The wheels nearly came off the Government’s concerted efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 with the leak of persons infected with the virus from the drug rehab centre at Kandakadu in the North Central Province. No doubt the Government put in place measures, however harsh they were, with curfews and lockdowns that seemingly stemmed [...]


Covid-19: the resurgence, the response and the rifts


The wheels nearly came off the Government’s concerted efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 with the leak of persons infected with the virus from the drug rehab centre at Kandakadu in the North Central Province.

No doubt the Government put in place measures, however harsh they were, with curfews and lockdowns that seemingly stemmed the spread of the virus into the community in the early months. It has also not been bereft of spokespersons and hurrah-boys extolling the virtues of their efficiency in curtailing the virus. They compared Sri Lanka with some of the worst affected countries and prematurely declared victory before the battle against Covid-19 was overcome. But the best laid plans of men and mice can also go awry.

There is flak coming from professional bodies. Strong criticism has been levelled at the Health Ministry from three significant fronts viz., the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS), the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) and the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs). They have accused the Health Ministry of doing things without consultation with others, and they have thrown barbs at the high-level Task Force for not properly coordinating the battle against Covid-19. The PHIs have directly accused the Health Minister of playing politics by suppressing, then delaying the signing of the Gazette giving them the legal powers to do their job, prompting them to take trade union action, and the AMS has suggested the Government not to pretend there was no crisis. Taken together, it doesn’t give the public much confidence that the Government is entirely on top of the situation as it is made out to be.

Sri Lanka is not alone. Most Governments around the world are facing this global threat, unprecedented in recent times. It is not a traditional war, nor guerrilla warfare but a hidden, unseen enemy.

The difference in Sri Lanka is that there is a major election coming up in three weeks and a sudden spike in the number of detected Covid-19 cases is compounding matters. The political leadership of the country set a terrible example by the campaigns they launched from the beginning of this month.

They were seen mingling with their supporters, taking ‘selfies’, the crowds were allowed to rub shoulders with each other shouting “Jayawewa” and “Apey Anagatha Agamathi” etc., spitting droplets in others’ faces — exactly what the health authorities had warned against. Of course, the Election Commission could only be silent spectators and it was only when the cases from the Kandakadu Centre erupted that it rang alarm bells and the political leadership pulled back on their traditional campaign styles.

There is little doubt that the country wants this ‘goddam elections’ done and dusted. A country without a National Parliament might end up like China where the National People’s Congress comprising of one party, the Communist Party, is its virtual rubber-stamp Parliament.

The legislative functions of a representative democracy have been stymied in recent months by the absence of a parliament; even ‘Rule by Gazette’ as a temporary alternative was dragged on by the caretaker Cabinet despite continuing protests by the Election Commission and the PHIs.

With the Government reluctant to allow any further postponement to the August 5 elections, there is a heavy burden cast on it to assure the country that the pandemic does not cause a bigger crisis than an election. This week saw how edgy people were that a second wave had broken out.

It is a welcome decision that the Government has taken to postpone the reopening of schools till after the elections. True, there is no substitute for children mixing with their peers. Yet, however much child psychologists may point out the dangers in keeping children confined to their homes for an extended period and that e-learning is giving a greater advantage to students with internet facilities, if teachers, canteen workers, school bus drivers contract the virus, and children take it home to their elders, the consequences are horrendous.

The whole purpose of the anti-Covid-19 battle is to see the infection numbers –according to the magical “R” (reproduction) rate — fall below 1. One does not envy the position the Government is in, but cracks appearing at the helm of the management force after four months do not augur too well for the country.

Killer virus on Lanka’s roads

A tipper truck hitting a police post on the Matara-Hakmana road this week made news. Of the numerous road accidents that occur, this accident made it to the front pages not only because it resulted in the death of a constable on duty, but arguably, due to the ‘devil-may-care’ attitude of these truck drivers in the payroll of the sand-mafia who believe that not only the main road, but even the sidewalk belongs to them.

That this particular truck hit a police post is also ironic. It is an open secret that the Police have been in the pay of the sand mafia. Ask any professional driver who plies these provincial roads and he will tell you how the drivers of these tippers show off their speeding prowess with questionable brakes to boot.

Private bus operators are only closely second to the sand mining mafia when it comes to bribing. They have separate desks that deal with the subject. They are all very cocky because even provincial politicians are in their pockets.

Environmentalists are howling about the illegal sand mining that is taking place particularly after the Government lifted the licensing requirement for these operations. Under the guise of providing material for the construction industry in Colombo and the big cities, the move came as an added bonanza for the sand mafia. Fortunately this week, the Court of Appeal shot down these moves as being illegal.

The statistics of road accidents are staggering and speak for themselves. Last year there were 2,839 deaths on Sri Lanka’s roads — 776 pedestrians, 925 motorcyclists, 237 pillion riders, 204 cyclists, 282 drivers, 405 passengers. For this year so far (June 15), 936 deaths have taken place and this, despite months of extended lockdowns and curfews. These are apart from the grievous injuries.

Coupled with the corruption at the Motor Traffic Department in the issuance of driving licences, it makes for a deadly cocktail for road users that Government politicians usually don’t encounter because escort vehicles wave them through the mayhem that is traffic here.

The death toll and casualty figures from Covid-19 are often compared to those from other diseases to show there are worse things than the virus. There’s a lot in that argument when it is compared to the accidents on Sri Lankan roads.


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