By Malinda Seneviratne
The Coronavirus has changed the world. It has transformed lifestyles. It has forced a re-think on a wide range of activities and things we have taken for granted. It has also spawned epidemiologists to the tune of millions. Yes, tongue-in-cheek, but just look around you, talk to people, and you’ll be strained to find anyone who knows nothing about the virus. In fact, many would not feel constrained to wax eloquent on the origin, spread, remedy, and even extrapolate several months into the future.
Just the other day, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) issued a warning: ‘The most dangerous threat that Sri Lanka may face is the potential for an emergence new severe COVID virus strain by the end of 2021 that would bypass the immunity created by the current vaccination programme.’ Key word: ‘may’. It’s a prediction but a safe one thanks to this word; Cagey. It’s also easy. The world knows enough about strains and mutations, after all.
The GMOA is a trade union. It’s a doctors’ club, however. One assumes there are at least a few epidemiologists among the membership and hopes their views are regularly solicited. Still, it’s essentially a neither-here-nor-there kind of statement and as such is disappointing.
Then we have other unions issuing statements. We had Saman Rathnapriya, President of the Government Nursing Officers’ Association (GNOA) saying that curfew imposed in the night is not effective in restricting people’s movements. Now Rathnapriya is a politician. So he wears multiple hats. The problem is that these constitute special headgear. They are invisible. As for the claim, the strength of the logic depends on what is meant by the word ‘restricting’. Any restriction is better than no restriction, obviously. Also, travel restrictions are just one of many constraining mechanisms that could be employed. Is the GNOA implying an island wide 24 hour curfew or even a week or month long curfew? Interestingly, the union also said ‘Trade Unions of the Health sector would take to the street forcing the Government to impose island-wide lockdown!’ So, it amounts to violating all protocols in order to get stricter protocols implemented! Should we laugh or cry?
Then we have the Public Health Inspectors Union (PHIU) issuing ultimatum after ultimatum. The PHIU urged people to impose ‘self lockdown,’ a suggestion echoed by the leader of the JVP, Anura Kumara Dissanayake (we will get to that later). The PHIU has warned that the health system will collapse in two weeks (from August 7). The PHIs are doing some great work, let’s not forget. And yet, one has to ask why the PHIs didn’t even bother to identify every single person over the age of 60 in their respective areas of jurisdiction who had not yet been vaccinated. Had they done that, it would have been a great boost to the effort and arguably may have saved quite a few lives.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake claims it is absurd appealing to the Government to impose lockdown ‘as it was not heeding to the experts’ opinion,’ and therefore has requested people to go into self-lockdown for the sake of their own safety
Anura Kumara Dissanayake claims it is absurd appealing to the Government to impose lockdown ‘as it was not heeding to the experts’ opinion,’ and therefore has requested people to go into self-lockdown for the sake of their own safety.
Lock down. Now that’s an interesting word. It’s used liberally by one and all, government spokespersons and the opposition. Just the other day New Zealand, upon the discovery of a single infected person, imposed a ‘lockdown.’ New Zealand authorities, unlike the heroes above (and, of course government spokespersons), detailed the protocols. It’s a Level Four Restriction, they said. That’s the most serious and implies there are three other levels.
Here are the restrictions: People instructed to stay at home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement, safe recreational activity allowed in local area, travel is severely limited, all gatherings cancelled and all public venues closed, businesses closed except for essential services (e.g. supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics, petrol stations) and lifeline utilities, educational facilities closed, rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities possible, and reprioritization of healthcare services.
Level 1 is labeled ‘Prepare’ and Level 2, ‘Reduce.’ Level 3 goes like this: people instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement – including to go to work, school if they have to, or for local recreation; physical distancing of two metres outside home, or one metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces; people must stay within their immediate household bubble, but can expand this to reconnect with close family, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people; schools (years 1 to 10) and Early Childhood Education centres can safely open, but will have limited capacity — children should learn at home if possible; people must work from home unless that is not possible; businesses cannot offer services that involve close personal contact, unless it is a supermarket, primary produce retailer, pharmacy, petrol station or hardware store providing goods to trade customers, or it is an emergency or critical situation; other businesses can open premises, but cannot physically interact with customers; low risk local recreation activities are allowed; public venues are closed (e.g. libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets); gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga; physical distancing and public health measures must be maintained; healthcare services use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible; inter-regional travel is highly limited (e.g. for critical workers, with limited exemptions for others); people at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home.
Looks like Sri Lanka has been practicing Level 3 and 4 restrictions for the most part. Our heroes above, however, might think New Zealand is not taking the threat seriously, for they essentially equate ‘lockdown’ to ‘strict and prolonged curfew!’
Let’s see what the heroes have done, in particular Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Well, not just him and the JVP; two Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MPs, Eran Wickramaratne and Mujibur Rahman, stated that the party’s official position is to urge people to go for a ‘self-imposed lockdown.’
Eran may have heard the adage ‘physician heal thyself,’ and Dissanayake probably has heard the dictum ‘ova denu parahata thamaa sammathayehi pihitaa sita (take prescription before prescribing).’ So here are some questions for these worthies and the parties they represent.
How many demonstrations has the JVP organized, participated in or supported since April 2021? None, just one (or two), ten, 20, 100? Could it be 230? And how about the SJB — none, just one (or two), ten, 20, 100? Could it be 185? Were Covid-19 protocols adhered to? Now don’t say ‘but there are instances where they are violated during government events,’ because, in your book the Government has ‘failed’ and you want the nation to believe you are politically, morally and intellectually sanitized, right?
Of course it would be presumptuous to say that this or that time is suitable/unsuitable for demonstrations, pandemics notwithstanding. However, these are the grandmasters of grandstanding, they are mounted on moral high horses, claim moral high ground and over and above all that strut around as though they are the world’s best epidemiologists! Shouldn’t we wonder if these demonstrations were in fact super-spreading exercises that would buttress the ‘lockdown’ call? Or should we say it’s unadulterated humbuggery on the part of Messers Dissanayake, Wickramaratne, Rahman, Rathnapriya and others?
Superspreader. That’s a word whose currency was inflated by the pandemic. It is a generic term for an unusually contagious individual who’s been infected with disease. Well, it seems we have millions of epidemiologists in Sri Lanka and several dozens of superspreaders. Superspreaders or peddlers of misinformation, deception and anti-intellectualism, one wonders. And we should ask ourselves, again: should we laugh or cry?