Editorial: Stay Home, Save Lives | Sunday Observer

Editorial: Stay Home, Save Lives

Sri Lanka was one of the few countries that took proactive measures very early, at the onset of the pandemic to curb its spread. Judging by the rapid progress of the disease in countries such as Italy, USA, Spain and France, Sri Lanka’s early actions may have saved countless lives. In fact, these measures came in for praise from none other than the World Health Organisation Chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Tedros praised the Sri Lankan Government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in a telephone call with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and a subsequent Twitter post. The WHO Director General and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa discussed the latest developments related to the outbreak of COVID-19 during the phone conversation.

In the Twitter message, the WHO Director General said he thanked President Rajapaksa for mobilizing the whole of Government in the fight against COVID-19. “I had a good call with @GotabayaR , President of #SriLanka, on #COVID19 today. We discussed health and economic impacts #COVID19 can have on his country and the whole region. I thanked him for mobilizing the whole-of-government in the fight against the #coronavirus. Together!,” he tweeted. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in response, thanked the Director General for his support to Sri Lanka and the immense work being done by the World Health Organization to contain the global pandemic. He added that the Sri Lankan Government will continue to collaborate with the WHO to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. In a globally televised news conference held a little later, the WHO Chief said the world must come together to fight the rapidly escalating pandemic.

As the WHO Chief has alluded, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to take pro-active steps against the coronavirus, well before it was declared a pandemic by the WHO. Sri Lanka has used its powerful quarantine laws and the well-established free healthcare system to take all measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic. The authorities reported over 159 confirmed cases in the country by last evening, with five deaths, which compares very favourably with the overall case and death tallies of the above-mentioned countries. Global infections have now exceeded the one million mark and over 50,000 deaths.

In a further sign of international recognition of Sri Lanka’s handling of this unprecedented crisis, the World Bank too has pledged US$ 128.6 million (approx. Rs.25,000 million) to Sri Lanka. The new fast track package will benefit the entire Sri Lankan population and prioritize stopping or slowing the spread of the virus, reducing case numbers, and preventing outbreaks in communities. This support will scale up emergency response mechanisms, strengthen the capacity of laboratories and hospitals, treat patients, train medical staff, and raise public awareness about hand washing, hygiene, and social distancing.

As this kind of international cooperation exemplifies, this is a battle that the entire world has to fight together. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made this point clear in the teleconference with SAARC leaders, where he pledged US$ 5 million towards mitigation efforts. He has rightly urged multinational lending agencies and OECD nations to ease the loan conditions at this point of time. This should also extend to the ultimate results of any vaccine trials – a successful vaccine should be made available to the whole world at minimal cost by whatever country or company that manufactures it. Our scientists and researchers too should be involved in the race to find drugs and vaccines for the dreaded disease.

In line with the President’s vision, the Central Bank has also urged donors abroad to contribute in foreign exchange to Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Moreover, the COVID-19 healthcare fund set up on a concept of the President has seen donations pour in from State and private entities as well as from civic-minded individual citizens. This will be of great value in handling this crisis.

We must all remember that we are at war at this juncture – it is not a conventional war, but a battle against an unseen enemy that can cause grief on a massive scale. It is thus our duty to fully support the State, the healthcare system and the Security Forces as they take all possible measures to protect the citizens from this virulent contagion that has no known cure.

It is therefore absolutely essential to respect the curfew imposed by the Government. This has been imposed to prevent community level transmission of the disease through the implementation of social distancing. The idea is that when everyone is at home, the virus cannot find a host to penetrate. This is the only way to “flatten the curve” as scientists describe the ebbing away of a viral disease. Unfortunately, more than 10,000 people have wantonly violated the curfew, putting themselves and others at risk. If we need any further proof of where we will head if these measures are not adhered to, just look at USA, Italy and Spain.

Yes, being confined is difficult and inconvenient and a lot of livelihoods are on the line too. But we all have to make a sacrifice at this point to ensure a brighter future for all. If we do not take this seriously, even the 30-year- war and the Boxing Day Tsunami will pale into insignificance in terms of the possible fatalities. We must all support the Government, the health system and the Security Forces by staying in until the Government declares that it is again safe to resume normal activity.