After-Effects of COVID-19

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 23 2020
Columns After-Effects of COVID-19

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

People in Sri Lanka were blessed not to have COVID-19 deaths spread into double digit figures akin to the USA, where approximately over 300,000 affected and over 133,000 have died. Globally affected figures reached over 10,499,833 with the total number of deaths reaching 511,860 (statistics increase daily). 

Thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intuition and forward-thinking Sri Lanka managed to control the spread of the epidemic. He was ably assisted both by the Director of Health and the Commander of the Army who is the Head of the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19, along with the forces who took immediate remedial action. 

The Police force had the arduous task in getting the message across to the people on the street. Similarly, all of the administrators and a full spectrum of health officials worked day and night ceaselessly for nearly three months to save the society from the pandemic.This preventive method managed to curtail the number of deaths to 11, who were mainly Sri Lankans returning from abroad and/or got infected by their kith and kin.

The President has been thus commended and complimented for his swift actions by various international leaders, especially the Secretary General of the WHO, except of course our own opposition party members who never fail to pick a bone with the Government, and babble before TV cameras, purely to gain political mileage, especially because of the General Election on 5 August 2020.

Apart from the Government implementing several strict measures to combat spreading the virus, the majority of the public throughout the country need to be praised for adhering to the stringent health measures introduced by the State during the pandemic.  

From the moment a Chinese female tourist was detected at the Bandaranaike Airport strict procedures were introduced by the Government to contain the spread of the virus by introducing compulsory safe distancing, sanitising one’s hands and wearing a face mask. The country went through a curfew and shutting down completely some of the villages or areas when clusters of infected persons were found.

In this regard the intelligence services need to be congratulated for detecting the ‘clusters’ who subsequently infected those who arrived in the country from abroad, between 1 and 15th March 2020. Unfortunately, some ignored Government and health authority instructions and visited their friends and relations either knowingly or ignorantly and thereby infected a series of innocent people. Meanwhile, the virus spread like wild fire among the staff in one of the Navy camps. All the infected and their contacts, including the Navy officers (in hundreds) were sent to quarantine facilities for a minimum of 14 days.

Quarantine Facilities

The initial number of quarantine facilities was originally 42, and has now increased to 72, was no easy task to organise and maintain. Everyone who was quarantined had to be looked after by the medical staff, who were risking their life, plus the provision of medicine and three meals a day, a costly operation and an unexpected expense for the Government.

The Sri Lankans who were marooned in other foreign countries appealed to the President to get them down posed a danger in spreading the virus. The President took a compassionate stance and arranged to send SriLankan aircrafts to various destinations to bring those who appealed to him back to the country merely to save lives not looking at economic strategies! In bringing them home authorities needed to follow all health precautions and ensure the availability of quarantine facilities. So far over 16,000 Sri Lankans were brought home in this manner, despite the opposition members’ criticism.

Broken Promises

All returning Sri Lankans were advised to undergo a PCR test 12 hours prior to their departure however; in certain countries the tests carried out were flawed. A typical example was a plane load of Sri Lankans, who arrived from a middle eastern country with ‘Negative’ health certificates where 95% tested positive for COVID-19 after PCR tests were done on arrival at the Bandaranaike Airport. This created a difficult situation for health authorities who had to cope with special quarantine facilities for the infected. This became an arduous task as well as an expensive one. However, some of the ex-opposition parliamentarians as well as new contestants in the forthcoming  General Election keep on engaging in nonsensical jabber blaming the Government ‘ for not doing anything about the Lankans who are desperately appealing to the President to be brought back when over 16,000 Sri Lankans from overseas countries were brought back home. This is why the voter base has to wake up from their slumber and vote for only ‘intelligent and patriotic members to be appointed at the General Election.

Meanwhile, there is no end to the number of appeals to the President, knowing full well the President’s humanitarian stance, but one needs to take precautions not to endanger the health service by overloading the quarantine facilities or hospitals . The Government as an alternative move, due to the enormous amount of crying and pleading by isolated Sri Lankans to be brought home suggested an alternative method by offering those who were willing and able to pay a nominal sum to the hotels during their self-quarantine period, after negotiating with hoteliers in a compassionate stance, and offered Rs 7,000 (app.US$ 37  per person offering a full board package). Where else in the world can one receive such facilities where one could  find full board accommodation for 14 days in ‘luxury’ for just 

Rs 7,000/- a night? After all, even if some of them were to obtain a visa it would have cost them around US$ 20-30.

This invitation was exclusively for those who were able to afford it, desperate to come down and appealed to the President. Even so, there was an indecorous incident once when a plane load of Sri Lankans from Australia agreeing to all the above conditions at first, refused to pay once they landed at the Bandaranaike Airport. This made all pre-planned schedules go out of the window. Before the entire lot was sent to quarantine facilities, all free of charge, alternative arrangements had to be made by the health authorities. Whenever a Sri Lankan was brought back home, a PCR test at the airport was done either to direct the person to a preferred hotel or a quarantine facility, but anyone found to have contracted the virus was sent to either the IDH or similar hospital for treatment.

Positive aspects of COVID-19

The positive aspect of COVID-19 was due to the imposition of curfew there were hardly any road accidents. Patients suffering from heart disease, blood pressure, brain hemorrhage etc., suddenly reduced! What happened to the man who fell sick often? What was the reason for such a decrease of patients suddenly, including the number of dead bodies ending up in crematoriums? Yes, certainly the COVID-19 controlled or destroyed all other diseases especially when people could not visit a hospital or a local doctor. Or, was it the veracity of the pandemic that brought the decrease of patients where usually the doctors deliberately gave patients a dismal practice to healthy patients! -  Food for thought?

An influx of private hospitals, testing laboratories were invaded by Sri Lankans prior to the pandemic. People who believed the specialist doctors  as ‘Gods’ forced upon patients to have numerous tests (which were  quite not relevant to the patients’ condition); it cost patients  an arm and a leg  even when a patient visited  a private hospital for a mild nose cold or a cough. Operations were carried out indiscriminately even for a minor ailment; patients were admitted to ICU units unnecessarily causing the kith and kin suffer from fear psychosis and nearly choked after seeing the hospital bill! Some hospitals sent out special sales representatives to private clinics to advise the local doctors and homeopaths promising them 25 per cent commission on any referrals on heart operations. So, the cutting and chopping came to a full stop during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a way, though COVID-19 pandemic caused much distress and misery, it also has brought the whole world a positive change to think and adopt new ways by casting aside the old practices and methods. Since people could not go out during the curfew times and were confined to their homes, people seemingly got used to home food too, thus, putting an end to an age-old practice  of ‘ takeaways’  for dinner from street outlets.

Unnecessary spending too came to a halt while being confined to one’s home. The daily wage earners were taken care of by the Government by distributing a handsome  payout, during curfew time,on a weekly basis despite opposition member criticisms. Pensioners who were unable to go out to ‘closed’ post offices received their payments delivered to their homes by officials. Basically, COVID-19 managed to change the thinking of human beings and to keep them ‘awake’.  Social distancing managed to help unruly crowds to a greater degree in Sri Lanka with rushing and pushing brought to a halt in queues, to busses, trains and post offices. Now the latest is that passengers are able to travel seated comfortably, which has or soon becoming law, thanks to COVID-19.During the whole operation the Police, except in one or two occasions, did not stoop to violent behaviour. The Sri Lankan Police force needs adoration, in contrast to other Asian countries where the forces treated the law breakers in a harsh and inhuman manner.

Sri Lanka taught the human being an important lesson to live in peace and harmony free from disease, and the man should first and foremost need to honour and protect the nature and cut down on unnecessary requirements. So, let’s restart life taking a lesson from COVID-19!

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By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 23 2020

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