A stark warning | Sunday Observer

A stark warning

21 November, 2021

The battle against Covid literally received a boost last week with the commencement of giving “booster shots” to those over 60, regardless of the vaccine they have had earlier. This is the culmination of the highly successful vaccination program, which is well on its way to achieve herd immunity that comes when around 80 percent of the population is inoculated. The booster shot will eventually be given to everyone while the regular vaccination program will target everyone above 12.

But there are ominous signs that all this could come to naught. Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena has already warned that several sub-clusters of Covid-19 have formed in many parts of the country. Alarmingly, among them are far-flung places spared in the earlier three waves, which were mostly concentrated in the most populous provinces. Several cases among students and teachers have been reported from schools that were just reopened. This is not good news, considering that all grades in all schools are slated to function from tomorrow.

There are fears that some teachers who participated in the recent teachers’ agitations may have been infected from the almost total disregard for health guidelines at those events. These teachers could affect the students, many of whom remain unvaccinated. Similarly, fears have been expressed that Covid clusters could form as a result of the recent protest campaigns by farmers and Opposition parties including the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). While there is absolutely no question that people have the right to protest and enjoy the freedom of expression as per our Constitution, one has to take health concerns into account at this particular juncture. The Health DG has already given a stark warning in this regard.

Already, one MP who participated in a protest campaign has been reportedly infected with Covid-19. Given that two or three weeks lapse before the onset of symptoms in most cases, we could conceivably see more cases in the coming days. Worse, the effect of vaccines is said to be waning after a few months, which means that many more people could be at risk as a result of such irresponsible behaviour. Both the Government and the Opposition have to find alternative ways to reach the public at least until we see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel.

In fact, politicians of all hues should set an example to the public at this time, when many people seem to have forgotten that Covid was here in the first place, sending 13,500 people to an early grave. They should instill in the public mind the fact that Covid is very much among us, infecting more than 500 people daily. A new sub lineage of the Covid Delta variant has been found, which means that the virus is still actively mutating and evolving here. There is also the possibility that further variants could enter the country, now that our borders are open again.

The media, print and electronic, also seem to have given up their earlier campaigns with regard to the Covid pandemic. They no longer carry Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on Covid, which reminded the people of health guidelines and precautions. Even social media seem to have gone into an inactive mode. This is not a healthy development at all. The media should again start the earlier relentless campaigns on Covid dangers and precautions in order to remind the public of their obligations at this time. This is essential to ward off yet another wave of Covid.

The people should remember that Covid has not still left us. It has killed over five million people worldwide and case numbers and deaths are going up in many countries, even in countries with good vaccination records. Variants that are even more dangerous than Delta could crop up anywhere on the planet and now that inter-continental travel is again resuming, it will only be a matter of weeks before such variants emerge in other countries, even amidst the safeguards such as PCR tests and vaccinations. We must be on guard against such possibilities even as we encourage inbound travel and tourism.

Health experts often warn people to avoid large crowds whenever possible. This is because social distancing is one of the best ways of keeping Covid at bay, apart from wearing masks and washing hands frequently.

Unfortunately, the coming festive shopping season does not bode well in terms of social distancing. We experienced how the shopping surge during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year led to a spike in Covid cases just a month or so later. A lockdown had to be imposed to control the situation. Judging by the crowds already milling about in shopping complexes for year-end shipping, many health experts fear a repetition of that scenario.

This is extremely dangerous, because the country simply cannot afford another lockdown that stretches into several months, with the extent of the battering received by the economy. As one community health specialist put it succinctly, “you have to choose between your life and your shopping”. What matters most to you – life or gifts and clothes? That is the fundamental question at play in terms of the Covid pandemic.

Therefore, at this crucial juncture, fools must not rush in where angels fear to tread. The stark reality is that Covid is very much among us and the public has to help the authorities to keep it under control. If that warning is not heeded, the consequences will be unimaginable for the whole nation.