Revisiting bad habits | Daily News

Revisiting bad habits

It is party time again, according to two of our most senior medical professionals who worked round the clock to see through the most difficult phases of the Coronavirus pandemic in this country. According to Deputy Director of Health Dr. Hemantha Herath, the people have started behaving as if the pandemic never existed and go about their business with gay abandon. He warned that if the people continue with this trend, there is no escaping a fresh round of the pandemic revisiting us before long.

Colombo Municipal Council Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni too painted a bleak picture after touring Colombo to make an assessment. He said the people in Colombo are behaving in a very irresponsible manner, thus inviting another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I went around some areas in Colombo and observed that the people were behaving in a very irresponsible manner. This was most evident in Fort and Pettah areas. There were scores of people in the main streets there. Many of them were without face masks and without even maintaining social distance. Shops were packed with people. Natamis (porters) were without face masks. Another wave of COVID-19 might hit the city, if they behave in this manner”.

The fact that the Colombo City accounts for 25,823 reported cases and 1,030 deaths of the 13,000 plus COVID fatalities so far in the country, makes it the most vulnerable for a repeat attack if the health protocols on safety are repeatedly ignored. Also to be factored in is that most of the youth population in Colombo has not presented themselves for the vaccine for various reasons. This, allied with the fact that Colombo City has a floating population of over one million on any given day makes it a focal point as a superspreader once the country fully opens up.

Colombo City is also doubly risky considering the large number of hotels, kiosks and eateries, lying almost cheek by jowl, that chiefly cater to the working class population such as the Natamis, who as noted by Dr. Wijayamuni, have blissfully ignored health guidelines. These hotels and eateries which are far from ideal hygienic states will also now tend to cater to additional customers beyond the permitted limits, which would be an invitation for the spread of the virus big time, bringing to naught all the labour and good work of the medical workers whilst undermining the vaccination programme.

One can also observe that private bus operators, after initially falling in line with the guidelines to ferry passengers only according to seating capacity, have now reverted to the bad old habit of overloading with little or nothing heard of any police action in this respect. Of course, the big risk is yet to come, that of the operation of office trains that has been postponed for a while. One saw how passengers were virtually spilling out of compartments and travelling on footboards of the trains when the lockdown was lifted the last time.

That respite was only short lived with the full closure of the country resorted to only a couple of days later by the authorities after getting their fingers burnt. There is little doubt that the massive concourse of train commuters who descended on the City in their droves led to the fresh outbreak of the virus. A reason for this is that a majority of these commuters were employees of Government offices which are notorious for over-staffing that also caused a massive stampede at these offices, contributing in no small measure to spread the virus.

At least this time around the authorities should not make the same mistake of having full complements of the employees summoned to Government offices until such time the green light is given that the pandemic is behind us and the country is risk free. Ditto for private sector establishments.

Be that as it may, every precaution should be taken to make Colombo City free from the risk of another massive spread of the virus. Being the commercial hub, it could easily fall prey to the virus due to the size of its population and heightened commercial activity compared to most other major cities. Besides, having as it does a large working class population who are semi-literate there is bound to be a tendency for dismissiveness in the observance of the health restrictions on their part. The drastic drop in the number of COVID-19 patients and reported deaths, as per the daily count, may also lull people into a false sense of safety and induce lethargy in some in the adherence to health protocols.

Hence the need for constant surveillance cannot be overemphasized. More field trips should be made by CMC officials emulating Dr. Wijayamuni to ensure that all is well within Colombo City. Measures should also be stepped up to persuade the young population in the City to obtain the jab. In most developed countries, the Vaccination Card (Paper or Digital) has been made mandatory for entering pubs, cafes, spas and other entertainment spots where youth gather. Perhaps such a strategy could work here as well.

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