By Kumar David –
“180 from Welisara Camp test positive for COVID-19 so far” screamed an online newspaper on Monday. Tight living facilities in barracks and cantonments, similar to a lockdown in civilian tenement gardens and blocks of flats, have spread the infection. The numbers will continue to rise so long as people are not allowed to walk around, get fresh air and feel psychologically depressed which is just what the clampdown and the curfew are doing. The President is under the thumb of the GMOA and other kill-joy ninnies. On Apr 27, Colombo-Page also reported that a police DIG admitted that 40,000 people had been arrested so far for curfew violations and 10,000 vehicles taken into custody. This means people have begun to honour the curfew more in the breach than in the observance, a clear sign of lockdown exhaustion and curfew exasperation. It seems the President and his decision makers will remain immune to public irritation until there is an outburst somewhere and when that happens all the blame will be put by the authorities and the media on the people with little consideration of whether the right preventive measures were in use in the first place.
I am certainly no expert but there is a huge amount of information from the world’s top experts out there on the web for anyone interested to learn from. The big sticker item among experts these days is “flattening of the curve”; that if you strive for slower transmission and you build up slowly build aim at for lower peak. The x-axis in flattening the curve illustrations on the web is number of days since the first case. If you get your protective measures right within about 30 days it is possible to reach a plateau where the daily increase is small and then begins to fall. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, China and Japan have crossed over into this happy nirvana.
The evidence of the last week suggests that something is not right in Sri Lanka. A surge in quarantine camps, military cantonments and tenements and crowded neighbourhoods is not what people were looking forward to. Let’s hope these are atypical outliers. If the public decides that the authorities have made a cock-up they will refuse, first tacitly and then aggressively, to cooperate. Closing down all shops, including sillera kada and supermarkets, setting people’s right to walk on the street to depend on some digit in their ID card (was it like this in some fascist countries?) – what if your wife and you have different digits but that frisky girl next door and you have the same digit? – and shuttering up all liquor shops, are all profound blunders.
Of course, there have to be controls and supervision. The measures frequently and aggressively recommended are (i) Personal: hygiene and safety measures, (ii) Community: social distancing and curbing large gatherings, (iii) Environmental: frequent cleaning of surfaces, spraying, (iv) State: targeted follow up of contacts. The approach behind this thinking is different from the blunderbuss approach adopted by Gota and his control corps. At the same time the diametrically opposite point of view, the neo-liberal approach of hoping to build herd immunity, will also fail; the correct median between lockdown and neoliberalism is needed.
Thus far the government’s response has been characterised by a military mindset; Gota, the appointments he made in general and the key players at the moment in the COVID-19 strategy fall into that category. Bu we can’t go on with this this regimented mindset, a more flexible, experience based (South East Asia, NZ and Australia) and science-oriented approach has to replace it. Let’s keep hoping.