Dr.Sarath Gamini de Silva
The Covid pandemic, apart from causing much human misery all over the world, has had a deleterious effect on human values as well. It appears that mankind has regressed by many decades. Freedom of movement, free association and human interaction, which were promoted as ways of a peaceful world without conflict, have all been suspended as a mandatory way of controlling the pandemic.
Promoting the younger generation to spend more time on physical activity, rather than sitting long hours in front of television and computer screens, has also been suspended. Online teaching has become the norm.
Thus the so-called new normal is a regressive step for the society, which is considered essential at present but hopefully will not last for too long.
Unfortunately, some avoidable situations have arisen due to lack of foresight or scientific thinking on the part of the decision makers.
Almost every illness is being considered as Covid, until proven otherwise. Many non-respiratory illnesses are categorized as Covid, thus causing much hardship and even delaying appropriate treatment. I know of at least one case of a 60-year-old lady dying of a curable respiratory illness, without any treatment in a suburban hospital. identified as a centre for treating Covid cases. She was isolated in an ICU with other Covid patients, without appropriate care. Treatment of many chest pains very suggestive of heart disease have been delayed, until the Covid test reports came as negative. Most disgusting is the way every death is considered to be due to Covid, until proved otherwise.
Many unexpected deaths of hitherto normal people are suspected purely because of a very few similar sudden deaths being reported to be due to Covid, elsewhere in the world.
I am personally aware of the deaths of two doctors in the past week. An elderly general practitioner suffering from repeated attacks of heart failure for several years, and not seeing any patients for a long time, died after a bout of breathlessness around 2am. For the next three hours the family had to report to the police, Grama Sevaka, and coroner.
The police and the Grama Sevaka came home (the family had to provide transport) and took separate statements from the daughter and the wife of the dead doctor until around 6 am. With the attending doctor’s certificate, a post mortem examination and a Covid test were fortunately not carried out. The body could be cremated that evening because things were expedited as the popular doctor was known to many in the town.
Otherwise, it would have taken at least 24 hrs to get the body released. The officers concerned were very apologetic saying that the latest circular on deaths at home requires this cumbersome procedure. No exception is given even when an attending doctor, with all the past medical records on hand, certifies the obvious cause of death.
An 88-year-old emeritus professor, died at home after a fall in the presence of her family members. The corpse was taken to the hospital in a body bag, PCR test done and a post mortem examination performed (may be justified because of the fall and possible head injury). It was more than 24 hrs before the body was released.
In both these instances things happened relatively quickly as they were known to officials concerned. One can imagine the plight of people not influential enough.
As someone has said in social media, loss of the sense of smell and the sense of taste are transient manifestations of Covid. However, loss of common sense appears to be the most serious manifestation of the pandemic. Those who issue circulars from time to time on various aspects, are so totally distant from the practical implications of their decisions.
Maybe there is a general suspicion that the public would be inclined to hide the deaths due to Covid, to avoid the harassment they undergo afterwards. Unfortunately such fear is created by the attitudes and policies of the authorities themselves, from the very onset of the epidemic.
The armed forces coming to the forefront made it appear that getting the disease and dying of it was a criminal act. How households are labelled as isolated, the occupants are hounded up and transported in crowded buses with armed escort, how bodies are cremated in the absence of any kith and kin and handled by fully covered men with personal protection clothing, and how the entire area is disinfected afterwards is fully displayed on television. The social stigma thus created could prevent people from visiting such households or associating with family members for weeks on end.
How bodies of Muslims are cremated against their staunch religious beliefs, thus denying their basic human rights with no firm scientific evidence against burial, is a disgrace to all Sri Lankans. Our leaders requesting a country in the neighbourhood to accept bodies for burial adds insult to injury.
It has to be acknowledged that we were caught unawares by a hitherto unknown illness becoming a pandemic. Hence at the beginning draconian measures had to be taken to control an illness causing havoc everywhere. It is not reasonable to find fault with such retrospectively.
However now that much is known about the nature of the illness one should constantly review the situation and modify the control measures accordingly. Much of the unnecessary hardship mentioned above could be avoided with new knowledge, genuine desire to minimize human suffering and of course, with common sense.