By Kumar David –
Colombo Telegraph has a readership of Sri Lankans living in the country, a worldwide Lankan readership, and also non-Lankan well-wishers. Columnists should make their communications of interest to a broad spectrum, but this time I am going to renege with a column that may be informative for those of us in Lanka but stale news for people living in the UK. It’s a note from a good old Lankan friend in London about how corona-things are being done there – I quote without comment. Since our media starves us of news or regurgitates government views only, people need to see how it’s done elsewhere. Which is not to say they are always better. (Some that do not have curfew or stringent lockdown are in bad shape, USA and UK among them, others with no curfew or lockdown are progressing well, Hong Kong, Taiwan, New Zealand and Vietnam among them).
“When it hit Wuhan, people and government here ignored it; spectators watching troubles in Wuhan! They felt that like MERS and SARS it would not reach Europe. When it spread to the Far East, they still ignored it. South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore tackled it using experience with SARS, implemented a regime of test and trace, isolated infected people, controlled spread and suppressed it. In Europe it started with the skiing population in the Alps, but Germany successfully implemented a test and trace regime. When it reached UK, through a skiing family, the authorities were caught unprepared. The initial government response was based on the following: a) There is no treatment, b) there is no vaccine. It concluded that people have to live with it and the strategy chosen was what is described as Herd Immunity. That failed, the numbers started to rise!
In March Imperial College scientists dropped a bombshell and predicted up to 500,000 deaths and said National Health Service (NHS) was not equipped to cope with these numbers. Government panicked, accepted scientific advice and changed strategy to flatten the peak, enable NHS to cope and dampen the so-called vector “r”. First it encouraged people to work from home and adopt improved hygiene; some companies followed, but it did not stop the spread. Transport and schools were the conduit for spread. People withdrew children from schools, parents stopped going to work to look after children. The government was in a soup and around March 15:
1. Closed schools, restaurants, pubs, gyms and sports and advised against any public gatherings.
2. Advised people to stay at home to relieve the NHS and save lives
3. Keep 2 metre distance between individuals not of the same household
4. Practice improved hygiene
5. No unnecessary travel
6. No social gatherings of over 10 (funerals, weddings etc.)
Now, supermarkets and shops are open during usual hours. They implement the advisory 2 metre distance within their precincts by controlling numbers entering and employing one-way rules. Corner shops and banks are open normal hours but allow only one person to enter at a time. Both government and opposition are against reduction in personal liberties and rely on citizen’s self-discipline and a benevolent policing regime.
Both Prime Minister and Health Minister were infected, so they are sympathetic to victims. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has thrown in Treasury money to the delight of Labour. The Conservatives who vilified Corbyn have become generous in providing a cushion to the affected.
Coming to your specific questions
1. ‘I suppose you are all encouraged to stay home?’ Most are indoors except essential workers such as NHS staff, shops, police. Employers who can keep 2 m between workers can keep business going. The construction industry is exempted. Self-employed in the building industry who do not qualify for relief continue to work.
2. ‘I suppose you are requested to work from home?’ Yes, encouraged as it stops workers coming into contact at work and in public transport. Several bus drivers have died.
3. ‘Is there something like a curfew?’ There is no curfew, no restriction on personal freedom. Association is somewhat curtailed; I cannot have a party. I am not stopped from going out or driving. People cannot live forever in a small flat or houses and are allowed to exercise, walk and go to parks. Parks and beaches are policed and close proximity is allowed only with family.
4. ‘Restrictions?’ My wife and I are over 70, categorised as vulnerable and discouraged from contact with outsiders. My eldest who is a doctor does not come inside our house and converse observing the 2 m rule because a doctor must not carry the virus. My youngest, the naughty one, lives close by and does not practice social exclusion! We see that family almost daily. Restrictions are voluntary and imposed by my family not the state.
5. ‘Are liquor/wine stores and pubs in London open?’ They are all open; usual hours. If you can get here, I can offer you the best Highland Park 12-year-old Scotch 24/7!