If you are one of those who subscribe only to mainstream media and were observing what was going on in Sri Lanka, you would be excused if you were under the impression that the Corona virus pandemic, while still a problem in the country, was just one of the many issues it was facing.

This week, for instance, there were other issues to be dealt with. The Port City legislation had to be rushed through Parliament despite the Supreme Court deciding that significant sections of it were unconstitutional and had to be endorsed by the people at a referendum.

Then there was the 12th anniversary of the end of the Eelam war, justifiable cause for celebration that it is, which had to be commemorated, pandemic or not, so we could hark back to the dynamic leadership of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and then DefenceSecretary and now President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In the midst of events such as this, the dull daily statistics of the number of cases of corona virus infections and related deaths is not exciting news. On the day of writing this, for example, the country recorded the highest number of cases, more than 3500. That same day, 36 people died from the illness.

Meanwhile, the government’s Department of Information, keen to eliminate any emotion from the issue of the pandemic, calmly announced that the ‘New Year cluster’ had reached 50,000 cases. Ironically, on the same day, a senior physician attached to the Infectious Diseases Hospital, the nation’s main treatment centre for the pandemic warned that Sri Lanka was heading for a ‘catastrophe’.

For the Department of Information though, this was just another cluster similar to the now infamous ‘Minuwangoda cluster’ and the ‘Peliyagoda cluster’ and not a raging pandemic that was wreaking havoc across the country. If only someone asked the Department, they would have even suggested helpfully that there was no ‘community transmission’ and all cases could be linked to those who went shopping for the New Year!

Then, remember how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and General Shavendra Silva, two military men tasked with fighting a war against a virus, proudly declared that the country will not be locked down again because it would cripple the economy?

We can be proud that it hasn’t. Yes, there are ‘travel restrictions’ for days on end, your ability to purchase groceries depends on the last digit of your National Identity Card number and only essential workers are allowed to travel.

Flights have been suspended, schools are closed indefinitely and ‘normal’ life as we know it has come to a screeching halt but these are merely ‘restrictions’- so President Rajapaksa and General Silva can claim once again that they didn’t ‘lockdown’ the country. After all, a ‘lockdown’ by any other name must be as effective!

All this begs the question: should the mainstream media and the relevant medical professionals also take some of the blame for the disaster that Sri Lanka now finds itself in- the country’s worst health crisis in nearly a century and more importantly an entirely preventable one, given how effectively the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic was managed by the same government?

The mainstream media has chosen to air the views of the government ad nauseum, pretending a pandemic did not exist and that there was no community transmission, when medical and scientific opinion was clearly to the contrary. It also chose not to give sufficient airtime to the views of medical experts who had a different view to that of the government.

In fact, it did the opposite. There were many a news report and many a talk show that highlighted the so-called ‘Dhammika peniya’, a spurious concoction devised by a charlatan purely for financial gain. Even when the pandemic was raging, they gave publicity to some ‘doctors’ and an actress who claimed they had discovered a pill to cure the corona virus. Sri Lankans, being the gullible people they are, rushed to invest in these measures, instead of trying to get their hands on the vaccine which was not readily available anyway. They say that careless talk cost lives and in this instance it did, as we are now seeing daily death tolls of over thirty due to the corona virus.

In the medical community, there were a few medical professionals who spoke out individually and a few more organisations that issued the occasional statement. Within the profession though it is an open secret that the most clout is wielded by the doctors’ trade union, the Government Medical Officers’ Association, unpopularly known as the GMOA.

The other open secret in the medical profession is that the GMOA is a lap dog of this government. Basil Rajapaksa publicly acknowledged that some of its members sought nominations from the Sri Lanka PodujanaPeramuna at the last election. Little wonder then that Padeniya & Co. whose grip on the GMOA is similar to the grip of the Rajapaksas on the government is under obligation to Rajapaksa & Co.  

The GMOA which stridently opposed the importation of Indian ambulances and also opposed trade agreements with other countries which was none of their business during the previous government, deliberately chose to maintain a deafening silence until the late stages of the pandemic, when medical experts were predicting that the government was not doing enough and that a disaster was in the making. That is how self-serving and unprofessional this unscrupulous doctors’ organisation has become.

Now they are compelled to take issue with the government because the evidence is overwhelming and other medical professionals and organisations are speaking out anyway. Even then, the criticism is

muted, tempered no doubt by the debts their officials owe to the current regime.

That is the sad story of how the pandemic was mismanaged in Sri Lanka- not only by the government but also by the mainstream media and the most powerful medical professional body.

When history records this tragedy of lives lost due to negligence it is not only the government that will have blood on its hands, the media and the GMOA will too because, as someone famously said, cruelty by ‘bad’ people is only possible because of the silence of ‘good’ people.      


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