A war without the knowledge of the terrain

M S M Ayub – dailymirror.lk

The government who are attempting to put the total blame for the fourth wave of coronavirus on the Opposition parties and the trade unions seem to think that the packed buses and trains after all public sector employees were called to report for work from August 2 have no bearing on the COVID situation in the country

It is ironic and unfortunate that the people, especially the politicians cannot view the issue independent of political affiliations, even at a time when the pandemic along with death is knocking on the doors of everyone in the country

The opposition that has been rightly blaming the government’s failure to restrict the people’s movement during the last Sinhala and Hindu New Year Period which resulted in the third wave of the COVID 19 in the country, does not see the impact of the demonstrations and the processions by trade unions, especially by those of the teachers and the principals on the spread of the pandemic.   


Similarly, the leaders and the supporters of the government who are attempting to put the total blame for the fourth wave of coronavirus on the Opposition parties and the trade unions seem to think that the packed buses and trains after all public sector employees were called to report for work from August 2 have no bearing on the COVID situation in the country.   


Both parties have been selectively blaming the organizers of the funerals of former CWC chief Arumugan Thondaman and media tycoon R.Rajamahendran. They are hiding behind the invisibility of the virus which can be anywhere – demonstrations, crowded vehicles, crowded funerals or public meetings – to accuse the opponents.   
It is ironic and unfortunate that the people, especially the politicians cannot view the issue independent of political affiliations, even at a time when the pandemic along with death is knocking on the doors of everyone in the country.

Hospitals and the ICUs in them are overflowing with patients, even the hotels which have been turned into COVID 19 treatment facilities are almost saturated, according to some reports. There is no let up in the spike in the virus spread and the deaths due to it, since the relaxation of restrictions on July 5 paved the way for the fourth wave.   


Politicians are so obsessed with their politics and so selfish that they while totally banking on the vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus and the deaths, ignored the senior citizens when the first consignments of vaccines arrived in the country. Many Parliamentarians, irrespective of their political affiliations got themselves vaccinated along with the frontline health workers in February. Having well known that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had given priority to prevention of deaths over the prevention of spread of the disease in its vaccine campaign, they consciously put the three million people over 60 years of age in danger. Even by that time it was clear that a large majority of people died of COVID 19 belonged to the 60 + age category.   


Political mileage had always been above the lives of the senior citizens for the politicians even after that when they selected specific Grama Niladhari divisions for vaccination, again ignoring the elderly people. Now, the health authorities who failed to stand against the politicization of vaccination programme are lamenting that deaths among 60 + age category constitutes 77 percent of the total COVID related deaths, (around 150 out of around 200 daily deaths).   


Sri Lanka is facing a crisis in striking a balance between the containment of the pandemic and resuscitation of the economy which is in worst shape in the history, mainly due to the pandemic. The government is facing a huge foreign exchange problem with the main forex earners, the tourism industry, apparel industry and the foreign remittances having hit by local as well as international restrictions on people’s movements. On the other hand, pressure has always been mounting from the health experts and professionals to restrict the same movements which on the other hand would further hamper economic activities. A health expert recently described the situation as one where people have to choose between death by lack of food and death due to dearth of oxygen.   


The government and the Opposition seem to be looking at the issue through their respective political prisms and have taken extremes in this issue as well, with the former giving preference to economy over health while the latter doing the other way around. However, the authorities were ultimately forced to impose the current quarantine curfew by the Opposition parties, health care experts, local trader associations and the media.   


Yet, the government while having imposed the curfew is finding holes in its own decision and ministers are attempting to prove the adverse impacts of restrictions on the economy, claiming that the government was struggling to find foreign exchange for importation of food and vaccines. And it is yet to be ascertained as to how effective the duration of the current curfew (nine days) is, based on the period of incubation and contagion of the coronavirus.   


Similarly, given the statements by the leaders of the Opposition parties, one is at a loss to understand as to what the Opposition might have done, if it was in power today, as no concrete or viable solutions are coming from them.   
Meanwhile, there seems to be a huge issue in assessing the current situation on the ground, as vast discrepancies have been emerging in the numbers of COVID 19 patients in the reports issued by the district health officials and the national officials. In some cases the district numbers are threefold of the national statistics. Here again the government politicians show an inclination to accept the national statistics whereas the Opposition does the other way around. In fact, the numbers seem to be very high even than the district figures, taking the number of daily PCR and Rapid Antigen Tests into account which is very limited.   


The current crisis is not something that can be exploited for political or economic gains, in spite of it being the case, as the threat of untimely death is being felt by almost all conscious men and women now. The voluntary closure of shops by traders associations in more than 30 towns recently points to how concerned they are about the threat. And the current war against the pandemic needs a scientific approach more than anything else. This is not a disease for which politicians who appear on TV everyday can prescribe remedies. The approach must be developed by experts in the health and economic fields along with the representatives of the other relevant sectors.   


An effort to contain the coronavirus without an assessment of the situation is amount to a war without the knowledge of the terrain. Also a nation highly divided on political lines facing a pandemic is nothing but something similar to a divide army going to war. However, it is the government that has to take the lead to acquire the knowledge about the terrain and to unite the army, as pointed out by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who suggested the government to consult all political parties on the current situation.   

Source

Chandana Sesath Jayakody

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