By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Ceylon Today
Colombo, October 12: The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges we Sri Lankans have faced in our lifetime. It is a human crisis with severe health and socio-economic consequences. In the second phase, what initially began as a single case of a 39-year-old employee of a garment factory testing positive for COVID-19, shot up to 1000 infections in just 48 hours. The infected patients were from the ‘Minuwangoda Brandix Factory Cluster’ in Gampaha district.
Alarm bells began to ring across the country at a time when most people were becoming complacent. Many had ignored health regulations in the mistaken belief that the dreaded pandemic was well under control.
While the health and defense authorities managed to trace all those who were infected in the first two clusters within a short duration and take effective measure to treat and quarantine them to defuse the situation, this time, there were major difficulties in tracing some of the people who were associated with infected persons.
As President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assured the people, our health, security and other services are doing their best to save us from this pandemic. He urged everyone to follow the instructions given by the health authorities in respect of COVID-19 and told them not to fall prey to false propaganda. In a Facebook post, President Rajapaksa recalled that when the COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping the globe, Sri Lanka defeated it together as a strong nation. Today, COVID-19 is getting activated in our country. As before, our health, security and other services are doing their best to save us from this pandemic.
“In this challenging situation, I urge you to follow the instructions given by the health authorities and obtain the necessary information from official government information services without being deceived by false propaganda spread by various groups,” he said.
Wasting Parliament Time
It is unfortunate that some politicians try to fish in troubled waters when the country is battling the pandemic. On Friday the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP, Lakshman Kiriella, wasted the valuable time of Parliament by attempting to score brownie points on the current COVID-19 phase. He referred to a comment of Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi made some time ago that the pandemic was under control and it had not spread to the society. He took that comment out of context, ignoring the fact that the Minister in the same statement had cautioned the people that the pandemic could resurface if they did not adhere to health regulations strictly.
Parliamentarian Kiriella’s unsavoury comments were quite in contrast to fellow SJB leader Sajith Premadasa’s praiseworthy statement that the opposition would not try to gain political mileage from the pandemic. He said that he was willing to extend cooperation to the government in its efforts to curb the pandemic. The former Leader of the House, Kiriella, as an experienced politician, should learn from his leader.
Minister of State, Prof Channa Jayasumana, condemned the false propaganda at a time of national calamity. He pointed out that there had been discussions on the imposition of curfew on the basis of recommendations of health and security experts. But there was fake news with regard to the curfew and the closure of some institutions. There was another allegation by the opposition that the number of PCR tests being conducted was not sufficient. That is not true, the State Minister pointed out.
The gravity of the COVID-9 pandemic is evident from the speed of its spread. Arrogant US President Donald Trump, who earlier ordered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to stop negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on COVID, later called for cooperation with the Senate and the Congress to immediately approve additional relief packages.
New Standards for COVID-19 Vaccines
While Trump was also infected, there were over 210,000 fatalities in the United States since February. Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, was the latest administration official to test positive for COVID-19. The White House approved tough new standards for COVID-19 vaccines after weeks of delay.
US Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in isolation after a top Coast Guard Admiral tested positive for COVID-19. The disclosure has raised new questions about the White House’s handling of a 27 September event for the family members of fallen U.S. troops.
In contrast to the irrational attitude of Trump, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered cancellation of the 71st Army day celebrations in view of the detection of infected COVID-19 clusters in Gampaha district. Army Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva issued instructions to suspend all commemorative arrangements in connection with the forthcoming anniversary scheduled for 10 October. A series of religious ceremonies and other formalities was earlier scheduled to be held at Galle Face Green, graced by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces as the Chief Guest on the Army Day.
Opposition Leader’s Offer
Despite this, Opposition leader Premadasa’s constructive offer of cooperation, some SJB Parliamentarians continue to indulge in diverting the attention of the August House on irrelevant issues. MP Harin Fernando called for conducting PCR tests on all MPs to ensure that they did not have COVID-19.He said so in his response to SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatte’s accusation that Fernando had deliberately put other lives in danger by coming to Parliament. Dolawatte said that Harin Fernando had put up a post in his twitter account that he underwent a PCR test on Tuesday.
“To undergo the PCR test, the MP should have felt some complications. Has he shown any symptoms of COVID-19? Please let us know the results of his test,” Dolawatte demanded.
Time For Unity
However, some members only raised important issues. Gampaha District SJB MP Harshana Rajakaruna said there was no police curfew in some areas in Gampaha District and people continued to move about freely.
If the Government declares curfew in the remaining areas, it might help contain the spread of the pandemic, he said. He also referred to the need for arrangements to deliver food and essential items to the curfew areas.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres said: “Now is the time for unity, for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences”. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa called on the opposition to extend cooperation, and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s positive response will be appreciated by the people.