By Rajpal Abeynayake
The country in the last week has been pushed surreally almost into a dark place, a chamber of foreboding with the people grappling with Covid lockdowns, apocalyptic pronouncements of a burning ship spewing toxins, and with elements contributing too — with floods, and landslides causing people’s worst fears to bubble over in the process.
The worst of people’s fears of course, are always imagined. But what is not helping at all is the vast agglomeration of pundits coming on air and in the media in general and driving fear and foreboding into the minds of people. It is the last thing ordinary folk need.
It would seem that the current policy on travel restrictions too would not have a long shelf life. In the UK for instance, all travel restrictions and almost all of the social restrictions, such as masking and social distancing are to be terminated on June 21.
Then came the so-called beta variant which the authorities there now say is much more dangerous than the previous so-called Kent strain which wreaked havoc putting the entire health system under tremendous strain and causing untold suffering, and death in its wake. The immediate upshot from the recent discovery of the virulence of the new variant is that the plans for “reopening” England are now likely to be shelved.
There are signs that the variants so-called are not quite covered by the vaccines and that in some countries such as the Seychelles, there are more cases being discovered each day among the already vaccinated. Then there is the problem of the second dose, which has not been given to a good number of citizens both in the UK and elsewhere.
This being the situation and there being no realistic prospect of closing down the system each time a variant is discovered, many countries are forced to reconsider their policies on Covid related restrictions.
“Now, we always expected cases to rise as the country was opened up, the critical thing is the impact on the number of people who end up in hospital for any given number of cases. That link has been broken by the vaccine, but it hasn’t been completely severed yet. That’s one of the things that we’re watching very carefully, and it’s too early to say what the decision will be ahead of June 21, but we’ll make sure people know in good time.”
That is a direct quote from Matt Hancock, the British Health Minister, who as can be seen is not sure how the new hospitalization numbers would impact on the entire Covid prevention effort. He is not all that sanguine about the vaccine’s prospects either, saying that the link (between the number of the infected and those that end up in hospital) has not been “complete severed.” Translation: Nobody is quite sure how this thing is going to pan out.
The rationale about locking down would eventually have to be reconsidered in England, and elsewhere. This means economies would come bouncing back, proving once more that the worst of people’s fears were imagined. But none of that has stopped the regular yarn spinners and peddlers of doom and gloom from spewing their stories of disaster.
Off the grid
They have taken to the airwaves, and are advocating for hermetically sealed lives in a Howard Hughes type of germaphobic isolation.
This type of living off the grid is not needed and will not be necessary especially with the vaccines being rolled out. The argument is that they are slow in coming – that second doses of jabs are not forthcoming here in Sri Lanka due to a lack of supply. The same fear prevails in certain parts of the UK too, but though that may prevent a full opening up of public spaces, it is certain that the country will not go back to the earlier pattern of full lockdowns.
The fear mongering excess due to the Covid was nothing compared to the horror show that was unleashed about the X-Press Pearl that no doubt visited an unforeseen calamity on the country at a time the people are battling the repercussions of the pandemic.
That does not mean that individuals should take the licence to utter any concocted horror story they want, but that is exactly what they started doing. Fortunately, nobody listens to past sell-by date politicians such as Vijitha Herath who had the temerity to say that the aanduwa — the Government — had allowed the ship in our waters. It was the administration involved in admiralty work that allowed the ship entry, but it’s convenient at this time for various storytellers to conflate this staff with the ‘Government’. He then uttered some absolute garbage about quantities of mercury being part of the ship’s lost cargo, because there were women’s cosmetics on board. There is no need to dignify such bilge with any kind of retort.
The general trend however, was that there were ‘experts’ predicting apocalypse, all based on conjecture. This is a terrible event no doubt for fishermen, and for marine life. Which marine disaster is not?
But for those who were predicting dire consequences for “three four generations” and saying the ship was probably intentionally set on fire, it does not matter what type of ‘expert’ they fancy themselves to be, they don’t get any marks for getting ahead of themselves. No predictions can be made until everything settles down, and there is clarity about which debris ends up where.
As for the Sri Lankans allowing this ship in their waters, it has to be considered that some 20 lives of crew members were saved as a result. There was a minor fire on board the ship when it had entered Lankan waters, and the presumption was that it could be doused.
Even if there was something more sinister than meets the eye, there cannot be anything definitive said about any such issue until there is a proper inquiry done into the damage sustained, and the circumstances in which the accident took place. Asha de Vos, of the Oceanswell Foundation who has better credentials than any of the other ‘experts’ opening their mouths, was far more circumspect than most, saying “perhaps we would eventually be able to clear away” the “nurdles” or the millions of plastic pellets, but we may not be able to do much about an oil slick, if it happens. But she wasn’t going to be goaded into saying it would happen.
She said she cannot comment on that aspect as she was not still aware. Compare that level-headedness with various other pundits calling themselves professors, etc., who had virtually decided that three generations were doomed and so on.
It was a calamity, and the fishermen are hit and marine life was endangered, but there was no need to exacerbate an already bad situation with wild conjecture before the dust settles as it were on the incident, when there can be a better perspective on the extent of the real damage done. As for academics who were saying the ship was probably set on fire, etc., it was ugly to see these people prostitute their so-called academic credentials to score a few points against the Government for reasons we can all guess, considering their political backgrounds.
Social media was awash with all these types of apocalyptic prognosticators — but even if such unconventional sources could not be monitored, conventional media certainly could be. There was something pathetic about TV stations offering a microphone to anyone who was willing to open their mouth. No pun intended, but we did not need this additional fuel on the fire.
If sober heads prevail, and a thorough clean up carried out as hinted at by De Vos, perhaps the fishermen would be back in business sooner rather than later. Anyone remember the Exxon Valdez spill in the ’90s that was disastrous to marine life, and caused as much as US$ 2.8 billion worth of economic damage? The slick covered 1,300 miles of coastline and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales. However, an inquiry revealed the cause of the accident which was that the captain of the vessel had got drunk and had an unqualified third officer steering the ship, which then hit a treacherous stretch of reef. Likewise, there aren’t sinister plots behind most bad stories. Let an inquiry be done, and let the dust settle, before doomsday is declared.