Get ready for re-opening | Daily News

Get ready for re-opening

Crowded buses and trains should be a strict no-no after the re-opening
Crowded buses and trains should be a strict no-no after the re-opening

The country is still under lockdown and the vaccination drive is extremely successful in Sri Lanka with a world record for the fastest vaccination programme. Some countries in the world have not received even a single dose of vaccine against COVID-19 so far. But here in Sri Lanka all eligible people will be completely vaccinated within the next few weeks. But the most important factor that needs to be focused on by all is walking back to New Normalcy and it is not the Normalcy we experienced before March 15 last year.   

Deputy Director General, Health Services Dr. Hemantha Herath has already stressed the importance of getting prepared for the re-opening of the country. He stressed this fact last week when addressing the media. All, especially service providers, employers, State Ministries, all State and private institutions, etc. need to pay a lot of attention towards this topic because not paying adequate attention will push Sri Lanka to the same situation which the US and some other countries are facing now.

The US is facing the fatal effects of COVID-19 even after vaccinating people on a large scale covering a significant percentage of the population. The fully vaccinated percentage of the population of the US is nearly 55 percent (over 175 million people). But now the total daily number of COVID-19 infections has increased again, passing 150,000 and the number of daily deaths too has increased again, passing the 1,500 mark with the arrival of new variants (such as Delta) of COVID-19.  

We, Sri Lankans do not need to walk back to a grave situation once the vaccination drive is completed and COVID-19 is controlled successfully. It is the responsibility of all of us to keep COVID-19 under control. That is why health authorities requested all private and State services and institutions to prepare now for the future without waiting and doing nothing.

Health authorities have very clearly stated and also released in print all operational instructions. What is left now is preparing to implement those instructions with the gradual re-opening of the country in the coming weeks. Waiting now doing nothing until the country re-opens will only increase the cases and deaths suddenly. 

Dr. Herath very clearly pointed out that public transport cannot be operated with fully packed passenger buses and trains once the country re-opens. In order to offer seats, proper ventilation and especially space, the transport authorities need to plan without wasting any more time. We do not need more and more buses and trains. What we need is a proper plan and making sure that the plan is being implemented accordingly without giving in to the demands of individuals and organisations that run those services. The cancellation of trains and buses should not be done on any grounds. Profit-oriented minds should be changed.    

The transport authorities can make a formal request from the Government to issue instructions to all State and private institutions to change current working shifts of workers and offer them shorter and more flexible working hours from 6.00 am to 10.00 pm. There are 16 hours. There can be many short shifts of four or five hours. This step can ease the congestion in small office rooms and departments while providing space inside public transport services. Having to wear the mask for longer hours will also be reduced by this system. 

All health practices such as washing hands should be maintained after the re-opening  

Flexible working hours can ease the congestion inside small office rooms and departments. The employees can very easily maintain the distance among them and use public areas such as washrooms and toilets safely because there will be fewer employees inside the building at any given time. This will also reduce all the other usual problems such as conflicts and conspiracies inside institutions. Tables and chairs can even be arranged outside the buildings in order to provide facilities to have meals. The employees need to take off their masks to eat and drink. The safest place to take the mask off for a short time is the open environment outside buildings.

 The other most important factor is ensuring the proper ventilation inside institutions. According to the operational guidelines issued by the health authorities in print a long time ago, all doors, windows, etc. should be kept open where people sit together and work. Such places should not be air conditioned and tightly closed. In addition, surfaces such as tables, telephones, door knobs, hand rests, keyboards, etc., which are touched by employees often should be cleaned with a disinfectant containing 75 percent alcohol. The heads of departments should make sure that all employees wear masks and face shields properly.

 But the pathetic situation is that most of the State and private institutions are still ignoring those operational instructions even after over 200 COVID-19 deaths are reported daily in Sri Lanka. Many institutions follow some of those instructions while ignoring the most important instructions such as ensuring proper ventilation. If water is available, there is no soap to wash hands and if soap is available there is no water. The useless and dangerous disinfectant chambers have gone by now.

 According to the Consultants and almost all health experts, COVID-19 will remain in the world for a long time, may be for several years and the people have to live with it no matter whether we like it or not. The other important fact is there is no way of preventing dangerous variants of COVID-19 which do not respond to vaccines entering all countries. The only option is living under the new normalcy. Anything is hard at the beginning but with time everything becomes usual and easy. It is same with health guidelines introduced to prevent COVID-19. But ignoring them will never make them usual and comfortable. 

The rapid vaccination drive will help re-open the country faster  

COVID-19 will make the people sick until people learn to live with it. But it seems some people never learn this lesson. It is the people who always try to point the finger at others. COVID-19 does not enter into someone’s body by force. The person lets the virus enter into his or her body by not following health guidelines and not being mindful. 

People do not follow them because of three main myths. They think that “they are my relations so I do not need to follow health guidelines,” “they are my friends so I do not need to follow health guidelines” and “they are my colleagues so I do not need to follow health guidelines.” But all relations, friends and colleagues can have the COVID-19 virus inside them without any visible symptoms because most of the people are asymptomatic. There is also a possibility that even a very recent PCR Test report or a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) report can give a false ‘negative’ result. Therefore no one knows whether he or she is positive or negative at any given time. This is the reality.   

 Speaking up is another essential act to protect oneself from COVID-19. If there is a person sitting close to you without a mask or without wearing his or her mask properly covering both the nose and the mouth, then you have to speak up because he or she can be the reason for the death of your aged mother or father or child at home. Since the Government and the health authorities have made it compulsory to wear masks in public, all can speak up freely. Only your home is private. Once you walk out from the gate you enter into public area. 

Offices are also not someone’s private property. Employees may say since they have taken both vaccines on time and since they do not have any sickness, they can ignore health guidelines. But all Consultants and all health experts have very clearly stated that vaccines do not stop the spread of COVID-19 and it only protects you from ICU admission and possibly death. Therefore vaccination is not a license to not wear masks or wear them below the nose and infect others with deadly COVID-19. 

The survival of the fittest is what now we witness everywhere in the world. Only those who are determined not to get infected with COVID-19 will survive while all the others will get infected. Weak people who are aged, sick with other diseases or who had undergone operations can easily get the disease. The best part is that if someone wants to protect himself or herself, COVID-19 has given that golden chance to him or her. Those who do not want to do it can get infected and sometimes die. Therefore we cannot say COVID-19 is biased or inhuman.

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