Opinion: Shut-downs need not be curfews


By Aneetha Warusavitarana

On the 12th of March the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the new coronavirus, COVID-19 to be a pandemic. With cases in Sri Lanka reaching over a 100, the government of Sri Lanka has taken several measures to prevent the spread of this disease. One such measure was enforcing an island-wide curfew. 

The risks posed by COVID-19 to the health and safety of our population is considerable, and measures to prevent the congregation of people and the spread of the disease are commendable. A lockdown may certainly be warranted,  yet a highly restrictive and prolonged curfew may prove to be counterproductive.

As witnessed on Tuesday March 24th,  the short window given for basic necessities such as groceries,  medicine, and other supplies proved to be not only inadequate but counterproductive to the objective of imposing a curfew in the first place.

The government lifted curfew from 6.00 am to 12 noon, allowing people to purchase their essentials. This temporary lifting of the curfew highlighted the flaws in the solution. With limited information as to when the next curfew would be lifted, people panicked and shops were inundated.

It was not unusual to hear of someone who stood in line for 6 hours, practising social distancing, only to enter a supermarket that was crowded with people, and filled with empty shelves. Crowds were so great that the fear is that the number of infections in the country will now rise in the weeks to come.

Limited information exacerbating the problem

Limited information on the government’s next steps is making the problem worse. The inherent problem with a curfew is that it cannot be imposed indefinitely. People need to have access to essentials - their food and their medicine. The curfew itself was imposed with almost no prior warning, which meant that the population panicked, hitting the shops and buying groceries that far exceeded their immediate requirement. While this hoarding of goods has been publicly criticised, one can understand the fear that drives this behaviour.

Planning the shopping of an entire country, or even one province is not an easy task - and right now people do not know when curfew will be lifted next. As of Wednesday (March 25th), curfew in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and Jaffna has been imposed indefinitely[1] - there is no wonder that there was panic buying.

[1]Chathuranga Hapuarachchi,  “Curfew in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara to continue further – PMD” News 1st, March 25, 2020

https://www.newsfirst.lk/2020/03/25/curfew-in-colombo-gampaha-kalutara-to-continue-further-pmd/ (accessed March 26,2020); “Curfew in Jaffna extended until further notice”, News 1st, March 26, 2020 https://www.newsfirst.lk/2020/03/26/curfew-in-jaffna-extended-until-further-notice/ (accessed March 26,2020)

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