Less dithering, more decisiveness 

Friday, 6 August 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It seems that with every passing day, the news coming out with regard to the coronavirus becomes progressively worse, and that any modicum of good news is just as swiftly knocked back by the bad.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this cycle has been that the public at large seems to be gradually becoming desensitised to the very real dangers this virus poses. This though is not a novel phenomenon; human beings as species have always been remarkably resilient, and as a result able to ‘normalise’ even the most horrific of circumstances. However, it’s this most human of traits that we need to fight off, as the disparity in wider public response to the pandemic between now and the onset of the pandemic is alarming – and this goes double for the Government.

Back in the halcyon days when Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 death toll was in single digits, and the case load had scarcely crossed the 100-mark, this Government took the impressively progressive step of placing the country in a full-blown lockdown. Back then the move was viewed as a necessary evil, one which would shutter the economy but in the long run be for the best as COVID infections were brought down to zero – and it worked too, to a point.

But sadly, that was not where the story ended. Instead, following a brief few months of normality, the gradual reopening of borders resulted in a second wave, which rolled into a devastating third wave at the start of 2021, into something that now looks likely to transform into an even more debilitating fourth wave.

This past week has seen leaked videos from Government hospitals showing patients lined up on the floor, having run out of beds, while two major hospitals have declared emergencies on grounds of patient overflow. 

Further to this, there have been unverifiable, yet nevertheless alarming, accounts on social media from individuals purportedly working at Government hospitals stating their relief at the aforementioned leaked videos, as they had allegedly been gagged from speaking out about this situation for weeks on end.

In light of the current situation, the Government has come out and said that they would consider tightening restrictions if the situation ‘goes out of control’. However, the situation, as clearly highlighted above, is inarguably beyond even the most rudimentary definition of control.

Yet, it seems that the economic fallout from that initial lockdown, seems to have deterred the Government from implementing a similar one now when the situation is several times more precarious.

Every available metric points towards Sri Lanka heading towards the most severe health crisis in its history. Hospital capacity is reaching breaking point, oxygen supplies are running low, COVID-19 testing is ludicrously low (indicating the true positivity rate in the country could be much higher than the presently indicated 2,500-a-day average), and just this week Sri Lanka became the latest country to surpass China’s death toll – a country that has a population size some 50 times that of Sri Lanka.

While the ramped-up vaccination drive has been extremely welcome, the Delta variant means that even the fully-vaccinated are capable of easily spreading the virus. Talks of further reopening the economy come September, especially to foreign travellers, would be laughable if the thought wasn’t so terrifying. The Government needs to act fast, and it needs to act now; as much as they would like for things to go back to normal, they need to acknowledge the reality. Strictly enforcing health and safety guidelines, and restricting travel and large gatherings – at least for a few weeks – would be a start.