COVID-19 is No Respecter of Persons
By Faadhila Thassim
Masks below chins, packed public spaces, conveniently forgotten health guidelines is evidently one main reason why containing the Corona virus in Sri Lanka appears to get tougher by the day.
For as much as we the public depend on the Government and the health sectors to effectively control the spread of COVID-19, what we fail to understand is how we ourselves could be of help to both these parties and the country as a whole by not being negligent and simply adhering to the health guidelines.
Following the latest COVID-19 cluster, the largest in Sri Lanka, several measures were taken in order to minimise the spread of the virus. Yet common negligence that has been highly evident in Sri Lanka is that of curfew violations, those evading PCR tests, and that of failure of following basic health guidelines that have been set forth by both the Sri Lankan Government and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF), Rukshan Bellana stated that it is visible how streets and public spaces in most situations are still unnecessarily flooded with people adding that the public fails to understand the gravity of the situation.
Considering the economic downfall that the country had to face following the continuous curfew that was imposed country wide during the previous COVID-19 outbreak, it has been a widely accepted fact that a complete lockdown for a country with the recent outbreak is almost impossible as it would immensely affect the lives of those battling both the virus and hunger.
Reported public negligence
Following the recent outbreak, in addition to the imposition of curfew in high risk areas, the Ministry of Health decided to limit certain operations while halting certain others. One such operation that was due to halt services was night clubs.
However, on Thursday (15), a fine of Rs 1,500 was imposed by Colombo Fort Magistrate on four women and three men for entering a club without following the health regulations, and failing to understand that they could be potential carriers of the virus to the unsuspecting public. One other incident of risking the health of children was reported in Jaffna.
A couple of tuition classes that were in operation even after the Ministry of Health instructed tuition classes to halt such services were closed by the relevant authorities.
Further, DIG Ajith Rohana stated that although Pharmacies and certain other essential services in the areas in which curfew was imposed were allowed to operate, the decision was revised after it was noticed that the public conducted themselves in a manner that would be of a risk to the country as a whole. The operation of Pharmacies and other essential services has however, continued in the areas in which curfew has been imposed, hopefully with lesser negligence.
Additionally, the total number of individuals arrested for curfew violations during the period in which curfew were imposed was 142 with over 137 vehicles taken to custody by Thursday (15).
Public transport was instructed to operate under stringent restrictions. In strict adherence to the health guidelines, service providers were being ordered to carry below 50 per cent capacity. Even though, it is evident that most buses operate with above 50 per cent while certain buses also operate with full capacity in blatant contradiction to the rules of social distancing.
Although wearing masks has been made mandatory, with the spread of the virus, and though most adhere to these guidelines, some individuals who wear face masks don’t realise the purpose of wearing it. Which for medical purposes is to avoid the spread of particles or the transmission of saliva sprayed through coughing and sneezing by individuals, nevertheless, several of those in public areas tend to have their masks either hanging revealing nose and mouth, or dangling from their ears below their chins.
The whole purpose of wearing a mask is defeated by such practices and is not merely a risk to themselves but also every other that they come in contact with. A facemask should rightly be worn so that it covers the nose, mouth and chin to avoid transmission.
Further, Bellana stated that the use of substandard masks will not aid in preventing the spread of the Virus by 100 per cent and that the ideal and recommended use of K95 and N95 masks should be encouraged in order for effective reduction in the spread of the virus.
Evading PCR tests
There has been a fear instilled in the public of the ‘painful’ process of carrying out PCR tests that is essential for the detection of the virus, this has resulted in many evading PCR tests delaying the whole procedure of detecting patients and in turn the tracing process.
Bellana said people need to overcome the fear of the militarised outlook and manner in which PCR tests have been promoted in the Media and dutifully carryout PCR tests without attempting to dodge it, considering the risk that it could be to the rest of the public.
Not every person who contracts COVID-19 display symptoms, certain individuals remain asymptomatic and several individuals who were tested positive in Sri Lanka following the recent outbreak were by those who voluntarily got themselves tested, this makes it evident that ones who are subject to the risk of contracting the virus should definitely be subjected to a PCR test.
Following the first COVID-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka, an individual who had tested positive and was receiving treatment at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) fled the Hospital. Army personnel had to be sent in a search mission and those who were suspected to have been in contact with the said individual had to be quarantined too meanwhile, another individual who was a suspected COVID-19 positive patient had also fled the Anuradhapura Teaching Hospital and was apprehended by the Police.
One immediate repercussion of a either a COVID-19 suspect or a COVID-19 patient fleeing a hospital where they are being treated is the risk that it imposes on the public and the difficulty that it imposes on the relevant authorities.
One main aspect of public negligence in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak is the spread of false information without any clarification, instilling fear in the minds of all. Social media could be seen as an evident platform in which such misinformation has been circulated.
An awareness project titled ‘Confidence Project’ found out that a staggering number of 240 million digital and social media messages exchanged on COVID-19 by mid March 2020 were false and misleading.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its website published several false information and myths that has been formulated and posted clarifications for all such false information.
The Defence Ministry formerly in a statement issued stated that the Ministry has become tougher on rumour mongers and that Intelligence officers have been put on full alert to nab rumour mongers while adding that the public has to come forward to act responsibly and ensure that they do not inflict an artificial fear among the public.
Health guidelines gazetted
Even though the health guidelines established for minimising the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka that were in place were followed, prior to the recent outbreak, it is evident that the guard had been dropped and carelessness had crept in. Failure to follow such guidelines led to the recent cluster, the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services, Pavithra Wanniarachchi signed a special gazette by which relevant authorities are authorised to take actions against those who violate health regulations.
This has converted the less stringent health practices to legal health guidelines which would result in holding individuals responsible for their negligence. Accordingly, those who violate the gazetted health safety measures would, upon been convicted, be imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 and/or a term of six months imprisonment.
The Gazette also imposes responsibilities on companies and individuals. The responsibility imposed on businesses and workplaces is that while specific entries have to be maintained within the entity, individuals should ensure that they wear a facemask when entering the work places and must have it on at all times with the temperature of all entering the premises being checked.
It is therefore imperative that the gravity of this pandemic be fully understood by the public. Given the staggering number of deaths reported worldwide with increasing number of daily cases. Stringent health guidelines should be effectively followed by the public in order to minimise the spread of the virus. Instead of imposing full responsibility on the Government and the relevant authorities, as it would only slow down the process of completely eradicating this deadly virus.