It seems that many people who are continuously hanging on Facebook , are posting interesting and brain storming insights based on their discipline and expertise. What I observed during curfew lock-down period is that some politicians of opposition parties are trying to prescribe medicine via social media for the corona-virus epidemic and some of them are showing their anger as well as their frustration on military engagement in civil activities pretending that this government is trying to drag the country towards military regime. Some of the political pundits who have utterly failed are pretending to be genius governance consultants of the country.
Meanwhile some farce politicians of ruling government, hidden in safe caves, are also showing their incompetency in encountering such pivotal national issue and steering the country into a safe zone by strategically mobilizing available resources. Not to mention, many of them are worried about their fate due to cancellation of general election which has been scheduled on 25th April. Amid this coronavirus crisis when humans are threatened not only at national but global scale, some agents of the political parties are seeking their survival by openly abusing social media and showing characteristics of the lumpen society.
Apart from that, some people, who are staring about what is happening to the country, are producing encouraging posts by assuming that partnership among Mr. President, Secretary to Defense, Chief commanding officer of the army and three forces, Police and the Health Department and Public Administration is likely to maintain the governance of the country. They are still keeping their trust on these committed individuals and institutions to secure our nation. Then again, many people are optimistic and idealistic that this solidarity which has proven their credibility by eliminating LTTE terrorism will liberate us.
Notwithstanding the relative success that Sri Lanka has achieved in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, it seems that no one yet paid enough attention on possible next scenarios of the crisis and still are not able to realize the danger as well as the gravity of the issue. Are we really prepared for the short-term and long-term issues and challenges that could probably rise in the next stage?
Firstly, it will be a nightmare if the ruling government doesn’t listen to the scientific explanation of the Government Medical Officers (GMO) which are continuously throwing their weight on possible outbreak of corona and its consequences on the entire country. Therefore, isolation and social distance policies should be strengthened further until end of this month by effective and efficient law enforcement. Thus, even if the ruling team led by the president performs their duty successfully in the first scenario, the government has to mobilize non-state actors by empowering and recognizing their role sooner rather than later.
Secondly, government should concentrate on price control of essential goods and services which are instrumental in determining the social stability and harmony in case of a highly sensitive situation. What we experienced during the last few weeks in the Colombo Manin market and the Dambulla economic center, was the inherent consequence of an unregulated market. In order to control the market prices, consumer protection authority has to play a significant role by taking measures to protect local farmers and cracking down the mafia business which contentiously exploits both farmers as well the consumers.
Thirdly, managing the delivery of essential goods and services to the curfew imposed areas should be planned. Unarguably, maintaining the social distancing is pivotal for restraining the outbreak of COVID-19. We experienced that temporarily calling off the curfew led to people rushing to the supermarkets to collect basic goods. Such unprecedented mass gathering will become a favorable condition for the epidemic spread. Moreover, there has to be an assessment of the social and political reactions from the economically unstable social classes of the implementation of these social distance policies. is government paying enough attention on formulating a plan and program for such a scenario?
Fourthly, since Sri Lanka is an import oriented economy, how long can we survive with the goods available in the country? We are highly dependent on India, China, Pakistan and Thailand, countries which have already suffered heavily from corona-virus. Having a proper understanding of the inability to import our essential goods from foreign countries, many speculate that there will be a possible food shortage in the country after the third week of the April. Do we have a plan to mobilize the agricultural sector to mitigate the food shortage? Will we be able to achieve self-reliance for national food supply? Thus, time has come to initiate a “green revolution” with the coordination of the ministries such as agricultural, livestock, irrigation and trade. Effective mobilizing and empowering of all farmers and livestock societies in the country should be immediately executed to get ready for future challenges.
Finally, historical experience has convinced that deadly disasters have psychological (stress and depression) impacts. Some people around the world, particularly in Europe, have been badly traumatized by uncertainty, anxiety and fear of the death, even though such industrial societies are relatively self-oriented. Thus, undisputedly, Sri Lankan society which traditionally enjoys social orientation values has to be prepared for such traumatic impact. Policy makers and stakeholders of the country should come forward with a comprehensive plan which will help in mitigating and minimizing such psychological trauma.
The prevailing situation in Sri Lanka can be observed as the second stage of the corona epidemic. Number of infected people, available medical facilities and quantity of available essential foods & services show that time has come to bring all the forces into a single frontier urgently. Eventually, its imperative to have a comprehensive plan and a coordinated governance mechanism which can combat the deadly virus. The crisis also presents an opportunity to take a leap forward towards being a self-reliant and developed country. Notwithstanding their supremacy in the world, United States has paid large price for the negligence and late response of the Trump government, providing us with a valuable lesson to act immediately but systemically.
Dr. Chaminda Abeysinghe is a Senior Lecturer at Department of International Relations of Kaleniya University, Sri Lanka.