5 December, 2020

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Government Needs To Move In Direction Of More Inclusive & Humane Covid-Control 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has become the focus of national attention. The extension of the three day lockdown and 24 hour curfew that was imposed on Colombo and the entire Western Province over the weekend has now been extended by a week with the implication that the threat of uncontrolled spread is very serious. The external manifestation of the crisis came with the discovery of the Brandix factory cluster in early October. There appears to have been many failures in regard to its control. Religious clerics have appeared on media to say that this is the nature of things. Following the latest lockdown President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made an appeal to the general population to be more responsible in their attitudes. However, the laxity appears to have been contributed to by the state authorities and their agents responsible for the implementation of the Covid control system.

There is an increasing public sentiment that the government as a whole was resting too much on the laurels that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had earned for safeguarding the country from Covid up to now. Indeed, this was one of the general election campaign slogans, where national television depicted the plight of Covid patients in other more developed countries, and contrasted them to Sri Lanka’s situation. The president was the recipient of much credit for having decisively ensured that the country should go in for prolonged lockdown for nearly three months in order to ensure security and safety from Covid infection. For many months it appeared that Covid infections from within the country had come down to virtually zero with only foreign returnees adding to the numbers of those infected.

Indeed, the situation in the country appeared to be Covid-free to the extent that election rallies were conducted without conforming to Covid guidelines imposed by the health authorities. Regrettably the impression was created, that most of the people readily accepted, that the government had conquered Covid. The confidence that the country was Covid-free was demontrated with the holding of the International Book Fair in Colombo in September. Going by the experience of previous years, it could have been anticipated that there would be tens of thousands of book lovers coming from all parts of the country. This was in fact the reality. There was a compulsory requirement for those who entered the book fair to be wearing masks. However, due to the large crowds that gathered there was no space for social distancing to be practiced.

Bipartisan Support 

Even in that time of apparent safety, references to the need for more testing were made drawing on international experience from those countries had had been more successful in controlling the infection. In July former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka should be prepared to face a possible second wave of COVID-19 pandemic without delay. He said, “There was an opportunity to bring in a new legislation to control COVID-19. We, in the UNP made several proposals in this regard. We called for the increase of testing. This was ignored.” In addition, he warned “It is everyone’s duty to prevent a second wave. UK is greatly affected by COVID-19. It is questionable whether the UK could get out of this crisis. How could Sri Lanka get out of it if a country like the UK is unable to get out of it?”

One of Sri Lanka’s top experts in health policy Dr Ravi Rannan Eliya who was prophetic six months ago in warning of what was to come has offered a three step programme to minimize the harm that Covid spread can bring. First, he say, the government needs to impose a two week lockdown island-wide, having given everyone 48 hours to prepare. This is because such a lockdown would prevent clusters from being seeded in new areas. Second it needs to scale-up PCR testing capacity to around 50,000 tests a day. Third, in the longer term, everyone with any respiratory symptoms or fever, even a runny nose or scratchy throat, should be encouraged to get tested. “And to avoid terrifying them of the consequences, we will need to find an alternative that allows most cases to be isolated and managed at home. The experience of countries that follow this approach is that this strategy with high levels of testing can prevent large outbreaks ever occurring and can allow us to return to normal life without masks or lockdowns.”

The suicide of a physically disabled child whose mother was taken away for Covid quarantine that was reported in the media highlights the importance of a culture of care, in addition to efficiency, that needs to be promoted. In this case, even the neighbours had appealed to the Public Health Inspectors to take her child along with the mother instead of leaving him by himself. There are reports of those who happened to be physically present at the Peliyagoda fish market when the Covid cluster was discovered, were taken without a moment’s notice, and without the possibility of even taking their medications for other ailments. In one such case, top level connections had to be utilized to get heart and high blood pressure tablets across to a person with heart disease taken away to be quarantined. The treatment of Covid patients as if they were dangerous criminals who need to be locked away without considering their humanitarian needs has been a critical downside of the present government approach.

Broader Expertise 

The resurgent Covid threat provides an opportunity for the government to reconsider its methodology and work in a more inclusive manner and instead trying to work by itself and by bringing the military to the fore even in areas of civilian governance. The debacle of the security failure during the period of the previous government led by former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, and in which opposition leader Premadasa was an important member, may have discredited them. It has also induced Sri Lankan society to opt for a more centralised and top-down approach to solving national problems as manifested in the 20th Amendment that was approved by a 2/3 majority in parliament including those from the opposition. It appears that even civilian administrators are being influenced by the top-down approach of the military which is to follow orders to the letter without reasoning why.

There is no greater fear that families have that they will be dislocated and parents have that they may be suddenly dragged away to quarantine and their children left to fend for themselves as that physically disabled child was. Finding the best answer to such humanitarian issues was not a task that the government should have taken on by itself but in consultation with other sections of society. Any responsible opposition party would wish to collaborate with the government to ensure that the country recovers from the pandemic. In SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, the government can be assured that it has a leader of the opposition who will work cooperatively rather than to trip it up. A few days after the Brandix cluster was discovered he made what would have been a politically unpopular appeal for a lockdown of the Gampaha district which, if it had been heeded, may have halted the spread of the virus countrywide.

As this is a national crisis it would be better if the government made its decisions on a more inclusive basis bringing in the opposition and institutions such as the GMOA to widen the discussion about possible alternatives and to dispel doubts about the real situation. There is now signs of change which is very positive. It is to the government’s credit that it is revising its policy on quarantine and testing in particular. President Rajapaksa has in a meeting with the Covid prevention task force taken salutary decisions. The government has decided to self-quarantine the infected at their homes instead of taking them to quarantine centers. In order to make it more effective the president said that the process should be continuously monitored by the Medical Officer of Health, the Public Health Inspector, the police and the army. The president had emphasized the importance of conducting continuous and regular random tests. As stated by the president the government was able to protect the people during the first outbreak even when there was no experience on COVID – 19 and it can control the current situation utilizing the lessons learnt from previously adopted strategies and methods.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    0

    Resources are limited. Government must allocate limited resources to electorally valuable and sensitive districts. Otherwise they must get ready to leave office in 2024. Their 2019 and 2020 voters had enough.

    • 16
      2

      I have serious doubts about the competence of the people in charge.
      The other day, Shavendra Sir was prattling on about the 5000 rupee dole.
      Is that any business of an Army commander? What he said in Sinhala about food distribution was different from his own English version. Add to that the sudden curfew extensions .
      Gota himself has publicly said that he regards running the country as “fighting a war”. But those affected here are not terrorists. There are elders without medicine, people who can’t stand in queues, those who can’t afford to stock up food, daily wage earners. The other day, our local handyman was jailed while looking for work.

      • 11
        1

        old codger

        I share your concerns.
        Are you sure you didn’t vote for Gota/SLPP in the last two elections?

        My Elders tell me every successive government keeps fighting an endless war with its own people, and expects the foreigners to behave themselves. What a pathetic lot.

        It is widely expected among Colombo chattering classes soon an American is going to be appointed as the Finance Minister who would later replace his brother as the Prime Minister of this sovereign nations. Any truth in that?

        • 2
          4

          Fake Vedda,
          Dual citizenship was not an issue in Sri Lankan politics before passing the 19th Amendment.
          Even persons with dual citizenship can do a good service to the country. Gotabhaya Rajapakshe was a dual citizen at the time he worked as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. There was lot of pressure from ‘Suddas’ to stop the military operation against Tamil terrorists but he went ahead and eliminated Tamil terrorists.
          On the other hand even a person with only Sri Lanka citizenship can become a traitor. Mangala Samaraweera who co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution admitting Sri Lankan Armed Forces committed war crime that they did not do due to pressure from Western countries is a good example.
          Jayampathy Wickramaratne was not a dual citizen but he was one of the main architects of drafting the new constitution to abolish the Unitary State and create a ‘Confederation’ of nine units to fulfill the aspirations of separatist Tamil politicians.

          Issue with Arjun Mahendran was not dual citizenship. Ranil planned and brought him giving assurances to the MPs to use him for ‘Bond Scam’ and allowed him to escape. Ranil is not a dual citizen but he betrayed the country.

        • 2
          0

          Native,
          “Are you sure you didn’t vote for Gota/SLPP in the last two elections?”
          Leave me out of it. I am finding it difficult to find even two out of that 6.8 million.

    • 2
      1

      SRILANKA IS MIRACLE OF ASIA IN TERMS OF , ITS POLITICS EVEN MORE BEING AGAINST ITS PEOPLE S JUSTICE/LEGALITY

      US citizen Gotabaya became the president, amidst some resistance, but it was against then constitution- however, people were made to believe, anything i possible so long cultural/societal support is to Rajaakshes. Unethical Rajapakshes and their mindset would not disagree even if all is clear against the morals and ethics. There are whole lot of pot holes in srilanken legal system, – Rajaakshes are talented to twist the gullible mindset of the people, abusing those pot holes. At the time, GR nomination was announced, President of Election COmmission, most known controversal man, playing double games, stayed and made it clear such regulations were not known to him, so nomination GR as DUAL citizen would not be a problem. To that time, maha sanga stayed mum, never reacted adequately….. so were various other forces…. incl. local PACHAWAHINIS….. in the end, US citizen GOTABAYA became the nominee… See, could this be possible, if SRILANKEN law and order was above everything ?
      :
      Actually, violating constitution and painting the picture in favour of the direct support of PANCHA MAHA BALAWEGA – alreadypushed this country from frying pan to the fire…

      Now to keep hopes from such LEADERSHIP to rule this nation better than any other predecessors did ?

      • 1
        0

        Contd,
        .
        Actually, violating constitution and painting the picture in favour of the direct support of PANCHA MAHA BALAWEGA – alreadypushed this country from frying pan to the fire…

        Now to keep hopes from such LEADERSHIP to rule this nation better than any other predecessors did ?
        :
        And the very same stupid people elected their regional representatives in the GE, not caring much about their HIGH CRIMINAL records… not giving a chance to JVPrs and good UNPrs as their representatives…
        .
        So if the very same STUPID people dominated SRILANKA expect today any miracles…. we can wait long…..
        .
        Mr OC, not just appoinntees to MINISTRY of health, most of them are crooks.
        .
        As of TODAY, MaRa stays as if HE is NO diffierent to a CROCODILE fed with KIRIMATI, not being able to show his face; AFTER being hidden, to US state minister, MIKE Pompeo. ….. LOCAL MEDIA speculated, it was as a clever trick of SRILANNKEN PIMP MaRA to be away from welcoming such guests, letting politically immatured, but criminal expert GOTA to do the job… ha ha… where have we been marching today ?

  • 7
    0

    To put a long story short, the state cannot act panic-stricken. It should not put the cart before the horse. It must be sensitive to possible outcomes of the future. More than the politicians the greater damage is done by the acolyte bureaucrats who would quietly produce “papers” do undermine the prophetic words of experts. They love the system of management by crisis. Foresight analysis? Pooh! The result? Sri Lanka remains stagnant. Before placing a lockdown one must prepare for it. The result is lack of humanity of ineffectiveness.

    • 3
      0

      OC
      Mine is a more fundamental doubt.
      I doubt if there is anybody in charge at all.
      *
      GS
      “…the state cannot act panic-stricken.”
      Can the state act at all?

      • 0
        1

        S.J,
        It’s easier to dispatch drug lords than to fight Covid. Especially when you want only the kudos but not the brickbats.

    • 1
      2

      GS,
      .
      did you see epidemiologists/virologists/senior biochemists/or the like experts get together for discussions on the containment of COVID 19 within the island nation ?

      Weeks passing since BRANDIX was being caught by many of the spreaders, how these spreaders got bred in that hell like COMPANY is not yet clear. There are rumours, that indians came and went to the company… with the arriving airport being MATTALA, airport .. which is known the emptiest airports in the world, tricked and built by CHINESE debts.
      :
      Besides, not only GMOA – which is one of the trade unions, but worked diehard to bring back criminals to power, .. was on the TV screens, as the experts… what happeened to the real experts in the area ? I mean University dons and those who are really recognized in contagious disease control and epidemiology ? Why dont they have the right to wake up from the long slumber ?
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYW-1X_hUpk
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5rjXTo9Ocg
      .
      Apawithara Wannihami, is as the most abusive bad mouth of the SLPP, does nothing, actually but throwing her MUTTIYA filled with pirith pan into the rivers, awaking the concerns of the environmentalists … should this be the way a minister to act in this critial moments of the country ??????

  • 9
    3

    Our country looks at every national issue under the microscope of politics. That is what exacerbates our problems.

  • 16
    2

    The doctors of the GMOA variety are crooks. The government is bankrupt and inept. Using the ill trained and totally unsuitable military is a cheap fix. I suppose this article was a response to the rising tide of resentment among the victims of this high handed brazen violation of their civic rights. Dr Thushara Wickremanyake has given a good shellacking to this government of dunces about her treatment in the YouTube video dong the rounds. She was capable of creating a video and standing her ground. Most of the poorer classes cannot mount such a viggeros defense. As things get more desperate the reaction will be equally heavy handed. Right now there are food shortages. These will get more acute since there is no money to import without triggering a crash in the Rupee. At a time when global food supplies are under increasing pressure due to the climate crisis the future of Sri Lanka is very dark.

  • 10
    3

    With the gleeful acceptance of the coronavirus, the god-child has done many a yak pooja mainly devil’s dancing which the Yakko’s are masters of the destruction of the best in the colony of the beggars is soon around the corner and an uncontrollable explosion will soon occur thanks to the good lord buddha.
    b.
    Only a few full moons ago the Yaks were blowing their own trumpets stating that sad sorry shithouse Lanka was the 2nd best in the controlling of this rampaging menace which is hellbent on destroying mostly the downtrodden.
    c.
    I kept on telling my contacts that the colony being past-masters in the refined art of shitting on the bull [ bull-shitting ] were attempting to make the rest of the world look stupid.
    d.
    As God works in mysterious ways the balls are now in the courts of the cocky Yakkos, who just do not have a clue as to how to return the serves.
    e.
    The uncanny nasty rajapuka’s are and were only intent on buying over the willing corrupt MP’s and getting the autocratic draconian 20th amendment and having achieved this are hell-bent on drafting a new constitution to suit their crafty criminal ways.

    • 13
      3

      f.
      Now with China’s gift running amok like wild buffaloes cum wild elephants the military dictatorship is dumbstruck not knowing whether they are coming or going.
      g.
      The peasants aboding in the infecting areas were magnanimously given a day or two to source their daily needs even though they did not have a cent or two to scratch their balls or their privates in the cases of the ladies.
      h.
      The big talking bullshitting government are so broke they do not have the resources to feed the famished starving about to drop dead at any time-poor peasants.
      i.
      Nearly 7 million yakkos who blindly cast their holy sacred votes to bring the rajapuka’s to squat on the royal latrine are now crying hysterically moaning and wailing uncontrollably on the error of their stupid brainless ways.
      j.
      Before I forget can anyone please let me know as to what on earth has happened to the billions of rupees collected by this war-criminal of a hora boru lying through his arse murderous American citizen of a swabasha head of state.?
      k.
      A little birdy tells me in utmost confidence that this hard-earned cash has ended up in the shop-soiled AMUDE’s of the entire rajapuka clan.

    • 4
      1

      ‘Suspect arrested at Dalupotha correctional centre with 80 heroin packets in rectum’ – news headline

      Rj do you need a good lawyer?

      • 3
        0

        Yes Stanley yes.

  • 11
    3

    That absolute arse, the Health minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi has said she is even willing to jump into a river, to protect the country from COVID-19. She said this after being criticized for pouring ‘holy water’ into a river.
    .
    When the country is on the brink of disaster there is nothing like primitive superstition to deal with the problem. Next she will blame Covid on that talking snake that tricked a woman into eating an apple from a magical tree.

  • 8
    3

    Stanley, if true, goes to show the priorities of our health minister, who proudly took selfie with the Chinese patient now promising to jump into river to protect the country. Dosent she even realize, in addition to all the destruction she has caused, she will further ending up contaminating the water resources. I hear GR is gradually turning his guns towards public and the virus it self. He said “Lankans are so irresponsible and thereby should take the blame”. At the same time govt controlled agency released a statement saying the current Virus has mutated and hence the spread. Jehan, this time around , the whole country is experiencing firsthand, what is displacement, leaving own homes for safety, registering in police station, going through security harassment, getting identities checked, insecurity , travel restrictions, community stigma, official high handedness all of which were until now, reserved for the few privileged (mostly minorities).

    • 4
      3

      “…who proudly took selfie with the Chinese patient now promising to jump into river to protect the country”
      *
      That is great news.
      When did the Chinese patient promise any such thing? Is it China or Sri Lanka that she is trying to protect?

      • 0
        0

        SJ,
        I think Chiv has suffered a syntax malfunction.

  • 9
    1

    SL spokeswoman stated how well SL has managed the COVID pandemic but on the same day, an infected person was identified. The govt. claimed that SL was internationally acclaimed as the 2nd best country to tackle the virus successfully & my (affluent) friends in SL were happy that the stringent action taken by a decisive & firm leadership kept them safe, although, there may have been more starvation related deaths or possible suicides as a direct result from 6 weeks of continuous curfew. My friends assured me that nobody was left behind with the govt. providing financial assistance to the poor

  • 6
    1

    At the recent UN sessions, the SL spokeswoman stated how well SL has managed the COVID pandemic but on the same day, an infected person was identified in Gampaha. The govt. claims SL has been internationally acclaimed as the 2nd best country to tackle the virus successfully & my (affluent) friends in SL were happy that the stringent action taken by a decisive & firm leadership kept them safe, although, there may have been starvation related deaths & possible suicides as a direct result of continues 6 weeks of curfew. However, my friends assure me that nobody was left behind with the govt. providing financial assistance to the poor & food being distributed to the door by the Army. The success of such an administrative & logistical operation implemented in a short time is hard to imagine when in UK, the 6th largest economy with a comprehensive social welfare system already in place, the lockdown caused hardships for many households with low incomes & depended on ‘food banks’ run by charities to supplement govt. handouts but the lockdown being not a curfew, the needy were able to access these charities. I wonder if the extension of a 3 day curfew in SL will emulate the previous curfew for another indefinite period as this seems to be the only strategy of the govt. to tackle the virus.
    cont.

  • 5
    1

    Cont.
    I maybe wrong, but it seems that, apart from self acclaimed specialists, from GMOA officials to others with some medical knowledge, trying, presumably, to score brownie points, scientists & epidemiologist don’t seem to be in the driving seat.
    UK has been criticised for its late handling of the crisis & the apparent failure of it’s privately run ‘track & trace’ system. Boris Johnson was against the second lockdown due to the economic repercussions but abruptly U turned with a lockdown announced for 4 weeks on the advise of scientists, which is costing £4b in terms of govt. handouts to businesses & those directly affected but apart from tourism, hospitality, & leisure industries, most other business are functioning, albeit, in a smaller scale, as travel in public transport is discouraged & people requested to work from home where possible. Therefore, apart from socialising & a drop in income, life is very much normal in UK. The high number of positive cases is due to testing but the death rate is below 3%, the vulnerable being those with underlying health conditions, although, age & ethnicity, also being a factor.
    The second wave in SL is blamed on the Indian workforce but these people were brought into the country legally.

  • 1
    1

    The government has no clue how to handle the Covid-19.

    The health Minister has no clue
    The PM’s authority in taken away and they think they can put some in army uniform in front of the TV and the virus will go away……
    ….not that the PM knows what to do !

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