Living with the new strain | Daily News

Living with the new strain

The Government is in an unenviable position in having to decide if the country is to go under lockdown once again or it will be business as usual under new health regulations as the new UK variant of the Coronavirus spreads. The National Operation Centre on the Prevention of COVID -19 Outbreak was in discussion to decide on what course of action would have to be taken in view of the new development.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva sounded optimistic that they would not have to go for a lockdown as speculated over social media but would decide on all available options given the emergency situation. He said as a small country we could not afford to resort to actions that would cripple the economy or shut down workplaces and businesses without affecting all aspects of the economy. State Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle too ruled out a lockdown but stated that fresh movement restrictions would have to be imposed. Already 16 cases have been detected with the new variant of the virus and attempts are being made to locate their first contacts.

It is in this backdrop that the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) have warned of a rapid spread of the new variant and urged the authorities to impose partial or selective lockdowns in high-risk areas. The PHIs’ warnings cannot be taken lightly since they work at the grassroots level and know the ground situation. But the Government too cannot revert to lockdowns having already experienced its consequences in the form of a social and economic backlash. Hence the Catch 22 situation the Government is faced with. But it has got to decide one way or the other.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had made it clear that on no account will the country go back to shutdown mode after experiencing the downside of the closure of offices, businesses, commercial establishments and other livelihood providers. Besides, all measures are in place to reopen Western Province schools on March 15. Will the situation be conducive for such an exercise? Will the parents be willing to send their children to school with the rapid spread of the new Coronavirus variant as indicated by the PHIs? True, the vaccines are coming and the bulk of the first responders have already received the jab. The next most vulnerable groups are already being lined up for the vaccine. However fears of side effects are bound to keep a majority of the population eligible for the vaccine fearful of running any risk which means there will still remain a sizable segment as carriers of the virus.

This is all the more reason for laying extra emphasis on preventive measures such as movement limitations as proposed by Dr. Fernandopulle, if the country is to be spared a total lockdown. A decision has already taken to ban parties, celebratory events and social gatherings. According to the Army Commander they would also be imposing restrictions on the number of invitees for weddings and also those attending funerals. The blackout of all Valentine’s Day bashes over the weekend hopefully had paid dividends. It is also advisable to scale down all political gatherings keeping in mind that the onset of the second wave closely followed last year's election campaigns.

Most wisely the school authorities have decided to do away with the customary two day school cricket matches and instead limit this to a One Day tournament sans spectators. At the same time the authorities should also put a halt to official functions particularly giving thought to the fact that more and more Ministers and MPs appear to be contracting the Coronavirus. Parliamentarians should be showing the way by example to lesser minions on how to escape the danger instead of being victims themselves. The recent protest march held in the North is a classic example of how politicians will throw caution to the winds just to be in the limelight. The need for all precautions to be put in place cannot be overemphasized given the prevailing danger.

 

W. J. M. Lokubandara

The passing away of one time Cabinet Minister and former Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara removes from our midst a colourful politician who enlivened sittings in Parliament with his lyrical Sinhala prose and verse. An entertainer to the core, Lokubandara entertained whatever audience be it in Parliament, the political platform or any other forum with his prolific dexterity in the Mother Tongue that most of the time left the listeners in stitches. In a galaxy of English educated stars in the Jayewardene era UNP Cabinet, he took pride in calling himself a Helaya (Sinhalese) and demonstrated this in his mannerism, style of speech and also other actions. He shunned his English initials and called himself “Wijamu”. As Minister of Indigenous Medicine he promoted herbal porridge and other indigenous foods in Parliament. True to his village roots he lived a simple life, bore a humble countenance and took immense pride in his strong Sinhalese antecedents.