The public’s responsibility
On-going travel restrictions that were scheduled to be lifted at 4 a.m. tomorrow (14) were further extended until 21 June, Head of the National Centre for the Eradication of COVID-19, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva announced on Friday.
The restrictions that were first imposed on 21 May were supposed to last until 7 June, with a plan to relax restrictions on 25 May, 31 May and 4 June. However, taking into consideration the high number of positive cases reported daily, after 25 May, restrictions had been strictly imposed. And, they were further extended until 14 June.
On the days that restrictions were supposed relax, the public were allowed to travel outside based on the last digit of their NICs.
However, unfortunately, what is seen on many public roads is an entirely different picture. A large number of vehicles enter Colombo and other main cities around the country, on a daily basis. In order to prevent the collapse of already strained economy, the authorities allowed the functioning of essential services and businesses, with a limited number of staff in offices and the majority working from home, white restrictions on travel were on going.
Yet, a large number of travel restriction violators are arrested each day: Among them are drug peddlers, alcohol smugglers, and smugglers of other illegal goods. Then there are the party-goers. A group of teledrama actors and models were recently sent for mandatory quarantine, for throwing birthday party at a star-class hotel in Colombo. Another group of arrested a few days ago for attending a pool party.
While there is a dangerous, highly contagious, fatal virus is being circulated around the country, some irresponsible segments in the public, the party must go on. However, due to their irresponsible behaviour, a large percentage of the country will have to suffer. Included in them are the daily wage earners, who have been without many means of income during travel restriction period.
When the case numbers don’t go down, when the death toll keeps increasing, the authorities have no recourse but to extend travel restrictions.
Despite travel restrictions in place, daily case numbers seem to in the upper 2,000s, sometimes even surpassing 3,000. The daily number of deaths seems to steadily rise, with Friday recording an alarming 101 cases, crossing the century mark for the first time.
The public should keep in mind that the recovery rate is still less compared to the new cases daily recorded and act in accordance with health guidelines to keep the pandemic as manageable as possible.
As the health sector faces an uphill battle with the deadly Beta-strain of COVD-19 it is the responsibility of the public not make the task more daunting by acting haphazardly as soon as curbs are lifted. Also, the Alpha variant, which originated from the United Kingdom, had been detected in 80 samples the University of Sri Jayewardenepura had received for sequencing from several parts of Sri Lanka, so being extra cautious should be the norm.
There is no denial that these are desperate times with provisions at home are dwindling as days go by. Some may have vital medicines in short supply while some others might have important business to attend to, but at times like this, no matter how hard it can be, it is essential that we think about the health of the collective.
The days following the relaxing of restrictions will be a test if further curbs are needed. Any negligence in the public’s part would just set all of us back. The virus spreads easily in crowds and it is up to us not to cause a snowballing effect by running around town as soon as we get the chance to stretch our legs. Being cooped up certainly has us yearning for some freedom but that doesn’t mean we are entitled to a picnic as soon as the restrictions are lifted.
A good rule of thumb is to gauge one’s travels and avoid crowds as much as possible. Shop locally so that you can keep your contacts to a minimum. Staying at home is not the worst thing that can happen compared to a country entirely crippled by the coronavirus. In the meantime one should stick to transactions that can be done online to limit travel as much as possible.
However, it is important that the most vulnerable people in this pandemic are protected where programmes to deliver dry rations to isolated communities or low income families should be done without interruption.
We have once again come to a critical juncture where the outcomes will totally depend on the actions we take in the next couple of days. We the public can either act responsibly and save are communities from the ravaging virus, or act irresponsibly and drag this country to a state of decay.