Governments are required to protect people, not curtail liberties


The GOSL needs to step back from policies overly dependent on instilling fear and using the coercive might of the state.

The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) is sacrificing peoples’ livelihoods in the name of flattening the covid-19 curve. We see this when the GOSL slams curfews, bans inter-district travel, refuses to ease isolation requirements for visiting sport teams and allows fresh produce to rot because there aren’t adequate refrigerated facilities at collection centers. School age children’s lives are in limbo because every time a covid cluster breaks out, the government goes into shut down mode.

The tourism industry is devastated by the throttling of incoming tourists and the Minister in charge says that the government cannot extend relief to the industry because the banks and the government cannot afford it any more.  The clear implication is that the government considers protecting the profit margins of financial institutions more important than saving the livelihoods of the almost one million people who depend on the industry for a livelihood. The industry pumps in almost $5 billion annually to the country’s GDP.

The minister for tourism says that those establishments which cannot survive should consider shifting to another industry. Oh yeah, Mr.Minister what do you suggest? Charge prospective clients for zoom tours? Chopping up hotel furniture and selling them off for firewood?

The GOSL is kneecapping low income households which have been the most adversely impacted by pandemic restrictions and shutdowns. It is demanding and enforcing a stay-at-home policy on people who simply cannot afford to stay at home.

The government has also allowed the shaming and scapegoating of businesses and people. Citizens are encouraged to rat on their friends and neighbors by health care professionals. Homes of people who are self-isolating are marked with notices compromising their physical safety by fearful and ignorant neighbors.

Calls for supporting and encouraging each other to follow recommended protocols during the worst public health crisis in modern times has been discarded in favor of fines, arrests and checking of identities.

Mr.President, how are people who have no income because your government has shut down their places of employment expected to pay fines for violating pandemic protocols? They will not be able to pay the fines and feed their families with the Rs.5000 pandemic handout, that’s for certain.

More interaction between citizens, police and military personnel brought on by government’s draconian crackdowns will also increase the chance of transmission of the virus. The country has already seen over 150 police personnel infected with the virus and a lot more military personnel have also been infected.

The GOSL has also banned burials even though the World Health Organization says that bodies are not generally infectious. This act has exacerbated existing mistrust between Muslim and Sinhala communities because Muslims who attribute great significance to rituals associated with death feel that the policy is targeted at them.   

The GOSL’s strict pandemic policies were sustainable in the short run but modern economies are not set up to withstand prolonged shutdowns or intermittent opening and closures. These policies have increased societal schisms in the country; the income gap between the wealthy and the poor is starker; the distrust between ethnic groups and political groups more profound, albeit less expressive.

The GOSL needs to step back from the harshness of their policies, the policies overly dependent on instilling fear and using the coercive might of the state and seek ways to reduce fears and apprehensions of the people by appealing to the better angels of our souls, to cover each other’s back.

The GOSL must ensure that hope and renewal is at the centre of its pandemic policies, not fear and control.

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