Covid and UNHRC; twin challenges plaguing Sri Lanka
The silence of health authorities while all this is going on is deafening. The government’s favourite lap dog, the GMOA is not even barking, let alone daring to bite. Other medical bodies have taken a vow of silence, or so it seems. So, the pandemic marches on
The resolution against Sri Lanka is sponsored and encouraged not by India, China or Russia but by the United States, Britain and other EU countries, the same countries that are in the race for the vaccine, elbowing out the likes of Sri Lanka. Then they lecture us on human rights too! Ruthless, isn’t it?
As the corona virus pandemic rages on, infecting hundreds daily, Sri Lanka is learning fast that it is but a short step from the ridiculous to the ruthless.
First, to the ridiculous. It was only a few months ago that the country was hailed as a model for the control of the pandemic. At the first hint of the virus escaping China’s shores, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa closed the country’s borders and ordered what is now known as a ‘hard lockdown’.
The curfew-style taboos on movement were implemented with military precision, which is what Rajapaksa takes pride in. The country spent the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Vesak and Ramadan in lockdown. Still, they were happy to grin and bear it because the strategy worked. For many months the country had only a few cases and a handful of deaths.
Sri Lankans marvelled at the efficiency of their new government. “Thank God for the ‘pohottuwa’, if it was a ‘yahapaalanaya’ government, we would all be dead by now”, they said, giving credit where it is due. All this was only a few months ago, late September to be precise.
Then, everything changed. A cluster was identified first at a garment factory and then at a wholesale fish market. Instead of going hard and fast in dealing with it, there was a culture of blame and denial. There was no strict lockdown in response. The ‘cluster’ was under control and there was no ‘community transmission’, they emphasised.
A short, sharp, total lockdown would have kept the spread of the virus to a minimum. That is a strategy that has worked wonders in other countries which have successfully controlled the virus when encountering outbreaks in the community from time to time. Yet, the powers that be decided otherwise. The economy cannot open and shut whenever a cluster appeared, they said. Besides, why go in to ‘lockdown’ when you haven’t acknowledged ‘community transmission’?
Then, matters took a turn for the absurd. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi was caught on camera throwing a pot of ‘holy water’ in to the Kalu river, hoping to ward off the virus. Questioned about this in Parliament, Wanniarachchi rose to the occasion. I would sacrifice myself to the river, if it helped in beating the pandemic, she declared, a-la Vihara Maha Devi. The intelligentsia in Viyath Maga would no doubt have applauded.
If the act of throwing a pot of ‘holy water’ into a river was done surreptitiously, Wanniarachchi was not once bitten twice shy. The next time around, she invited the cameras in. They photographed her drinking a potion concocted by a man with no accredited medical qualifications. He claimed it was a cure for the virus. Ah, why spend billions of dollars on a vaccine for the corona virus when you can beat it with a potion that can be made in your backyard?
Wanniarachchi can drink whatever she wants if she believes it cures the virus and we have no issue with that. The issue is when the Minister of Health who is supposed to spearhead the campaign against the virus does that in public, it sends a strong and, in the opinion of many, wrong message to the public. And so it did. Thousands flocked to the residence of the man who dispensed the potion-flouting all social distancing regulations.
Now, we are where we are today: hundreds infected and a few deaths every day, about sixty thousand cases and no signs of the pandemic abating. This is not only because of the magic potion and Wanniarachchi’s false sense of bravado but also because of mismanagement and a change to a strategy of ‘carry on as if nothing has happened’.
Wanniarachchi herself got a dose of her own medicine: she was diagnosed with the virus last week. We wish her well and hope she has a speedy recovery but we also hope- against the odds- that she will be chastened by her experience.
The authorities meanwhile are carrying on, regardless. Udayanga Weeratunga, first cousin of the first and second citizens, is allowed to bring tourists from virus infested Ukraine and they are allowed to roam around tourist attractions with no proper quarantine!
The main bone of contention for the government is not how to deal with the growing pandemic but how to dispose of the bodies of Muslims succumbing to the pandemic. Evidence from experts, both local and foreign, is accumulating that burial does not pose a risk but also accumulating are the bodies of Muslims in mortuaries- as family members shy away from accepting them. A government that came to power alienating the Muslim community is now dividing the country further over this issue.
The silence of health authorities while all this is going on is deafening. The government’s favourite lap dog, the GMOA is not even barking, let alone daring to bite. Other medical bodies have taken a vow of silence, or so it seems. So, the pandemic marches on. Thousands more will fall victim to the virus and hundreds more will die before we see any respite. So much for ‘system change’!
Now, from the ridiculous to the ruthless: the only scientifically proven way out of the pandemic is widespread vaccination. Sri Lanka, with little clout and even lesser amounts of money is waiting, begging bowl in hand, for vaccines. Meanwhile, the Head of the World Health Organisation is complaining that richer nations are ‘jumping the queue’ and hoarding vaccines while poorer nations- like ours- get nothing. For global elimination of the virus, he says, every nation must have equal access.
That though is not happening. Countries such as the United States and the Britain have hogged the market and the European Union has gone so far as to slap export controls on vaccines manufactured within its territories. Even the EU and Britain are fighting with each other for access to the vaccines. Meanwhile, neighbouring India has donated half a million vaccines to Sri Lanka. China has donated 300,000. Russian vaccines are also reportedly on the way.
Pause for a moment and consider the other battle the government is fighting at present: a resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council. These are sponsored and encouraged not by India, China or Russia but by the United States, Britain and other EU countries, the same countries that are in the race for the vaccine, elbowing out the likes of Sri Lanka. Then they lecture us on human rights too! Ruthless, isn’t it?