A healthy deterrent | Daily News

A healthy deterrent

The latest move by the authorities to take legal action against violators of the health guidelines in relation to the Coronavirus is a timely one indeed given the runaway nature which the pandemic has assumed in the country. The count from the Minuwangoda Brandix cluster is expanding alarmingly with each passing day, and the pandemic keeps on spreading even to remote corners of the country such as Mannar whose victims could not possibly have been in contact with the Brandix workers, although health authorities assert that there was no community spread of the virus as of now. 

According to Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, health guideline violators would be firmly dealt with under the law, with a gazette to be issued in the coming days whereby those failing to observe the restrictions would be sentenced to a prison term of six months and an imposition of a Rs.10,000 fine, particularly those ignoring the guidelines in areas where there is a high COVID-19 risk. 

But would this act as a deterrent? Already 120 persons have been taken into custody for defying the curfew in the 18 Police divisions under lockdown, with some 20 motorcycles and a three wheeler too being seized. Television showed how the parents of the children who sat for the Year Five scholarship exam mingled freely without face masks outside the examination centres, oblivious to the risk. Private buses continue to take passengers over and above the seating capacity. In typical Sri Lankan style, people still continue to take a laidback approach like they did after the first outbreak of the pandemic. 

The authorities say that the Brandix cluster has been totally neutralized, but cases appear to be cropping up from time to time in other parts of the country. Top Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera says that the original source that infected the female supervisor of the Minuwangoda garment factory is yet to be traced. 

Isn’t it wise then to throw the dragnet far and wide without getting bogged down in Minuwangoda where the cases keep on multiplying, to track down the original carrier, which admittedly will be a Herculean task with nothing short of a total lockdown making this even remotely possible?  

It is time the authorities took a firm decision in this respect. True, a total lockdown could bring in its wake drastic repercussions to the economy and community life as was our experience the last time around. But what other option is available if a wider spread of the pandemic is to be averted? From what is apparent even the near three month lockdown had failed to impart the desired effect with the people choosing to drop their collective guard. 

It was widely thought that we had turned the corner following the first wave of the pandemic which gave way to complacency. If only the health guidelines had been seriously followed we would not have been in this predicament today which is all the more reason to strictly enforce the restrictions this time around.  

At the time the authorities too were playing safe, not going overboard to claim overall victory over the pandemic knowing that there is still the unknown factor that could change the picture. It appears that their worst fears have come to pass. Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva who is heading the Special Task Force battling the Coronavirus has laid the onus on the public to salvage the situation.  

True, our people need constant reminding because they find it difficult to see a departure from entrenched routines, practices and set patterns of life that are taken for granted. Even offices and workplaces appear to have relaxed their safety procedures with the passage of time. The distance rule was observed in the breach. Hotels and eating houses too started serving meals indoors with customers sitting almost huddled. There can be no question of having meals in groups anymore at a single table as in the past. 

How will Parliament adapt without falling foul of the strict laws to be gazetted will be a mystery although Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena assured that sittings will be subjected to the health guidelines. Even a high-security establishment such as Parliament showed its vulnerability when one of its employees was found to have had contact with a carrier. The chief concern for the Government will be the economy in the wake of the apparent wave that is upon us at a time things were being turned around following the damage caused by the initial outbreak.  

Already President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has received the encomiums of world leaders for his successful handling of one of the biggest health emergencies the world has seen at any period of time. Sri Lanka has emerged from worse situations and crises and has forged ahead as a nation. This time too it is certain to wither the storm and come up trumps.