Disseminating correct facts: The best weapon against COVID-19

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi told the media on Sunday that a gazette notification is to be issued today (Monday or Tuesday) in connection with making it compulsory to wear face masks in public, keeping at least one metre distance from another person and other health guidelines.

From this gazette notification, it will be compulsory to follow health guidelines issued by the Government in order to prevent COVID-19 and violators of the health guidelines will be arrested without a warrant and could be remanded up to six months or imposed a fine not more than Rs. 10,000 or of both such imprisonment and fine. The health authorities are being forced to do this because of the ignorance of some people and institutions which put the entire population of Sri Lanka at risk.

It is very pathetic to see how some individuals use wrong Sinhala words over mass media misleading the public and how mass media show misleading visuals making it harder to prevent COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. Some such visuals create unnecessary problems. But it is not those individuals who are responsible for all the issues. It is mass media and the media culture in Sri Lanka. We are talking about 'Mouth Masks’, decontamination chambers and disinfecting roads and floors. Burying COVID-19 dead bodies is another hot topic created by mass media.

COVID-19 control activities

Nowadays a lot of people, especially the young generation do not know the real Sinhala language and they know the language broadcast and telecast over private electronic radio and television channels. Those channels use some type of artificial, wrong and distorted Sinhala language terms. Therefore a lot of people understand and treat this new 'Sinhala language’ as the original accurate Sinhala language used in Sri Lanka a few decades ago. It is pathetic to see how it affects COVID-19 control activities.

We can see and hear all the time individuals advise the public to wear Face Masks. In English it is perfect. Everyone understands it all over the world and people wear it. But here in Sri Lanka most of the occasions this Face Masks is being called in Sinhala 'Muka Awarana’ which means 'Mouth Covers’ and not Face Masks. We can see a lot of people covering their mouth and not their nose. The accurate Sinhala word is 'Muwa Awarana’ which means 'Face Masks'.

There is a slight single letter difference between these two Sinhala words 'Muwa’ which means 'Face’ and 'Muka’ which means 'the mouth'. In addition, a lot of people do not know the meaning of this Sinhala word 'Muwa’ which means 'face’ because it is a type of word mostly used in Sinhala literature and not in day- to-day life. Therefore a lot of people misunderstand 'Muwa’ as 'Mouth’ which is totally wrong. What we need to use is 'Muhunu Awarana’ which is crystal clear for all the people in Sri Lanka even the people who speak Tamil.

The WHO has not recommended the use of decontamination chambers for ordinary people as a preventive measure of COVID-19. It gives a false sense of security to the people and administrators of various institutions. These decontamination chambers do not have a specific standard and various chemicals are being used for them. Spraying of chlorine on individuals can lead to irritation of eyes and skin. UV light can cause skin cancer. These chambers spray disinfectants to the hands and not to the palms which is essential. The decontamination chambers do not disinfect the inside of the hands (palm) which is a must. There is no standard on the duration of disinfecting an individual. Therefore it is not effective when it comes to one of the most important tasks, cleaning hands which is essential to prevent COVID-19.

According to local and foreign health experts, disinfectants should be sprayed or applied only on surfaces that are highly or frequently touched by the public, such as hand railings, door knobs, poles on transit vehicles, elevator buttons, park/ street benches etc. It has been proven that the virus can survive from hours to days on these contaminated surfaces. Routine cleaning/ wiping of frequently touched hard surfaces with detergent / disinfectant solution should be done. But when it comes to Sri Lankan mass media what do we see all the time? It is people going through so called 'Decontamination Chambers’ installed in many state and private institutions and spraying thousands of litres of disinfectants on roads, on large floor areas, on high walls, etc. and the funniest part of the visuals is showing how people wearing PPE spray disinfectants on surfaces such as ceilings, upper walls where people never touch and cannot reach even if they climb using a ladder.

The chemical disinfectants can have various adverse effects on humans. In particular, spraying of chlorine on individuals can lead to irritation of eyes and skin, bronchospasm due to inhalation, and potential gastrointestinal effects such as nausea and vomiting. Inhaled ozone can damage the lungs, may worsen chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.

Excessive exposure to UV light may put a user at risk of eye injury, skin burns or even an increased risk of skin cancer. To date, the US FDA has not authorized any products using ozone gas or ultraviolet (UV) light even to clean, disinfect or sanitize inanimate objects, health experts say.

The other pathetic visual shown on television channels every day is how the dead bodies of thousands of COVID-19 victims are buried in some other countries in the world. It was hilarious that some opposition politicians demanded the Government a few months ago to do the same here in Sri Lanka. The television channels never said a word so far where those dead bodies were buried and how big those countries are.

The television channels still show some big countries which are much bigger than Sri Lanka with huge bare lands located hundreds of kilometres away from residential areas bury dead bodies of COVID-19 patients. But no channel compared the lands and other environmental conditions between those countries and Sri Lanka which encouraged many people to believe that the dead bodies of COVID-19 people can be buried here in Sri Lanka.

Some opposition politicians tried to take political advantage using this 'lack of knowledge and information’ of the majority of Sri Lankan ordinary people. Ordinary people do not have time to search and compare the statistics. It is the duty of television channels. It is the duty of real professional journalists to find out statistics and make a comparison while showing visuals.

The other weakness of Sri Lankan media is not showing the gravity of COVID-19. One can say that no one needs to make people scared. But Sri Lankan people did not see any dead bodies of COVID-19 victims due to the far sighted precautionary measures and timely and wise leadership given to our health authorities and Armed Forces by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi.

Gravity of the problem

Not seeing the gravity of the problem can be one reason for the people to ignore basic and essential health guidelines issued by the health authorities and the Government. Sri Lankan mass media should have been creative in order to show the gravity of the problem, COVID-19 without making people panic. But unfortunately still it is not happening. According to what is shown on television channels, COVID-19 is something dangerous and destructive for other countries in the world and not for Sri Lanka.

No matter who says what and who does what, one crucial factor stands in connection with the success of preventing individual COVID-19 infections. It is maintaining mindfulness all the time. In other words being conscious all the time. If you follow basic and essential health guidelines all the time, COVID-19 is not a challenge for you. The basic and essential health guidelines are wearing a standard three layer mask when go out from home, keeping at least one metre distance from another person all the time, washing hands with soap and water for 30 seconds, especially before adjusting your mask or touching your face, using a hands sanitizer whenever soap and water is not available. You should not touch anything, even another part of your own body in between the time you wash your hands and touching your mask or face. Avoiding touching your entire face is another basic and essential requirement to avoid the COVID-19 infection. 

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