So far, COVID has had the last laugh

COVID presents an opportunity for all Sri Lankans to recognise they are human beings first, and then whatever else after that.

by Raj Gonsalkorale

D M Shaw, from the Institute for Biomedical Ethics, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, writing in the journal of Bioethical Inquiry (Invisible Enemies: Coronavirus and Other Hidden Threats) saysthat COVID-19 is our invisible enemy, changing our lives radically without ever revealing itself directly. He says “First, I analyse the virus itself and how its stealthy nature has transformed our lives. Second, I describe how the invisible epidemic of social media sharing of fake news about the virus worsens the situation further. Third, I explore how the virus has revealed to us what really matters in our lives and has forced us to re-evaluate our priorities. Fourth, I go on to explore the underlying structural weaknesses and disparities in society that have been exposed by the virus but previously remained unconsidered for so long that they too have become camouflaged, even if their effects are all too apparent; like the virus, neoliberal capitalism is an invisible enemy that has made prisoners of us all. I conclude by suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic represents a hidden opportunity to overcome perhaps the biggest invisible enemy of all: the moral distance that separates us from others. Only by rendering the rest of humanity morally visible to ourselves can we overcome capitalism and stop treating other people as invisible enemies”

COVID 19 is the ultimate socialist. It does not discriminate and does not know a beggar from royalty, a Prime Minister from a President or a man from a woman or a General from a Private soldier. It does not know a Tamil from a Sinhalese or a Muslim. A Buddhist from a Christian or a Muslim, a Harijan from a Brahmin. For COVID, all are human beings, as all new born are; just human beings.

COVID presents an opportunity for all Sri Lankans to recognise they are human beings first, and then whatever else after that. Labels are freely available to divide and segment human beings, create anger and anguish amongst those divided and self-create imaginary superiority and inferiority positions amongst the divisions. This surely is not the time for that. COVID couldn’t care less. It will infect anyone.

Sri Lankan politicians accuse each other about the response to contain and eliminate COVID and persons in leadership positions offer medical advice about medicines to use against COVID in total ignorance of facts relating to medicines,and raising unfounded hopes amongst people that there is a cure for COVID, when COVID knows there is no medicine to “cure” it, and has the last laugh about the stupidity of these utterances. The COVID community must be preying for more fools like these so called responsible politicians.

A discredited previous health portfolio holder pontificates about how this pandemic can be ended and teams up with similarly discredited persons to mislead the public who are in such a desperate position, ready to swallow not just the “Peniya”, but any concoction sent by the divine. COVID laughs heartily and deliberates why it should not redouble its spread to get more such low breeds to pontificate even more and further hamper efforts being made to contain it. The winner is COVID.

When common sense, which no doubt ordinary people are expected to have in a country that boasts of a 2500 year history, great civilisations which could have taught a things or two to the rest of the world, dictates that one should wear a protective mask to cover one’s nose and mouth and not the chin, and not congregate in numbers, and maintain a distance between two people to avoid infection;they do the opposite. COVID cheers saying we want more of this.

Opposition parties in Parliament organise demonstrations, totally disregarding health advice, helps COVID to spread, and then blames the government for not containing the spread. Perhaps COVID coffers are rich and overflowing to fund and support these campaigns. Or this brazen political opportunism is a heaven sent gift to COVID where it can spread without any need to spend for it.

Some people imagine an enemy that can be beaten by brawn, when what is needed are brains. Some think that what they cannot see, cannot cause any harm to them. So they congregate, have parties and disregard health advice. Some do this under the protection of highly placed politicians. 

Without the knowledge of these brainless people, COVID crashes these parties and leaves its imprint with ever spreading clusters. Hospitals fill up, ICU beds and ventilators have waiting lists, with some not making it to them and ending up in over crowded morgues. COVID probably raises a glass to these morons who deprive people who are sick with other serious medical conditions.  

COVID must be laughing and having a grand time knowing they have already infected more than 200 million human beings around the world and killed more than 4.4 million people, brought the world’s mighty economies to their knees, all without spending a red cent. Political leaders grandstand about their achievements in containing the pandemic. Infections have risen markedly in the US, UK, Japan, South Korea and virtually in all parts of the world with the Delta variant. COVID has more weapon in their arsenal and Delta will be followed by other variants which are very likely being tested by COVID now. In fact Sri Lankan medical authorities have stated that there are three Delta variants already in Sri Lanka. COVID has struck.

Vaccination is the only weapon available to human beings to lessen infections, lessen the impact of infection and lessen the need for hospital interventions. There is nothing else on the table. No omnipotent force can contain COVID. Only vaccines can. Despite this patently obvious situation, millions are refusing to get vaccinated. COVID is cheering for more of such people.

In this climate, a situation faced by all countries, big and small, rich and poor, coping with a health fiasco and an economic disaster, recovery from this disaster is even further than a distant dawn. There is very little light at the end of the tunnel, if at all. All Sri Lankans have to come to terms with this reality.

While not intending any disrespect to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka’s begging bowl has  been extended to a country which was a virtual beggar economically not so long ago. The country’s health service is bursting at the seems and its health care workers have been pushed beyond endurance. In this climate, some people march the streets and congregate in large numbers without any regard to health advice and their fellow human beings.

While many would point fingers at the government, it is not the intention here as whatever government in power would have faced a similar, if not a worse situation should some of the discredited politicians who were booted out resoundingly by the people at the last election were in power.

The intention of this article is firstly to appeal to all parties in the current Parliament to call a halt to all forms of partisan politicking at least for 2 years, and secondly for them to work with the government in the health and economic front. A structure is needed for this, as words alone would not amount to anything.

Perhaps a National governing council under the President, with the inclusion of the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister of Health, the Leader of the Opposition, leaders of all other political combines if any political party is part of a political combine and leaders of political parties who are not part of a combine (for example the UNP), could be formed with specific responsibilities (to be determined by the President) in the area of health and economic management.

At this juncture, one hopes that politicians place the country above their political interests, and recognise that both the President and the government has been given an overwhelming mandate by the people in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Destabilising the President or the government at this stage will only hand over even a longer lasting victory to COVID.

Paraphrasing the message placed before all countries by D M Shaw, COVID could well be saying that we, COVID 19, are providing an opportunity to overcome perhaps the biggest invisible enemy of all: the moral distance that separates human beings from one another, the fortunate from the less fortunate, and only by rendering all of humanity morally visible to each other could human beings overcome the disparities that exist amongst them and stop treating other people, the less fortunate, as invisible enemies”

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