A commendable step | Sunday Observer

A commendable step

12 June, 2021

People around the country would have heaved a sigh of relief upon hearing the news that the travel restrictions now in effect would probably be not extended from Monday as previously believed, as per the Head of the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of Covid-19, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva.

Some of the travel restrictions are, however, likely to remain for the short term, including the ban on inter-provincial travel. This is to prevent the pandemic from spreading widely in some provinces where it is not widespread at the moment.

The authorities were caught between a rock and a hard place as a result of the travel restrictions, which had to be imposed due to the runaway nature of the Coronavirus. There was simply no other alternative in this case, except perhaps a blanket curfew.

The economy suffers greatly in any lockdown, as we experienced during the initial, stricter lockdowns/curfews of 2020. The economy is still struggling to emerge unscathed from that extended lockdown. But it is not only the economy per se that suffers in a lockdown.

Any lockdown affects the ordinary man very hard, especially the daily wage earners whose livelihoods dry up overnight. The closure of shops (other than pharmacies) and the lack of public transport affect everyone.

It is tantamount to an almost total disruption of day-to-day lives of the public. The twin assaults on the economy and life of the people are almost too much to bear for a developing nation like ours.

But sometimes Governments have to take unpopular decisions for the sake of the people.

In this case, what is at stake was the very health of the people in the face of a marauding, even lethal, virus. The Government’s thinking in this instance was that some damage to the economy would be inevitable, even justified, if it can prevent a wider transmission of the virus among the populace.

This tallied with expert medical opinion on the matter, as specialist medical associations have been advocating a prolonged lockdown for quite some time.

Judging by recent reports, the travel restrictions have had some effect, as doctors have noticed a reduction in Covid positive numbers during the period.

This could be slight or marginal, but it certainly prevented a bigger catastrophe.

It was evident that the explosion of case numbers was a direct result of the irresponsible behaviour of the public during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year period, despite repeated advice from the health authorities to follow health guidelines and minimise travel.

Had that trend continued, Sri Lanka would have ended up like some of the neighbouring countries with thousands of deaths. Thus the intervention by authorities, in the form of island-wide travel restrictions, was well thought of and timely.

This is especially so in the context of reports that the Alpha (UK) and Delta (Indian) variants of the virus are now around the country, although the latter has only been found from a quarantine centre so far.

Both these variants are highly transmissible and more lethal than the original Coronavirus variant(s). This shows that the pandemic has reached a dangerous phase here and all possible steps should be taken to avert the situation witnessed in the neighbouring nations, where the Delta variant caused the most number of casualties.

This is indeed why the authorities should not rule out further restrictions for the time being, including curfews and travel curbs.

All options should be on the table, in case the positive cases show an upward trajectory. However, we feel that better mechanisms should be evolved for the distribution of essential goods during lockdowns, as some areas were not served well by mobile vendors.

It was also rather unfortunate that the Government had to deal with two other major problems during this time – the X-Press Pearl fire in the outer harbour of Colombo Port and floods in many districts.

Nevertheless, the authorities coped admirably well with all three calamities and gave an allowance for those affected despite the economic constraints.

Nevertheless, travel restrictions are not a long-term solution. The only long-term, sustainable solution is vaccination. In fact, humanity has been able to eradicate many once-fatal diseases as a result of vaccination campaigns.

Sri Lanka has one of the best immunisation records in the whole world – in fact, its health indices are generally on par with those of the developed world thanks to such initiatives.

This is why the Government lost no time in arranging Covid-19 vaccines for the entire population. Luckily for the entire world, Covid vaccines were developed by scientists in record time – less than one year.

With the receipt of AstraZeneca vaccines from India under its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ program, Sri Lanka started its Covid vaccination campaign much earlier than most other developing countries.

The Government’s excellent relations with India, China and Russia have helped Sri Lanka to get ahead in the vaccination drive.

China has gifted more than one million doses of its Sinopharm vaccines to Sri Lanka, which has been a great boon to the vaccination campaign.

Talks are also on for the production of Sinovac (China) and Sputnik V (Russia) vaccines locally, while Japan has responded positively to a request for 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, for the second round vaccination of those who received the first shot.

Sri Lanka is also in line to get more AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines from the US and WHO’s COVAX. There is every sign that the vaccination program will proceed smoothly, giving us an opportunity to live free from Covid