Filling the gaps

Friday, 27 March 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka has done well in working to contain COVID-19. The country woke to the welcome news on Thursday that there were no new cases diagnosed for the first time in weeks. However, what is critical at this point is to not become complacent and continue vigilance till the very end. 

Perhaps the point of most concern is the pockets of people who are active and moving around. Even in areas such as Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara that are under indefinite curfew vehicles are becoming more and more common. While emergencies are understood and unavoidable it is also essential to ensure that as many people continue to stay at home as possible. 

Obviously delivery of essential goods cannot be suspended but there is an alarming increase in delivery services popping up, most with no track record, which makes it difficult for people to trust these ad hoc services, especially since many of them demand cash in advance. It is important to protect people from being swindled in these difficult times and as was done on Wednesday, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has to remain vigilant of those who seek to profit illegally from the current situation. 

While it is essential to scale up delivery services, particularly in areas outside of Colombo, it is nonetheless important to ensure that this does not become a new front for COVID-19. Together with plantation workers, farmers, fishermen and others who continue to work the mantra should be test, test and test. Only then can it be ensured that the community is protected from the virus. 

Unfortunately it does not appear that the Government has the resources to scale up testing to thousands of people on a daily basis. It is clear from the experiences of countries such as South Korea, mobility can only be allowed if large tracts of the population can be tested regularly and repeatedly. Without such widespread testing it is dangerous to promote trade, especially between districts or provinces.

Pockets of people needing assistance remain. Trade unions have sought the assistance of the Government to feed as many as 20,000 workers in Free Trade Zones. These people need assistance urgently and perhaps a mechanism to test them before sending them home. Cramped boarding houses can be a fertile space for fresh breakouts. Another community in need of Government assistance and better policies are prisoners and it is essential that steps be taken to protect them against COVID-19. Ethically and morally a society cannot turn a blind eye and ignore these people. 

Areas outside of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and the districts in the north have more mobility but with that should come more vigilance. Sri Lanka Tourism is also flying out an estimated 18,000 plus tourists from the country, which is likely to reduce stresses on essential services in the long term. 

Sri Lanka and her citizens have done well to contain COVID-19 but at the same time no one can lose sight of the 99 active cases, the estimated 2,700 people still in quarantine centres and about 15,000 people in self-quarantine. The nature of the virus is that it can pop up anywhere and infect anyone. Therefore it is essential that tough measures need to be implemented and continued now to reduce harsher impact later. Sri Lanka has to keep going.