COVID-19 and People’s Attitudes
By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
COVID-19 is everywhere. It has become the most frightening word in any language throughout the world. The philosopher Nostradamus in 1551, prophesied: “In the twin year (2020), a Queen (Corona) would raise her head from the East (China), and turn into a plague (Virus) in the darkness of the night, on a Country with Seven Hills (Italy) and transform the twilight of men into dust (Death), to destroy and ruin the world. It will be the end of the world’s economy.”
In Sri Lanka’s perspective, 33 Sri Lankan students and families in Wuhan made an appeal to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, about their desperation when marooned. Consequently, a SriLankan flight brought them home from Wuhan. In doing so, the SriLankan flight staff went on a ‘fatal journey’ to bring those 33, Sri Lankans, safely to Katunayake Airport. At the airport arrival lounge, some of them behaved in such a violent manner that during the uproar, an Army Major contracted the disease through the exposure to a contagious pathogen and was quarantined.
A new message once registered in my iPhone mailbox. It spoke about a person who was sent to quarantine during the Bosnian war in July 1995 and spent four years in quarantine. The victim released his frustration by stating thus: “The quarantined people in Bosnia did not have food, no medical care, no internet, no electricity and absolutely no contact with the outside world. People died every day and every minute, day and night. Some people ended up in concentration camps and others in mass graves! Few remained yet to be found and identified. Within an hour, 8,372 quarantined people were slaughtered daily – men, women, boys and civilians.”
The writer found this evidence comparatively different to Sri Lanka’s present-day quarantine procedures. From the very first Chinese tourist who contracted COVID-19 was detected on 27 January 2020, the Sri Lankan Government took every precaution to safeguard the Sri Lankan Community. The tourist was treated at the IDH (the National Institute of Infection Diseases in Angoda), and once recovered left the Island thanking the medical staff, the Government and the Sri Lankan people for their compassion.
Then came a team of Sri Lankans from Italy. Once they were quarantined and left they were full of praise to the President and the army soldiers who looked after them, some of the soldiers abandoned their beds for the sake of victims and slept rough. The President who worked alongside with the Army Commander, health authorities, nursing staff, three Forces and the administrators carried out a specific schedule. As the condition became somewhat erratic, the President set up a 22-Member National Action Committee to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country, appointing the Army Commander to head the Committee. As a precautionary measure, 45 specialised quarantine centres were set up and they continued to expand even using hostels, in preparation for an explosion of the virus. The Government also took meaningful preventative measures, such as banning all incoming flights to Sri Lanka and the airport was closed ultimately.
Sri Lanka’s Message to Other Nations
Sri Lanka gave a strong message internationally as to how She did cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, by imposing a 24/7 curfew initially, which is still in force in some of the districts identified as danger zones by the Health authorities. In doing so, everyone connected in combatting the virus, to save human life, worked non-stop for over eight weeks consistently.
The only request the authorities made to the public was to maintain safe distancing and wear a mask; to stay at home and listen to news flashes, to help fight the COVID-19 . It is the most straightforward contribution public could provide for the safety of the entire Sri Lankan society, thereby helping to eradicate this virus.
In comparison with other COVID-19 affected countries such as China, Italy, USA, Spain, Germany, Iran and India, Sri Lanka has risen to the peak due to all precautionary steps adopted from the beginning by the farsightedness of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The Universe always protected Sri Lanka when in trouble. So far only 11 deaths were reported while thousands of deaths are reported in other nations on a daily basis. Even these 11 deaths were mainly due to the lapse on the part of civilians who either did not draw the line with the Government and health authorities’ instructions. The US President Trump particularly pays no heed to the number of deaths in America due to the virus. The latest death figures have ended up over 100,000, while his deputy and other members of White House staff have contracted the disease.
Comparatively, the active role, played by the Sri Lanka Government in liaison with the Sri Lanka Army, Navy, Police and the Health authorities needs admiration for their dedicated service during this exasperating time. Sri Lankans who returned from abroad were responsible for ‘importing’ the COVID-19 to Sri Lanka. They were all quarantined for a specific period (The Government having to feed them in thousands all three meals as an additional outlay).
News reported that the UK prohibited at first, the provision of a hospital bed for over 70s and cancer patients! British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had contracted the virus and was admitted to a British Hospital ICU unit and recovered, the UK health services changed their stance and appear to emulate the Sri Lankan ways; so, many other countries deploying Army soldiers on pandemic duties. According to President Putin; apparently, Russian citizens have two options, either “to remain homebound for 15 days or be prepared to be in Jail for five years.” Hours after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, on 24 March 2020, the State Minister of Telangana sanctioned a firm order to the authorities to “ shoot on sight” on those who violate the curfew.regulations. Many worldwide audiences saw on TV how the Indian Police treated the lawbreakers during curfew times with brutal treatment.
Sri Lanka Police too Lenient
Many Sri Lankans who broke the Government directives, during curfew hours, should take a lesson from the Indian Police and admit how caringly the Sri Lanka Government is handling the issue. The Government requested all those who arrived in Sri Lanka from abroad between 1 March and 10 March to register with their local police stations. It appears that still there are cases, either due to fear of going to the Police, have not done so, and the latest reports indicate such cases as victims. The vital point one needs to understand is that all those who arrived from abroad and who are not paying any heed to Government and Health authority’s instructions, contributed to the suffering of the whole nation for over two months affecting the economy of the country as well. Why cannot some of the Sri Lankans understand the gravity of this pandemic? Why cannot some of the public adhere to such restrictions for their own sake?
Sri Lanka is a tiny Island that could have ended up with a greater disaster, if not for the perception of the impending dangers and actions taken by the President. At long last special cameras have been installed at the airport to screen passengers’ body temperature when the airport is due to be opened and other schemes that would be in operation on a daily basis to recover from the depleted economy. At least it is up to the masses now to listen to the Ministry of Health and authority’s guidelines and learn from other nations’ mistakes, and let the country recover economically.