being reactive.
At present at the Local Government level, every electorate comprises of a Development Committee headed by a Parliamentarian of the ruling party. This Development Committee also comprises of the Opposition MPs’, Local Council Mayor / Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Provincial Council & Local Council Members, Government Officials of the Divisional Secretariats, Police, MOH Officers and all other bodies linked to the area. If the Government together with the Ministry of Health can devise a mechanism of setting up temporary treatment facilities in each area with the supervision of MOH Doctors, PHI’s, Medical staff, Mid-wives (Ideally a team to be based in each area), we can ensure that the people in these areas will be safer and taken care of. Funds for these facilities can be via the Central Government and the setup costs can be via Local Council Funds. Charity Organizations, Clubs in the area too can assist in the operational costs. This will be a better mechanism to secure the lives of the people versus being left at their homes with no care or a hospital bed.
Nevertheless, the focus of the government should also be to reduce the numbers of COVID-19 patients. Requesting the people to adhere to guidelines alone is not sufficient. The government must lay down a mechanism to ensure that people too are guided correctly. SL people today are fighting a survival battle, be it economic or health-related. They report to their workplace not by choice, but as a means of survival. The government has failed to build a transport system to ensure proper social distancing is maintained. We see overcrowded trains, buses. Aren’t these all breeding grounds for Corona? Where is the ‘so called’ strategy of the Government?
Sri Lanka is a country that is a victim of lapses. The problem, however, is that it will be too late when we learn our lessons the hard way.
“Let’s Fight this crisis together”, is all I can say at this moment because everyone sitting in Parliament has failed the people beyond comprehension and we are left with no other option.
*The Writer is an Attorney at Law, Local Council Member representing the Moratuwa Municipal Council, a Women’s & Child Rights Activist and a fighter for Social Justice.