Keerthika Mahalingam

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who contested the Presidential Election representing the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, became the 7th Executive President of Sri Lanka on November 18th 2019 with a voting majority of 52.25%. A year has passed since the new government came to power. The present government has introduced a new program to fulfil its responsibilities by presenting the “A Vision of Prosperity to Build the Country” (රට හදන සෞභාග්‍යයේ දැක්ම) policy as the Sri Lankan economy is in a financial abyss due to the actions of the previous government. 

Accordingly, the reign of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa began with the prevalence of Covid-19. Addressing the public, the President said it was the duty of the people to act responsibly due to the rapid expansion of the second wave of Covid-19 during his tenure. Although such direct statements by the President, who promised to prioritize national security after coming to power, may seem plausible at first glance, it is easy to see whether it is the present government or the people who are neglecting their responsibilities.

The first case of Coronavirus in Sri Lanka was reported on January 27th from a Chinese woman. After she received treatments at the hospital for about a month, the government acted irresponsibly by not launching any media campaign to make people aware of the seriousness of the Coronavirus, despite various rumours circulated about her recovery. A curfew was imposed for the first time on March 26th, after the country’s first local Covid patient tested positive on March 11th. In order to keep the country’s economy stable, curfew was implemented partially from May 11th to the present, limiting it to various provinces. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that curfew alone is not enough to control the spread of Coronavirus. Against this backdrop, the government lifted the curfew, saying there would be no further viral spreads in society, and the government said the people should be responsible for taking their own protections. Apart from that, whether the government is implementing a proper healthcare program is a big question presently. 

Although various problems such as the quality and the standards of laboratories in which the PCR tests are conducted, the reliability of research reports, conducting PCR tests only on randomly selected members of society, the number of PCR tests performed per day across the country, lack of accurate data and delay on releasing PCR test results can be seen happening between the health sector and the Government Medical Officers’ Association. The government has only confirmed the people who come to Sri Lanka from abroad as infected with Corona. 

Furthermore, the background was being created for the immediate holding of a parliamentary election. Therefore, the Scholarship Examination and the GCE (Advanced Level) Examination scheduled to be held in August were  postponed without a new date. Although the present government agendas succeeded in launching a campaign for the 2020 parliamentary elections, holding parliamentary elections and trying to get the 20th Amendment to the Constitution passed as a government, is a big challenge that the public safety is still unpredictable.  

In August and September, the spread of Covid-19 has been reported at a minimum level in the country. In this situation, the government and the people were getting used to their daily routine again. After a 39-year-old woman was diagnosed with Covid at a private garment factory in Minuwangoda, Gampaha on October 3rd, Corona infected clusters were identified as the Kandakadu Quarantine Center Cluster, Navy Cluster and Minuwangoda Garment Factory Cluster. The government has faced various allegations in this regard. But it is understood that the government has shirked off its responsibility by not giving a proper explanation of the pandemic situation. 

Curfew was imposed on October 22nd covering the entire Gampaha district after diagnosing Corona infected clusters from the Peliyagoda fish market and the Minuwangoda garment factory. Many believed that the imposition of curfews in areas where Corona patients were prevalent would help control the spread of the virus. However, the curfew in Gampaha, which was said to be effective only until 5.00 am on October 26th, was extended for several weeks. The public who only prepared for a three-day curfew had to stay indoors for about a month and a half due to the arbitrary decisions of the government. 

Curfew is still effective in some areas of the Colombo District such as Aluth Mawatha, Kotahena and Modara. Most of the people living in Colombo and Gampaha are from other provinces. They have lost their livelihoods due to Covid and are in a precarious situation as they are unable to meet their daily needs and go to their homes. In such a background, it is unfortunate that politicians who come to power with the vote of the people do not pay attention to the problems of their voters. The prices of food items such as dhal and salmon during the pandemic period when the country was closed during the first wave, but with the expansion of the second wave, the prices of essential food items have also gone up. 

“You can go to a shop with Rs. 1000 / = and can buy only the items that are enough for one shopping bag”

“Rs. 5000 / = is not enough to cover one meal expense of a family of 5 persons”

“It only costs Rs. 1000 / = to buy the milk powder my son needs.”

If you live in a curfew area like Colombo or Gampaha, you often hear such cries. In such a situation the government has taken steps to provide only Rs. 5000/= per family. There have been various debates in Parliament on this but no proper answer has been given yet. The failure of the present government to understand the existing reality raises suspicions among the people about the irresponsible actions of the government. 

Nowadays, the fear of poverty is greater than the fear of Corona among the public. Against this backdrop, people in the Aluthgama area have protested in the streets. It is ridiculous that the current government has not taken any actions to protect the people and ensure the safety of public health. In such a situation, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has been emphasizing from the outset that it would not be fair to shift the entire responsibility for the pandemic situation to one party.

It would be good if government workers, the health and security sectors, journalists and those in charge of the future of the country collectively understand their duties correctly and perform them properly for public wellbeing. However, the government has the power to make the final decision. It is the responsibility of all other social parties to support the decisions of the government only if the government is not mistaken. The public must work together with the government for the betterment of the country. However, is it justifiable to blame the people alone for not supporting in controlling the spread of the Covid-19 in an environment where politicians turn to the public only for political gain, even when the government’s decisions are not known to the public accurately and reliably?

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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