New normal: Nothing so old as it under the sun

Tuesday, 10 November 2020 00:50 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

BEST FOOT FORWARD – Once more into the breach! This time with courage, confidence and commonsense. Whatever comes first, vaccine or ‘herd immunity’, there’s no escaping – only embracing – the old ‘new-normal’ – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

The world is much brighter today. There is a clear light from across the western seas, and we feel it even in these far-flung isles of ocean. As if a part of the planet had received a spring-cleaning where it was dirtiest? 

That feeling may not last long. Once the toasts are poured and the roasts spat out. And the global underbelly of politics settles down to the long often dyspeptic haul of turning electoral victories into viable policies for a deeply divided polity. 

It still feels good – amidst the clamour of legal contestation and the canards of a duck out of water – to know that democracy, both principle and process, count for something more.

But at home, in a blessed isle which watched the stateside drama unfold with as avid eyes as we watched our polls, it’s back to business. If there ever was a day when a Monday felt more maudlin and melancholy, today would be that day. 

As well as COVID-19 and its new strains, a province in particular of resilient islanders have now to buckle down to the burdensome task of re-establishing connections, building back businesses, planning to reopen a gamut of organisations, industry and commerce.

And amidst the agonised yet heart-warming open-handedness of a visibly chastened leadership, it behoves a citizenry under pressure in hearth and home to arm itself with a new strength and fresh handful of courage. 

It would do well to take stock lightly of the emergent situation. Perhaps best choosing to ignore the cold shoulder given by a militarised bureaucracy to a ministerial health service, and vice versa. 

And glean a more nuanced picture of ground reality from sources further afield than apologists and propagandists for our gubernatorial machine out of gear. 

It would also suit our political subtlety, which has sometimes been a bulwark of our survival as a nation through the hell of war and the hardship of many other natural and man-made woes, to investigate more closely the narratives we natives use to tell ourselves our story.


The conventional wisdom until of late has been that Sri Lanka was spared the exigencies of a second wave for a panoply of reasons. These range from a dynamic intervention by diktat and presidential taskforce to less hubris-inducing factors such as tropical heat and humidity. As well as the attendant high resistivity inbuilt into generations of flu-strengthened antibodies!

This narrative would now be interpreted with a hermeneutic of natural suspicion. It matters little whether the terminology allows government a little wiggle-room or not. Whether it is cluster-driven or community-spread, the novel coronavirus of 2020 is present if not rampant in all provinces. 


In one sense, this is nobody’s fault but simply nature abhorring a vacuum. 

In another, we may pass the ball of culpability from the hands of champion pundits who prematurely proclaimed a victory over the virus – through the craven masquerading of politicians eager to take credit and others negligent on campaign trails and constitutional paths – to a people accustomed to hawking and spitting in the street grown extra-careless and throwing caution to the winds – while taking a leaf out of the behavioural books of their elders and betters; and of course, sociopolitical exemplars.

It may well be a matter of time, intensified testing including with the new antigen kits, and a resigned adjustment to the reality that there is nothing new or different under a Sri Lankan sun. 

It is humbling and hurtful. And ironically helpful in setting the next bar and benchmark.

And so, more power with responsibility to the people’s elected representatives – especially an executive battling fatigue and ostensible failure in phase one of the long-drawn-out campaign to marshal a plan – as they batten the hatches and brave the second (and third) wave.

New normal

A bitter pill which is hard to swallow, though, is the changing valence of our governors towards ‘we, the people’. 

In times of quite appropriate national adulation, they’re magnanimous and come across as even statesmanlike. But it only takes a setback or for the winds of fortune to change to bring out the caged beast. This is the old normal as far as political one-upmanship goes. 

Maybe now that the mask has fallen and the demigods demonstrably have feet of clay, we can all take a more realistic stance? It would place the country on a more secure footing if we can end the pointless posturing once and for all. 

We’re all in this together. In that sense, COVID-19 has been a great equaliser.

Old nuisances

In another sense, this could not be farther from the truth. In sickness and in health, the pandemic and responses to it have highlighted and often even exacerbated the inequity in our midst. 

A careful yet studiedly critical examination of the ‘curfew map’ that becomes effective today will underline not simply the ground reality of spread but the territorial distribution of power and influence. 

The virus at hand is no respecter of persons; yet, somehow the more affluent boroughs and bastions of commerce and capitalism seem to have been spared the inconvenience of an extended ‘long weekend’.

With that said, it’s time to suspend critical engagement for a while. That is a reasonable attitude – not a resigned adjustment – in the light of the challenges ahead, as well as the evident chagrin of the government. 

Feel the pains of a health sector exposed to threatening overrunning of its operational capability. Hear the pleas (if charitably construed) of chiefs of staff in military and medical camps, to cooperate and be ultra-careful from now on. Work from home as far as possible; or if constrained to venture afield, do as Japan among others are doing (see box) – and stay safer.  

(Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD | WFH)


If in jeopardy, do as the Japanese domar Khan’s stance

  1. Keep a safe and suitable distance between people (up to two metres, if possible).
  2. Wear a standard face-mask.
  3. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  4. Play as far as possible outdoors.
  5. Try to avoid being face-to-face when speaking to other people. 
  6. Wash your face and clothes immediately you return home.
  7. Wash your hands as soon as you come into contact with someone else.
  8. Opt for online shopping and electronic payments.
  9. Supermarket shopping, if essential, is best done by one person per household, who should ideally choose the times there are less people in the supermarket.
  10. Try not to touch commodity samples.
  11.  Avoid talking on public transportation.
  12. Go to work by bike or on foot if at all possible.
  13. Use electronic business cards.
  14. Also use video conference when meeting.
  15. Control the number of people attending meetings, wear face-masks and open windows for ventilation.
  16. Work at home or commute at off-peak times.
  17. Do not go to places where the virus is endemic.
  18. Try not to return home to visit relatives.
  19. Try to limit business trips.
  20. If you exhibit symptoms, remember where you went and who you met.
  21. When eating meals with others, do not do so face-to-face; but preferably side-by-side.
  22. Do not use common utensils to share food; rather, implement an individually apportioned system
  23. Chat less at meal times.
  24. Try not to have too many people gathering at meal times.
  25. Avoid confined spaces, dense crowd flows and intimate contact.
  26. Self-test body temperature every morning to reinforce health management.
  27. Cover the lid when flushing the toilet.
  28. Don’t stay too long in a confined space.
  29. When walking and running, the number of people should be limited. Stagger the distance between those exercising even outdoors.(Adapted from the internet)

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