A new beginning | Sunday Observer

A new beginning

11 April, 2021

Around 12 months ago, the entire country – and the world – was in lockdown. One of the biggest casualties of this strict lockdown was the biggest national festival of Sri Lanka – the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. It was strange, almost eerie, to herald Avurudu in without the traditional firecrackers, Raban sounds and festivities. Avurudu this time last year was a strictly family affair, sans relatives and friends. Yes, the entire nation did celebrate Avurudu, but at household level, not as a national ceremony per se.

This time, things look much more promising. The pandemic is still raging around the world, but Sri Lanka has managed it remarkably well even after a second wave back in October last year that saw an exponential increase in the number of cases and even deaths.

The credit for this success (Sri Lanka was placed 10th in a list of countries that had managed the pandemic best by the prestigious Lowy Institute of Australia) should go to the political leadership, the healthcare sector and the Security Forces/Police, who collectively devised effective strategies to contain the contagion.

Thus Sri Lankans have earned the freedom to celebrate the Sinhala and Tamil New Year this time around, albeit under the “New Normal”.

This means that we cannot still go back to 2019-level of celebrations of any national festival, unless the virus completely dissipates, which might not happen this year. Thus the freedom that we have gained through the hard work of our healthcare and defence sectors must be enjoyed with responsibility and prudence.

First, we must make sure that we follow all the Covid-19 related health guidelines at all times. It is best if crowded venues can be avoided altogether. Many people were seen heading to crowded shopping centres to buy Avurudu gifts, which many doctors frowned upon.

As one prominent doctor said, “You have to select what is more important for you – new clothes for the family or their very lives”. That sums up the equation rather bluntly. In the same manner, we must avoid crowded Bak Maha Ulelas (New Year Festivals) where it will be next to impossible to maintain physical distancing (at least one metre apart from the next person), even though the attendees are supposed to be kept to 100. But this is more like to be observed in the breach once the festivities get going.

There could also be a tendency to let go of the mask in the midst of Avurudu revelry. Health authorities have warned against such complacency, noting that stern action would be taken against those who violate the health guidelines and laws. We have to take a cue from neighbouring India, where people let their guard down during several recent national festivals, leading to a massive spike in cases and deaths.

This is a situation which we have to avoid at all costs as the Government already spends a massive amount of money on PCR Tests and other preventive measures.

Any surge in cases at this point would place a huge burden on the healthcare system which has allocated most of its resources to fighting the pandemic. Thus organisers of all Avurudu festivals must strictly observe the restrictions and guidelines in place to ensure that the virus is kept at bay.

We must also be careful in visiting hometowns and other areas from the Western Province. There could be asymptotic carriers among us who could ‘gift’ the disease to the elderly and vulnerable relatives. Again, the Government has arranged random Rapid Antigen Tests for those leaving the Western Province to the other provinces. Those who are flagged down for these tests must cooperate with the authorities.

Even while at home celebrating the Avurudu, the health guidelines must be kept in mind. The frequent washing of hands is a must.

It is also advisable to invite one’s relatives to visit at separate times instead of having them all at once. Yes, this could be more expensive, but one cannot take chances with this runaway virus.

This arrangement could ensure physical distancing and some leeway in case one or more of them have the virus. The health authorities must be informed immediately if one or more persons in your household develop any symptoms associated with Covid-19 following such visits by relatives and friends.

By a happy coincidence, the start of Ramadan for the Muslim Community also falls on April 13. This is one of those juxtapositions that we experience in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious milieu. Ramadan, based on the Five Pillars of Islam Faith (Sahada), Prayer (Salat), Alms and Generosity (Zakat), Fasting (Sawm) and Pilgrimage (Hajj) is a holy period for Muslims the world over where they engage in activities connected to the above. Just like their Buddhist and Hindu brethren, they will have to face certain restrictions in terms of religious activity this year, but that is the price we have to pay to ensure the health and well-being of all.

All communities in Sri Lanka are still reeling from the shock generated by the dastardly Easter attacks that took place exactly two years ago. It is thanks to the Sri Lankans’ inherent belief in religious values that a massive bloodbath was averted on that occasion.

Religious leaders worked hard to ensure that the attacks did not harm our very socio-religious fabric and they have succeeded to a great extent. In this context, the fact that all three major communities and religious groups in Sri Lanka are having a new beginning more or less on the same day is a happy omen for the future.