By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Curfew has been imposed indefinitely and while, for the most part, citizens of Sri Lanka are co-operating and staying at home, practising social distancing, according to Police Media Division Colombo Director Superintendent of Police (SP) Jaliya Senaratne, the Police have made thousands of arrests of curfew violators all over the island.
It is important to note here that the global community has chosen to tackle the pandemic in various ways and Sri Lanka has chosen to impose curfew – i.e. where a strict order is issued by the administration to keep people off the streets. However, there are many countries that have chosen to go into lockdown – an emergency-like system under which private and public offices, private establishments, and public transport systems are completely closed.
In carrying out the curfew, SP Senaratne shared that they have “arrested” many violators, and these violators would then be taken to a police station where they would give a statement and are sent home. Inspector of Police (IP) Mahakumara, speaking about these violators, shared that they are mostly daily wage earners attempting to find some quick work by running errands for some houses and visiting relatives to deliver them medicine or food. But amongst the arrested also those who have exploited the excuse of the need for medication, among other reasons.
Amongst these violators, in addition to those who, while understanding the dangers posed by the virus, have no choice due to their vulnerable or desperate situations, are those who believe all these precautions are unnecessary and a nuisance, and those who believe global pandemics such as Covid-19 are not likely to affect them; “it is always someone else, never yourself”.
These violators are not only putting themselves at risk, but also those around them.
Attorney-at-Law of the Hambantota Bar Chiranthaka Palugaswewa, speaking to The Sunday Morning Brunch about people violating curfew, said that out of principle, he has made it a point to not take on requests for legal representation by curfew violators as it is pure ignorance that fuels most of these persons. “I do not wish to endanger myself and my family by representing such persons who have no care for their own wellbeing or their own community,” he said.
As for the law, the curfew imposed by the Government must be followed and authorities are doing their absolute best to impose it without being a hindrance. There is nothing more to do other than arrest these people who simply don’t listen.
The general public too has expressed their anger over these persons who chose to step outside their homes during the Government-imposed curfew.
“I know that Rs. 5,000 is being given to those who are in need, but this really should’ve been something they implemented way sooner, and even still, I do not know if that is enough for those people. Therefore, we can’t find fault with some of these people who are stepping out. However, regarding the people who are just going out because they do not think they are taking a serious risk, those are just horrible people.”
“There really should be more stringent measures adopted for these curfew violators and those measures should be effectively communicated to the communities. Hopefully, something stricter would deter people from breaking the rules. As for those who are claiming that they indeed have no choice but to step out, maybe we can implement a process where their services are utilised. Maybe their work may not be considered as essential services, but during this time when the workforce is lacking, maybe there can be procedures where their skills can be utilised and thereby compensate such persons for their
“I feel no sympathy for those who violate curfew and get themselves arrested. They are risking the safety of the larger part of society who are doing their best to stay safe. However, coming from a privileged position where I can afford to sit at home and wait this out, I can’t say anything about daily wage earners who are stepping out to find work and earn their daily dues. I believe the Government has
made efforts to help these people, so all I can say is that things should be better streamlined.”
Why people are so unwilling
University of Sri Jayewardenepura sociology Prof. Mayura Samarakoon, in discussing this mentality of people believing that “bad things never happen to you, they always happen to somebody else”, said that part of the concern is that threats like the virus are invisible.
Referring to the war times, he said that if curfew was imposed and you were told to not leave your residences, people would not disobey it because the consequences were clear to see. You could get shot or be exposed to a bomb blast, and such curfews did not pose restrictions on social interaction; they served the purpose of getting you off the streets. People were allowed to get together, kill time playing cards and games, and
The biggest concern here has been social distancing; humans are social creatures who live in communities, therefore it is difficult for us to isolate ourselves and it goes against our nature.
Sabrina Cader, a psychologist working with the Ohana Project, also spoke of this reluctance to maintain social distance. She said that many people are likely to find this to be an unpleasant experience. It results in separation from loved ones, loss of freedom, boredom, uncomfortable dynamics between family members due to the new living circumstances, and uncertainty about whether or not you might contract the disease. These things could be experienced at varying degrees, depending on the context in which you live.
She said that quarantine could have psychological effects where people would focus on the feelings of loss, helplessness, and fear, and fail to see the possibility that boredom and frustration (which comes out of a loss of a regular routine and feeling isolated) can result in a lot of anger. This anger could be directed at authorities, the world in general, loved ones, and even a higher power.
Misinformation of and distrust in the Government
In addition to this, Cader shared that there is a lot of misinformation and contradictory information that people share about Covid-19. This could lead to different perceptions of the risks attached to contracting Covid-19 compared to others who understand better. People could perceive going out of their house and not observing physical distancing protocols as “less risky” than it actually is.
She also shared that there are certain psychological and neurological factors that make some people more prone to risk-taking behaviour than others. Taking risks causes certain neurochemicals in the brain to be released. Studies have shown that when people are struggling with feelings of sadness and depression, the feelings induced by these chemical changes in the brain can be particularly addictive.
Personality also plays a big role in how likely you are to take risk, and so does peer pressure.
Past experiences and health beliefs
“People’s opinions are formed by past experiences and individuals have different health beliefs,” said Cader, adding that this translates into how they behave. For instance, some people would go see a doctor when they have a cold, some would take koththamalli and stay at home, and others would continue to live their normal lives without changing anything because they don’t think they’re “sick”.
But in a case like this, our health practices can infringe upon someone else’s health. So some might think “it won’t happen to me” (optimistic bias), but that thinking can lead to other people getting very sick. So the “nothing can bring me down” attitude can be detrimental to other people.
What can be done?
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the country has “tried very hard” to explain to its people what needs to be done and how they can co-operate “such as keeping safe distances from one another, monitoring their own personal hygiene, staying home if they are sick, and not going to work, and not socialising.”
World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network Chair Dale Fisher said that it is good to look at Singapore and what they are doing. While implementing restrictive measures, the country has not gone into total lockdown, but they have been over-communicating to their citizens, effectively outlining the necessary measures including isolating and quarantining cases, contact tracing, identifying and isolating those in close contact with infected patients, and practising social distancing.
It is emphasised that lockdowns are not the cure-all, and while there is a long road ahead, and with authorities working at capacity, there is also a considerable responsibility falling on the country’s citizens to make some sacrifices and do their own research if they are skeptical of the way the situation is portrayed to them, but it is imperative that, while Sri Lanka is doing its best to curb the situation, her
citizens must meet her halfway – so please do stay indoors.