Dear Sri Lanka,
Shani Asokan addresses the recent dramas unveiled in local politics
In the last few years, we’ve made international headlines more than a handful of times, and while that is wonderful for the pin-drop sized island that we are, more often than not, this global attention has been for something downright embarrassing. From reinforcing the ban on women purchasing liquor to calling for citizens to be whipped with stingray tails, the attention we’ve received has oftentimes been what a lot of us would consider ‘offbeat’ news. Now, I don’t have to tell you why this is less than ideal. While it is in many ways better than making the news for alleged human rights abuses or something of that nature, becoming the laughing stock of the world is not necessarily where we want to be either.
Recently, a certain member of the opposition added one more to the long list of headlines that we’d rather pretend did not exist by biting into a fish on live television. The alleged pescatarian, a former minister of fisheries, took it upon himself to bite into a full, uncooked, perhaps freshly caught fish in an effort to prove to the general public that eating fish is perfectly safe and will not give you COVID-19. The press conference came on the heels of the growing Peliyagoda fish market cluster that has contributed to a large spike in COVID cases in the country.
Now while this move might be one lauded by some as heroic or visionary - a local radio show host described the act as disgusting but necessary to reassure people that it is okay to buy and consume fish - I believe that there is a difference between teaching a man to eat fish and giving him a whole new disease to worry about. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is no evidence to say that COVID can be transmitted through food. It is a respiratory illness that is transmitted through person-to-person contact or direct contact with respiratory droplets generated by an infected party (perhaps from a cough or a sneeze).
Having a medical professional explain this to people in Sinhala, Tamil and English would not only lessen unnecessary panic, but also put people at ease about avoiding certain food items just because they are associated with a certain cluster. So, instead of teaching the man to eat fish, maybe teaching him how to be safe when purchasing the fish (mask, sanitizer, social distancing, and repeat) would be a much more effective way of going about things rather than resorting to Indian-soap level dramatics to prove a point.
Additionally, biting into a full fish the way he did is straight up unsafe. Eating improperly prepared raw fish can result in food poisoning like Salmonella. It’s safe to say that we don’t need another disease overwhelming our healthcare facilities in the midst of a pandemic. If you feel the need to binge on some raw fish after watching a video of this mildly graphic re-enactment of man before he found fire, I’d suggest sushi from a reputed restaurant. As much as I hope this goes without saying, the world is your oyster but not every fish is your sashimi.
Unfortunately for us Sri Lanka, this is not the first time amidst this second wave of the pandemic that a headline of this bizarre nature went viral. If you recall, just a few weeks ago, the health minister resorted to such dramatics when she claimed she would sacrifice herself to the sea if it meant an end to the pandemic. This had people wondering if her inspiration for the thought was Viharamahadevi, a brave princess in Sri Lankan history who was set out to sea as an offering, because as the story goes, impressed by her bravery, the sea returned the princess back to land safely.
Regardless, this proclamation came shortly after she was pictured throwing a pot of water into a river, a private traditional observance that should have, by all costs, been kept private. There’s nothing like seeing the head of healthcare turning to the gods at the height of a pandemic to set off a nation-wide panic. It’s almost like seeing panic on the face of an airhostess when the plane’s experiencing turbulence. You just know all is not well although it is arguable that this news story brought on hysterics of a whole other kind.
I think you will agree that while we may like the occasional drama or two to watch at night before dinner, we don’t want headlines like these to be the first things associated with us when we say, “oh, I’m from Sri Lanka.” We also don’t want to add to the collection of news articles that belong under our beds, with the real monsters that hide there. I don’t know about you Sri Lanka but I’d like to look at my newsfeed and not see a person of power resorting to dramatic bouts of ‘heroism’ in an effort to convince us there’s nothing to worry about. I’d like some good old-fashioned reassurance through facts, figures and social distancing.