Onus on public cooperation | Daily News

Onus on public cooperation

Even amidst a devastating pandemic, the wheels of the economy have to keep turning. Balancing economic imperatives and public health has become a major concern for countries around the world fighting the global COVID-19 contagion. Both are equally important and you cannot have one without the other. After all, a healthy nation is a sine quo non for economic development. And economic progress will enable the citizens to have fuller, healthier lives.

It is with this aim in mind that the Government has decided on its current options. Some critics say that the Government should have imposed a blanket curfew in the whole island, but we all know the immense economic cost of keeping the entire country virtually locked down for 3-4 months, which we experienced in March this year. Even though cases have been reported in all 25 districts, it is in the Western Province that the virus is spreading very rapidly, as both Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters originated in the province.

Thus the Government has been compelled to impose a curfew in the entire Western Province until November 9, a measure that it would have taken only after much deliberation as the province is literally the lifeblood of the island’s economy. Needless to say, this is highly damaging economically, but here the Government has carefully weighed the options and decided that keeping the province completely open could have led to a greater outbreak that is even more damaging to the province’s and by extension, the island’s economy. The Government has also declared curfews in a few other outstation areas to contain the contagion, while a few villages have been isolated. In consultation with health and security officials, the Government has devised strategies to contain the disease in the other areas, which remain open, though inter-district travel has been severely restricted.

But this effort to minimise the disruption caused to pubic life will come to naught if the public does not cooperate with the authorities to prevent a bigger spread of the disease. It has now been revealed following extensive research by a team at the Sri Jayawardhanapura University that the prevalent strain of the Coronavirus is a more virulent version that can spread very rapidly. Hence, it is extremely important for the public to follow health authorities’ guidelines to the letter – they must wear masks, wash hands frequently, maintain social distancing at all possible times and stay in their homes as much as possible.

But judging by news reports, many people have behaved in an irresponsible manner, recklessly putting their and others’ lives at risk. Some residents of Western Province “escaped” to other provinces before the curfew was imposed, thereby endangering the health of residents of those provinces. To add insult to injury, some of them even bragged about this “feat” in their social media posts. Many have been caught violating the curfew, going around for no apparent reason. Some have even been caught without the compulsory masks, regardless of knowing that a virulent virus and a Rs. 10,000 fine await them. Police must take stern action against these offenders sans any mercy.

The media must also play an even more pro-active role in conveying the danger posed by the new strain of the Coronavirus to the public, lest they forget. The media must constantly remind the public of the health and safety precautions which have been stipulated by health authorities. They must also focus on the bigger picture – the worldwide scenario, where around 47 million people have contacted the virus, out of which 1.2 million have died. Many countries have a higher death toll than the total number of cases in Sri Lanka.

It must also be highlighted that even the advanced economies of the West have no option other than to impose curfews and lockdowns in the face of this unseen enemy. There is a race on to develop a vaccine and possibly a cure, but until then, the entire global population will have to face some stark choices and crippling difficulties. That may take a couple of years – manufacturing a minimum of seven billion doses of a viable vaccine is no easy task, even with World Health Organisation (WHO) involvement.

This means that we have to get used to the “New Normal” of wearing masks, sanitizing hands and keeping at least a one metre distance from the next person. It is a universal civic responsibility. It might be a while before we can revert to our former lifestyles, but some health guidelines such as washing hands frequently should become habits for life, even if the virus fades away. Governments around the world, ours included, are doing their best to contain the pandemic, but they cannot succeed without our help, our cooperation. If each of us is determined to do just that, the authorities will have a fighting chance of defeating this global scourge.