Preventing the fourth wave: a dire public responsibility | Sunday Observer

Preventing the fourth wave: a dire public responsibility

14 November, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic that emerged in early 2020 has sent many governments around the world reeling into a radical uncertainty in terms of health, economic, and social predicament within eighteen months. It is now widely known that the pandemic triggered the most serious economic crisis since World War II, affecting the global supply chain, world trade, tourism, business travel, and a combination of many other sectors.

Whilst, the rich countries managed to control the economic issues successfully, middle-income countries such as Sri Lanka were affected drastically. The financial losses were enormous due to periodical lock downs and other stringent health restrictions. Export earnings dropped to drastic levels, creating a severe foreign exchange shortfall, affecting the import of essential commodities.

Lanka prioritising health

Due to the severe economic burdens, some countries even exited pandemic containment measures to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka has thus far not narrowed the importance given to the control of the health crisis since the beginning of March last year.

Sri Lanka, with a 61.6% fully vaccinated population, is not only recognised as one of the best countries in the world in terms of vaccinations administered and placed on par with many rich nations but also came into praise of many countries in the world and the World Health Organization.

The total number of vaccinations in the country as of now stands at 71.5% of the population. The credit should go to the health authorities who incessantly hard-pressed the significance of the vaccination drives to educate the masses since the inception.

Since taking control of the daunting third wave and with lowering daily cases and deaths, most of the Sri Lankans seem to adapt a conveniently relaxed line of approach to the safety measures recommended by the authorities.

Public forgetting past

The day-to-day actions of many of the general public demonstrate that they have forgotten the recent dire hardships they underwent due to the third wave of which the death toll was over 10,000. Also, they seem to have forgotten the fact that the country has just recently come out of a long and hard lock down.

The current Covid-19 situation in Europe is a strong and effective warning to Sri Lanka. The British Government reported over 49,000 cases, up more than 15% from the previous week. According to sources, this is the highest since mid-July when the country was in lock down.

Similarly, in Eastern Europe, Russia reported a new single-day high, recording over 34,000 new cases recently. Besides Russia, countries in Eastern Europe such as Romania, Hungary, and a few other countries are also experiencing a spike in daily new cases.

Apart from Europe, countries such as New Zealand and Australia, Germany, and China are imposing lock downs time and again to control the new situation. The vaccination rates where the escalation of new cases emerged are the United Kingdom 68.1%, Australia 66.3%, New Zealand 65%, China over 50%, Germany 66.9%, and Russia 34%.

Another wave must be stopped

Thus, the above figures in European countries where vaccination is successful indicate that Sri Lanka, although 61% of the population is fully vaccinated, is in any imminent danger of another surge. Hence, immediate stern precautionary measures must be taken to arrest a possible spike. The current public estimation that the vaccination alone provides a complete immunity, the situation will deteriorate and may cost more human lives.

The current figures in Sri Lanka that were stagnated around 500 new cases for the past two weeks has once again started showing a slight daily increase after two weeks into the lifting of travel restrictions. The medical fraternity presumes that even this minor rise can be a danger sign. The virus is excessively dangerous and the spread can be lightning fast as Sri Lanka has experienced several times previously.

Proving the typical Sri Lankan mindset, even before the provincial travel restrictions were lifted and despite relentless warnings by the medical experts, people were seen flocking around at famous domestic tourist destinations during the past weekend. Roads were congested, restaurants were filled, and entertainments were plenty.

Not a time to have fun

Understandably, people were frustrated with the long standing travel restrictions. However, the more serious issue is that these people were grossly neglecting even the most basic health requirements such as wearing masks and keeping distance.

Constant hand washing was almost totally disregarded by the people who have possibly selected the wrong time to have fun.

Rubbing salt in the wound, a new variant named A.30 has emerged according to the scientists. The study published in the journal ‘Cellular and Molecular Immunology’ states that the new variant can evade vaccine-induced antibodies successfully. According to the study, the variant might spread outside the lungs extraordinarily effectively.

Airports open for new variant

The Sri Lankan health authorities have warned that the new A.30 variant of severe respiratory syndrome can enter the country shortly. Now that the airports are completely opened and the restrictions are relaxed, the danger of A.30 variant coming into the country is substantial. This new variant was already reported in several countries.

The exploitation of a serious crisis for political gain was a habitual practice of Sri Lankan politicians is a grave misfortune of the common public. This was more or less practiced by most of the politicians in the past regardless of the camp they represent. Even at this most crucial juncture, it is evident that hundreds of protests take place in the country, grossly disregarding the health advice and guidelines.

Opposition political parties attempt to gain political mileage on the situation is trying to outdo others as if they compete. The said political leaders are not only trying to instigate the masses despite the health warnings but also knowingly encouraging the anti-social behaviour of innocent activists.

It may be that some of these controversies were created, perhaps with good intentions, by the Government itself; yet, the opposition political engagement unquestionably endangers the public lives by ignoring basic health guidelines.

Public transport could harm

Currently, one of the most pressing issues that are related to Covid-19 control is public transport. Even the Government or anyone else has no pragmatic solution to this all-important matter. When the country relaxed health-related restrictions, the general public was compelled to report to work. The strategies applied for the past many months were reversed and the workers were physically present at workplaces.

It is a fact that the public transport system is largely inadequate for the country. The vast majority of the general public including public and private sector workers has no alternative other than using public transport.

Therefore, naturally, they ignore health instructions, and not a soul can blame them. Currently, this unavoidable conduct poses a severe threat to the curtailing of the pandemic. Therefore, upgrading the public transport system or providing other alternatives to the public is a dire need at present.

Despite persistent media involvement and insistent health authority engagement to communicate with the masses, most of the citizenry is seemingly thinking that the Covid-19 is a common cold.

They wear masks mostly to get away from the law. Keeping distance can rarely be seen in public. Washing hands when outside of homes no longer takes place. This is a grave situation and as some medical experts predict, by December this year, another surge is highly possible.

A segment of the society, including this writer, believes that the solution to control public behaviour is to resolve penal action. An effective threat can be more successful than mild advice.

Penalise those who violate basic guidelines for the good of the society at large will not be criticised by any sane person. There are more than adequate legal provisions available currently in the legal system. One can find many examples from the past experiences on various other issues and occasions that imposing penal procedures can produce effective results.