Be damned if we lockdown – be damned if we don’t!

Be it in social circles or on social media, the raging debate in recent weeks has been about whether or not to lockdown – and when. Such is the plight of the nation – as it is in most parts of the world – that the powers that be have been hailed by their supporters and derided by detractors, in what seems to have become a matter of politics rather than saving lives and livelihoods.

The apolitical types (a minority, it would seem!) therefore, have been caught in the middle; if they fall in line with the decision-making hierarchy, they’re branded as ‘supporters’; if they critique the modus operandi, the firing squad comes out in the name of ‘patriotism.’

There’s little or no middle ground…

Indeed, most would accept the sense of remorse that has permeated our island nation as what began as ‘mere numbers’ has slowly but surely hit home with family members, friends, workplace colleagues and public figures succumbing to the deadly virus; not to mention the spiralling caseload in what is now a Delta variant induced fourth wave or a ferociously resurgent third wave of COVID-19 here in Sri Lanka.

There is no question that ‘health is wealth.’ Likewise however, the reverse is also true.

When livelihoods of the poor are on the line in a country that is shamelessly home to some 2.5 million people who earn less than Rs. 20,000 a month; when millions more rely on daily wages to feed themselves and their households; and when the ‘working poor’ earn a pittance even if they’re the backbone of our so-called ‘engine of growth,’ the writing is on the wall.

Meanwhile, the healthcare sector and its gallant front line have been at breaking point for many weeks – and there’s no debate on this score.

Breaking the cycle of crises and restoring even a modicum of normalcy may well hinge on the one success of recent months – i.e. the accelerated immunisation programme, which is thankfully closing in on its endgame of reaching herd immunity.

With almost all Sri Lankans over 30 having received one dose of a vaccine and around half of them two jabs, not to mention the ambitious target of vaccinating the 18-30 year age group by not long after the end of September, there is hope that this war can be won. That said, there aren’t any guarantees, given the emergence of more variants in other parts of the globe, and questions over waning vaccine efficacy and whether immunisation in itself will be a panacea for our ills going forward.

These are questions that even scientists and medical experts are grappling with so patience is the order of the day at this time. That the virus and its mutants are unlikely to vanish into thin air is a given with the best case at this time being a hope that the coronavirus will see a shift in status from pandemic to endemic.

As for the present, it will take two weeks from when the last batch of Sri Lankans have been vaccinated for some light at the end of the dark tunnel to be visible – and this would include schoolchildren and possibly adolescents as well since COVID-19 knows no boundaries.

Back to where we began and the vexed question of whether or not to lockdown again, or for a longer period… And crucially, as to whether this should be at the discretion of health experts, the military, the government or the head of state, the jury is still out there and is likely to stay put until the numbers head south.

Unfortunately, there’s been little talk or action that moots the middle path of collaboration. Instead, politics rules the roost not only among our politicians but also in the ranks of sundry commentators turned experts whose sole purpose seems to revolve around showering bouquets or brickbats, depending on their political persuasion.

In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, that is such a shame.

– Editor-in-Chief