Back to Work | Daily News

Back to Work

It was back to work yesterday as the Government announced the reopening of all State institutions with the full complement of staff after a three month hiatus following the second wave of the Coronavirus that originated from a cluster of factory workers in Minuwangoda and made worse by another cluster from among fish vendors at the Peliyagoda complex.

According to reports, the turnout in most Government offices was satisfactory where the health guidelines were strictly enforced and premises that were in semi-shutdown for over three months subject to fumigation and other health precautions.

Schools too (barring the Western Province and areas under lockdown) were re-opened yesterday with parents enthusiastically shepherding their young ones to schools where attendance was said to be satisfactory. Cinemas were reopened on January 1 under the instructions of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

This is as it should be. The country cannot be in a perennial siege cowed down by an unseen virus and suffer the consequences especially to the economy and those sectors that form the driving force of the economy. As Secretary to Ministry of Education Prof. Kapila Perera stated the harm caused to the education of children has to be viewed against the danger posed by the pandemic and a choice made. This has to be the thinking behind other realms of activity as well, since, as already declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 had come to stay and it will be some time before the virus will release its stranglehold.

One fails to understand the fierce opposition mounted against the efforts to get down tourists to the country by political elements and their fellow travellers including certain sections of the media. Is the country going to wait for another three years until the world has seen the back of the pandemic before we open the doors to tourists? Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said the Government has only shut the door to British travellers considering the dire COVID-19 situation there and that the Ministry was strictly acting on the advice of the health authorities in this regard.

Hence no danger will be posed by getting down tourists from other countries. The Minister must be concerned not just about the damage to the economy as a result of totally shutting the door to tourists but also the plight of tens of thousands who have lost their employment, both direct and indirect, as a result of the paralysis in tourism. Ditto for other sectors and businesses which are finding it hard to survive and forced to slash the staff strength.

Therefore the Government has to think of the long term consequences of having to permanently surrender to the pandemic. This is why it has decided to go for the hard option and start dismantling the barriers, coming to terms with the fact that the pandemic has come to stay and it is going to be business as usual.

Even then it will be a while before the country will be able to raise its head completely from the devastating blow dealt by the virus. The major economies of the world too are in the dumps and its effect too is bound to be felt here particularly in the area of exports. In this respect the prudent move made at the very outset, even before the arrival of the pandemic, by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to encourage a local food production drive and thereby reduce the country’s reliance on imports and the outflow of forex should be appreciated by all. Positive results of this step are already manifesting with the Rupee showing stability following the drastic decrease of imports. If we continued this policy from the days of Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike the country would certainly have been self-sufficient in food obviating the need for imports. However, the people, in typical Lankan fashion, were impatient wanting quick solutions, not prepared to settle for scarcities and shortages which such a policy of import substitution engendered, and forced her out of office. Hopefully, President Rajapaksa would continue with the policy of a home grown economy and take it to its logical conclusion, making this country stand on its own feet where its food requirements are concerned. Obviously, we cannot stop all imports in this trade-driven, globalised world, so we have to strike a balance.

The resumption of ‘business’ should in no way make Sri Lankans complacent and impervious to the danger in our midst. Already 18 Parliamentarians have been sent to quarantine after three colleagues tested positive. True, the vaccine is on its way but all precautions should be taken and health guidelines followed to the letter. It needs only one careless individual to create havoc as the country experienced with the outbreak of the second wave in October last year. Workplace and offices where hundreds of workers are engaged are particularly vulnerable and employers are called upon to enforce the distance rule very firmly. We should not let our guard down even for a moment.