A timely measure | Daily News

A timely measure

The Government’s decision to lift import duties on several essential items, thereby drastically reducing the prices of all such items, will be greatly welcomed by the public who had been dealt a double whammy, with the Coronavirus on the one hand and the spiralling Cost of Living (COL) on the other. 

Accordingly, prices of essential items such as dhal, canned fish, big onions and sugar will be brought down to affordable levels. The taxes were removed taking into consideration the rise in the COL amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, according to the President’s Media Division.  

Of course, there is bound to be the usual delay before the new prices come into effect given the usual ploy by traders who will claim they could not implement the new price scheme before disposing of their old stocks. This way, they could go on for any length of time even after the disposal of the old stocks with the public and the authorities none the wiser. Therefore immediate steps must be taken to nab rogue traders who may take this opportunity to fleece consumers. 

It is hoped that the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) headed by a retired Major General would come down hard on such elements bent on making a fast buck at the expense of the public.  

In the wake of the first outbreak of the virus, traders jacked up prices of essential items under various pretexts, the main one being short supplies compelling them to do so and also the lack of customers due to the lockdown. However these same price levels were continued even after the lockdown was lifted with the emergence of a relatively safe period.  

Hence, sharp vigilance should be maintained by the CAA to ensure that such an opportunity is not seized upon by unscrupulous traders to exploit the unsuspecting public, even though an assurance has been given that a lockdown will be a last option. 

A lockdown, in any event, will negate the benefits of any price reductions effected by the Government, as was observed the last time around, with delivery services under the guise of supplying Essential Services deciding on their own prices in an arbitrary fashion. 

A lockdown would also mean a paralysis in all commercial activity and workplaces with drastic salary cuts to employees, not to mention the daily wage earners. It must be remembered that the Government is effecting these price reductions at a huge economic cost at a time when it is taking measures to curb imports to prevent a forex outflow.  

The Government was just emerging from the damaging consequences of the first wave of the pandemic on the economy where it will need all the financial resources it could muster to see through the crisis. Hence, it is moot if it will be in a position to afford another round of mass scale financial assistance to the public. 

Be that as it may, the hunt for the extended Brandix cluster in different tiers and different parts of the country is on in earnest, with the detection of more and more cases among those in quarantine following the chance unraveling of the first patient among the employees some 10 days ago. However, worryingly, it has now come to light that there had been 33 suspected Coronavirus cases within the Brandix complex from as far back as September 10, weeks prior to the detection of the first case. 

We say “worryingly” because all this time the hunt was on for contact tracing based on what was thought to be the original detection. But, as claimed by Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, who is also the Head of the Covid-19 Prevention Task Force, the spread from the cluster could well have started long before October 3 when the first case was thought to have been found.  

The hunt for the multi-tiered contacts, no doubt, is going to be that much difficult although the authorities claim that they have almost fully accounted for the Brandix cluster, ruling out of a community spread of the pandemic. Equally worrying is the revelation made by Health Ministry Spokesman Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara that Coronavirus positive cases have been detected in 21 districts.  

Did these cases have their origins in the first Brandix employee detected or did these carriers get infected through one or more of the other 33 employees who must have been harbouring the virus for well over a month? Or was there a carrier outside the Brandix cluster as originally suspected who is still at large and moving about nonchalantly quite oblivious to grave danger he /she is posing to the community?  

Worrying also is the news that quarantine space is rapidly running out. The problem is exacerbated, since, unlike the first outbreak, where there were only small clusters to contend with what we have here is a giant cluster and runaway sub-clusters. Thus the earlier we trace all the contacts the better it is for the nation’s health.