As has been planned and announced quite some time back, the authorities will be going ahead with the opening of our frontiers starting 1st October 2021. A communiqué was issued from the Ministry of Health and Wellness about the new measures that would be effective as from Friday, covering: activities in fitness centres; access to social halls, village halls, community centres, social welfare centres, youth centres and CABs; places of worship; markets; religious events & ceremonies; weddings and funerals. The measures include restrictions on the number of people attending in these venues, control of entry and exit, alphabetical order where applicable, and recommendations as to vaccination, social distancing and ventilation.
It is pertinent to remind ourselves that the opening comes at a time when for several weeks running we have been witnessing daily cases of Covid by the dozens, accompanied by a rising number of deaths. Clearly, the disease is now widespread in the community, and with the arrival of tourists the risk of further spread and their bringing in new variants is definitely going to increase. This is the same pattern that has been observed elsewhere when there has been loosening of restrictions and opening of internal or external borders, and there is no way we can escape that trend.
Of course, we do understand that sooner or later we would have had to open up, because all operators and all sectors of the economy are feeling acutely the effects of the rolling lockdowns, besides the social suffering that they inflict as well because people of all ages have had enough of not being free to meet family and friends freely. On the other hand, schools have reopened and there have been hiccups, but by and large not only are children and older students happy to be back and engage in their usual learning and leisure activities on the playgrounds, there is relief among many parents as well. It is also salutary that children have been seen wearing their masks, when playing too.
It could be said that overall the habit of wearing the mask has caught on as people have become more aware of the suffering that Covid disease can cause. In fact, whereas when the cases were few and far apart at the initial stages, hardly anyone knew someone who had contracted the disease, now the reality has changed. There is hardly any person or family who does not know someone who has been infected, and perhaps someone who has died too. This is surely an indication that confirms the community spread.
It has now become more than imperative that there is no disconnect or discordance between the information being put forth by the central government at the level of the PMO’s High-Level Covid-19 Committee and that from the ministry of Health and Wellness, as has often seemed to be the case. This throws doubt in the public and creates a mistrust between them and the government, which is inimical to the eventual control of Covid. With the opening of frontiers, there must be additional clear communication exercises on a regular basis on the part of the authorities. They must not hide the true figures nor hide behind numbers. It is best for people to know exactly what is happening.
And the government must anticipate likely scenarios or problems, and not wait for people to suffer unnecessarily or for pressure to be applied before taking action on sensitive matters. Like, for example, in the matter of the disposal of the dead, where this paper had canvassed several times for a more humanitarian approach, which has mercifully been now instituted.
Let us keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best as frontiers open, and this will be premised on everyone rigorously implementing recommended measures.
* Published in print edition on 28 September 2021
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