Clarity is crucial

Tuesday, 3 November 2020 00:06 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

COVID-19 is never far from headlines as it continues to dominate human lives all over the planet. The situation is no different in Sri Lanka, with the Government on Sunday deciding to extend the three-day quarantine curfew imposed on the Western Province and included several other areas as well. 

Given the steady increase of cases, imposition of the quarantine curfew has become imperative. However, for the public struggling to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, it is essential that the Government approaches imposing curfews with as much of a plan as possible. Given the seriousness of the situation, perhaps a curfew should have been imposed earlier, at least for the weekends, but done so with clear guidelines and monitoring.

Sudden extensions of curfews are especially difficult for financially vulnerable families who often do not have sufficient funds to buy a week’s worth of groceries. Even the people who can afford to do so are often met with shuttered shops and empty shelves when they dare to step out. Delivery systems, especially outside of the Colombo District, are still disorganised and sporadic, with everyone from key supermarket chains to small vendors struggling to get curfew passes and set up supply lines. Fresh produce, especially fruits and fish, are fast becoming scarce if not completely unavailable and people are struggling to find ways to cope. 

It is positive that the Government has said supply lorries will be sent to quarantined areas and goods of Rs. 10,000 as well as an allowance of Rs. 5,000 will be provided to vulnerable households in these regions. However, there are still gaps that need to be addressed and managed, which makes transparent communication essential, especially to ensure the most vulnerable households get help when it is needed.

The Government has also said speedy testing is essential but there are grey areas of how companies should conduct themselves if an employee is tested positive. Should all employees be tested or is self-isolation sufficient? Will the company foot the PCR test costs or will it be up to the employee to find funds? What is the protocol for their return to work? Companies will need to be monitored as employees continue to work in highly contagious areas. There are also concerns of PCR test kit shortages that need to be dealt with.  

In addition, multiple concerns have been raised about the largely military-dominated quarantine process with accusations of high prices, PCR samples going missing and artificially-driven costs spiralling. One of the most heart-rending incidents was the death by suicide of a 27-year-old from Panadura after his mother was taken away to be quarantined without authorities providing support for the son who remained behind.

The Government should apologise for its part in creating this situation and at least publicize what they are doing to ensure it does not happen again. The officials who were responsible for this should also be held accountable. Insensitivity and callousness on this scale cannot be condoned or swept under the carpet. Impunity and special treatment has become the bane of Sri Lankan society but the only way COVID-19 can be controlled is by putting humanity first.