Covid-19 and social responsibility | Sunday Observer

Covid-19 and social responsibility

15 November, 2020

Social responsibilities are ethical principles where citizens are accountable for executing civic duties for the benefit of society as a whole. The pertinent question is whether Sri Lankans, as a society fulfilled social responsibilities after the first wave of Covid-19 was almost neutralised, in July this year. Despite constant warnings from the medical fraternity, the majority of the public behaved as if the whole threat had been eliminated and people are free to act as they wish. This was the same scenario that existed in the USA and Europe where masses grossly neglected medical warnings that paved the way to a more aggravated re-emergence.

In line with the traditional Sri Lankan behaviour, as soon as the news broke out, the natural reaction of the people was to blame the Government, forgetting their own attitude. They did not recall that most of them had forgotten to wear face masks, ignored social distancing, and overlooked hand washing during the past several months.

Scathing attacks

Adding fuel to flame, the Opposition politicians together with anti-government elements started to mount scathing attacks on the Government. They exploited the situation for cheap political advantage. Opposition politicians, as usual, accused the Government of not taking appropriate steps to curtail the issue. They typically ignore the chaos that prevailed during their rule where the entire governing machinery was plunged into deep inefficiency. They do not seem to act as a responsible Opposition and attempt to disrupt any welfare measures taken by the Government.

Their claims are ambiguous and double standard. In one media briefing the Opposition members blame the Government for not imposing an immediate curfew in Gampaha and in the next, the same members state that the public is inconvenienced by the curfew in the Western Province. Fortunately, the majority of the citizenry discard these criticisms. However, some of these hideous claims of the Opposition can be damaging to society due to the freely available social media.

Strict security measures

In the first instance, from early March to July this year, even with the possibility of likely damage to the general elections, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa initiated stringent action. His initiatives were two prong: strict security measures on curfew restrictions and constructive action on public welfare. Both efforts succeeded and the number of infected people came to near zero by the end of July. Hospitalised patients dropped by over 96 per cent then.

However, due to the sloppy and impudent acts by a section of the society, probably the business ventures, the deadly virus re-emerged at the beginning of October creating the Minuwangoda-Peliyagoda clusters that has produced over 8,000 patients as of now. In an unexpected development, these dreadful clusters were identified by October 20, plunging the number of infected to unprecedented heights. The percentage of hospitalised patients that stood at 96 per cent until the end of September has crumbled down by half to around 48 per cent within a few days.

The Government may have had lapses, no doubt. Their focus that prevailed in the first episode may have plummeted. However, the more important factor responsible for the spike is that the public relaxed their guard.

The majority of them completely ignored the threat and acted casually as if Covid-19 does not affect them. Weddings, private parties, public events, and many other social gatherings started appearing. The restaurants and hotels began to operate as normal. An official from a luxury hotel interviewed by this writer and who wished to remain anonymous said that almost all the guests who participated totally ignored the health guidelines.

Europe and the USA

The public as in Europe and the USA, paid no attention to the much-publicised and lengthily discussed ‘new normalcy’. Before the re-emergence of the virus, the workers in small hotels, roadside vendors, those running fish stalls and other retail stores have not been wearing masks properly nor did they maintain social distance as recommended by the health authorities.

Even the usually active Sri Lankan media has taken a step back and news on the pandemic became their second or third priority. Nonetheless, all media institutions are back on track, providing a tremendous service, sharing information. Also, well deserved praise must be given to the supermarket chain, hospitals, and large scale consumer durable vendors for adhering to the guidelines continuously.

The Government, like in many other countries, is walking a tightrope making various attempts to balance the country’s health solutions and economic impact. Apart from the rapidly dipping economic growth that would be 1.7 per cent in 2021 as per the Central Bank predictions, the Government has to focus on the staggering health expenditure and relief packages offered to those affected. Also, it has to be conscious of the hindrance to personal freedom due to the social restrictions that could lead to unpopularity.

The Government was compelled to introduce a gazette notification empowering the judiciary and the law enforcement to penalise those who violate health guidelines. Instead of allowing the law to take over single-handedly, this is the time to educate and persuade society to take personal responsibility. The ‘self-leadership’ or managing one’s own self, as taught in leadership studies, must be adopted by them.

Most of the large-scale organisations, particularly multi-nationals in Sri Lanka are encouraging employees to work from home. This act enormously helps to control the spread. The Government, in a recent initiative directed the officials in the lockdown areas to work from home unless their physical presence is essential.

Although the private sector employees transformed themselves to the new practice swiftly, preparing the Government servants can be a tough task. Those who work from home must be provided with clear guidelines to extract proper productivity. If the ‘work from home’ concept can be continued, the expenditure in the workplaces can be reduced substantially.

Credit should be given to private sector organisations that have already commenced their corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects by distributing dry rations to the needy, together with media institutions. This move is helpful to reduce the prevailing mental stress of the needy. More organisations are expected to take the cue and join social welfare programs.

Intrusive measures

The Government is compelled to take intrusive measures or impose lengthy lockdowns when society ignores repeated requests issued by the health authorities. The same community that blatantly disregards the advisories blames the stringent decisions when imposed. Society must persistently be reminded that following health precautions is their civic duty. These reminders can be in the form of warnings or heavy fines. The people previously demonstrated that they can be influenced more by imposing punitive actions rather than making polite requests.

At a discussion with the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 Prevention, President Rajapaksa took several concrete steps to minimise the disruption of public life and the economy. The President reiterated that the public must be made aware of their own responsibilities towards society. Both local health authorities and the World Health Organisation request the people around the world including Sri Lanka to take several simple precautions: restrict travelling, wear masks, keep physical distance, and wash hands. Any human being can accede to these four easy requests.