Let’s defeat this contagion | Page 3 | Sunday Observer

Let’s defeat this contagion

18 October, 2020

The society and social media are abuzz with speculation that Sri Lanka is on the cusp of a so-called ‘Second Wave’ of the Coronavirus as seen in many of our neighbouring countries. This was after the detection of a cluster at a Brandix garment factory in Minuwangoda. While the exact origin of this cluster is still unclear, the Police and intelligence agencies now have the unenviable task of contact tracing, which is not easy given the travel patterns of some of the infected persons. This has resulted in the disease popping up in Colombo and elsewhere.

However, to their credit, the authorities sprang into action swiftly. They have successfully traced many contacts of infected persons and confined them to their homes. The Government has also substantially increased the number of PCR tests done daily islandwide.

Meanwhile, the online rumour mills are working overtime to paint a grim picture that the disease had spread to all corners and that Sri Lanka would soon become another Italy, Brazil or Spain. However, the authorities have reassured the public that such a scenario is not possible as all measures and precautions are being taken and that there is no need as yet for a lockdown. Some areas, though, have been isolated.

But we all have to admit one thing. Once the initial bout of the pandemic was over, complacency set in on the part of the public, despite the warnings of the authorities. Many people went about without masks, gave up on hand washing and social distancing and other health practices. Unfortunately, this has boomeranged on us.

We are battling an unseen enemy that can lurk anywhere. The latest research suggests that the Coronavirus can be airborne and also remain on some surfaces for up to 28 hours. It can apparently remain on human skin for around nine hours. The fact that the virus can be anywhere must not be forgotten. This is why all health advice and precautions must be observed and practised all the time.

The media must intensify the campaign on health precautions, lest the public has forgotten the basics. Now that fines have been announced for breaking health and quarantine laws, we hope there will be better compliance all around. But it is rather unfortunate that the Government had to introduce fines and jail terms to rein in the public. This is a time that all must get together to defeat this contagion.

Many other countries that experienced rapid social transmission of the disease did not have the efficient contact tracing capability that Sri Lanka has, even though some of them did have better technology such as contact tracing smartphone apps.

Contact tracing was the key to avoid social transmission as the first, second and even the third level contacts can be quickly identified and isolated and we hope that our agencies will be up to the task this time around as well. This has been made possible by the sheer dedication of the Military Intelligence Units and Police assigned to this rather difficult task.

One cannot expect the Government alone to control a pandemic of this nature that has now claimed nearly 1.1 million lives (13 in Sri Lanka) and infected around 39 million people (more than 5,000 in Sri Lanka) worldwide. Public cooperation is essential. We could clearly see a ‘dropping of the guard’ by many people and even institutions after Sri Lanka did not see any cases for weeks at a stretch.

However, one cannot take such liberties with a virulent pathogen, which can lurk anywhere. With the World Health Organization (WHO) now acknowledging that the virus can remain airborne for several hours, there is an even greater chance of catching it. This is also why we cannot dismiss the emergence of a second wave out of hand, even though we are in a far better position when compared to most other countries in the region and elsewhere.

Hence, the importance of wearing a mask whenever you are outdoors or indoors in an unfamiliar environment. Even US President Donald Trump, who ardently opposed the use of masks, was infected with Covid-19 and has since changed his stance for the most part. A good face mask can help save your life as well as those of others. So do yourself a favour – wear one. They are cheap and available everywhere, so there is no excuse not to wear one. The same goes for most of the other hygienic practices. Social distancing may not always be possible, especially, in crowded public transport, but one has to be conscious of the need to maintain the distance from the next person.

The key word here is ‘New Normal.’ It will not be possible to go back to our old lives and lifestyles for at least a couple of years, when an effective vaccine could finally be available at an affordable rate. Until then, we will have to live with certain restrictions and practices that may help save our lives. Some, like washing hands frequently or applying sanitizer, could actually be continued even after this danger passes.

Research done locally has found that respiratory diseases among the population have seen a drastic drop as most other viruses have also been destroyed as a result of hygiene practices. That is not a bad outcome at all. We must cooperate with the health authorities in every possible way to keep our country safe from the novel Coronavirus and other health dangers.