Sri Lanka: The Second Wave

 Sri Lanka’s COVID 19 Second Wave Shell shocked the System, Authorities and the Public – Let us be calm and use our brains

by Prof Sohan Wijesekera

In Sri Lanka, the second wave of COVID 19 has caused widespread concern.  Irrespective of whether the Source is Brandix or Ukraine; or whether the pandemic has got socialised, or whether it is controllable to secure quick normalcy, our main concern is that this wave is moving and spreading.

Protest against the inadequate faculties for health workers.

This poses a few questions.  They are, whether the authorities were over confident and had relaxed the PCR testing together with the  monitoring of precautionary measures?, whether the public were given the confidence that the system is functioning well and hence COVID 19 would not enter the country?, whether the public were given the impression that Sri Lankans are a special breed and hence the deaths would not happen?, or whether the public felt that the state would take care of them even if they get infected?.

If we consider the present, the deaths from COVID 19 in our country are increasing. In case of our country the age limits have been waived off.  Our doctors are warning about the threat of health system getting overloaded. The taskforce leader and the government have decided to let individual houses to be turned in to private self-quarantine units. Most of the employees are not turning up for work.  Curfew and Lockdown areas are almost non-functional. PCR testing does not appear catching up with the demand.  The government says that private sector has the facilities for PCR testing, and it is true. But that is at a price a common man cannot afford; Definitely not if a repeat is desired. Amidst these conditions, the government machineries are crippled but the state is adamant to keep them running. The question is, Whether this is sustainable?

Our country faced the first wave and we performed much better.  We thought of lockdowns. We thought of hospitals, beds, intensive care units, and quarantine centers.  We made serious efforts to ensure food and medicine supplies and for that we even mobilised the armed forces.  We looked after the employment and financial setting.  We sympathetically looked at the three-wheeler community and then gave moratoriums to many sectors.  Knowing that a vaccine is not in sight, we pleaded to get the community to inhale steam, consume immunity enhancing food and engage in appropriate exercises and even to drink coriander and decoctions.  We did much more.  I myself wrote a few articles about our requirements, preparation of plans and proposing methods of implementation.  I spearheaded the publication of “a guide to construction industry activities amidst COVID 19”; in which a strong attempt was made to initiate the promotion of native medicine sector.  

Now we are in the second wave and, the situation looks far worse than the first wave.  Surprisingly, the regular media is practically silent, the doctors and GMOA are comparatively non-existent. These provide only limited information. However, the social media is flooded with many options which most will not trust unless it comes in regular channels.  The government must make extra efforts to show that they try their best to keep the public informed.  They must appear and make anouncments without waiting the media to invite.  There must be official announcements.  New Zealand and Australia are very good examples.  Awareness and keeping general public well informed is very important. Keeping them in the dark creates anxiety which may lead to other issues including breaking law and order.

The requests other than to continue with handwashing, wearing masks and social distancing are hard to hear.  Has the media and our doctors found that steam inhaling has taken root and hence mentioning that is a waste of time?  How about the traditional medical practices? A recent news broadcast indicated the surfacing of a traditional medicinal syrup that might be helpful against COVID 19.  Does this mean that the clinical trials have been performed?  However, in my opinion, this is a great leap forward.  Our traditional doctors must grab the opportunity to prove their claim that traditional medicine can cure COVID19. As I had written in my articlesduring COVID 19 First Wave, if our traditional doctors can get a breakthrough and contribute to the wellbeing of the world, then I am sure we as a nation can be very proud.  

Now that the second wave has come and the spread has started, the best bet would be to keep the people at home and try to get the economy moving.  Keeping the people home would require to set the purchasing and distribution machinery in motion. While reviving the repeated steam inhaling, and the consumption of immunity enhancing food and exercise practices the public must be told to start growing food stuffs.. The construction sites and factories must be operated under strict control and supervision. We can encourage armed forces, the police or other interest groups such as media channels or mobile phone companies to maintain steam pots with inhaling facilities at locations such as junctions and bus terminals where public tend to gather for their unavoidable activities. This concept similar to our ancient “Pin Thaliya” for quenching thirst, would not be alien to our communities. Devising methods to prevent spreading of virus while inhaling will not be a difficult task. 

We all have to find ways to keep our public from moving, until such time our health authorities ensure stability.  Opening and closing the movement of public, to compensate for lapses in the distribution and communication networks and then hoping that the public would behave well as told, may appear as a reasonable assumption. But, assuming that the COVID 19 Virus that is moving freely in urban and rural areas, would behave the way the taskforce wants, is a myth that we must clear as fast as possible.  I have no doubts that the present actions are those mixed with panic, frustration and hope.  We must stay calm, place our cards on the table, use our brains and then start playing. 

Once most of the public are safely tucked in their homes, then comes the question of economy. During the first wave we realised how difficult it was to get our public sector staff to work at home. One reason is that most are not trained, and the other is that even if they are trained, then they are short of facilities. In most developed countries, the institutions opened a window for staff to take equipment from office and then establish home offices.  In our case it is not difficult to see that most institutions lack equipment that can be given out.  This we have not addressed even though during the first wave we very clearly felt the deficiency. The other matter that has to be looked at, is the communication infrastructure capability of the nation.  Most areas lack connectivity and it hampers delivery of outputs.  Then comes the conferencing tools and data facilities. The government enabled a tool for this activity amongst the public sector employees, but there are many issues that had to be ironed out to perform productive work using this tool. Many tools available in the market have large data demands and affordability is a burning question. 

Major setback is not the deficiencies associated with the digital communication.  The hindrance isis related to the delivery of outputs and the time allocation for the achievement of such outputs. During the first wave, I wrote an article appealing to the authorities to develop a tool which would monitor the public sector work and output delivery in the time domain. Though many would pretend as if they do not understand the application of tools for this activity, this concept is the norm of developed nations. If any worker knows the work that he or she has to perform within a given time frame, then working form home and keeping the economy going would be a “Piece of Cake”. We all know that, it is better late than never.  My appeal is that for the government to consider the development and deployment of the said tool as a national priority that has to be completed within a very tight time frame.  This in my opinion will ensure that our economy will move whether COVID19 is prevalent or otherwise.  Let us keep things simple and brainy and I am sure that we will survive and thrive as a nation. 

Prof N.T. Sohan Wijesekera, Chairman, Construction Industry Development Authority

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