Bangladesh stands at a crossroads of global pandemic
Govt must not hesitate to make tough decisions in greater national interest
Against the backdrop of limited resources, inadequate medical facilities and insufficient technical manpower, Bangladesh government hasn't been doing so poorly to tackle the global pandemic of COVID-19 as reported in a section of foreign media.
Army has been called out, public transportation has been closed, shutters of most offices and businesses have been pulled down, movement of people has been restricted and quarantine and self-quarantine of suspected and not suspected local and foreign-returned Bangladeshis have been enforced.
Initially, the government closed all offices and businesses across the country for about a week starting late March but after a careful review of the situation of coronavirus in Bangladesh, the closure has been extended by another 10 days through April 14 including two weekly holidays. And that was a pretty wise decision on the part of the government.
The measures so far taken by Bangladesh are completely in line with the steps adopted by most countries in the world to bring the global pandemic under control as quickly as possible. Deployment of army in aid of the civil administration throughout the country to enforce government orders has been largely successful.
Even though the active presence of soldiers in full military uniform on the streets of Bangladesh is reminiscent of a different situation, it has been working effectively to enforce the government orders, especially on keeping the streets clear of people and thus isolating them and confining them at home for around the clock and for their own safety.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) under Health Ministry has been acting as the principal voice of Bangladesh on the pandemic. As per its latest count, the numbers of affected people with coronavirus, recovery rate as well as fatality rate in Bangladesh are not so bad compared to many countries around the world.
On April 5, 2020, the total number of affected people with coronavirus in Bangladesh stood at 88 while 55 people went home from hospitals after recovering from the disease and nine people lost their lives in the pandemic. An analysis of these official figures, however, gives us mixed results. In other words, Bangladesh stands at a crossroads of global pandemic.
Even though the overall situation based on these figures doesn't look so depressing for Bangladesh, it has both good news and bad news for the country. According to these official figures, the recovery rate in Bangladesh is quite good compared to other countries. However, the fatality or death rate in the country is bad according to the same comparison.
The current average world recovery rate from coronavirus is less than 20 percent whereas the recovery rate in Bangladesh is some 60 percent. However, the average world fatality or death rate in the pandemic is currently about 5 percent while the death rate in Bangladesh based Bangladesh's own official figures as presented by IEDCR is more than 10 percent.
So, Bangladesh needs to be very careful about the coronavirus death rate in the country. Even though the number of affected people by the virus is relatively much lower compared to many nations in the world, the fatality rate in Bangladesh is more than double as against the same in the coronavirus pandemic in those nations. This is something that needs to be seriously pondered over.
However, it is heartening to note that the measures so far taken by the government to keep coronavirus in check is otherwise working. The government, the army and all those officials and employees belonging to various ministries - especially the Health Directorate and hospitals -- who are actively engaged day and night in fighting the deadly disease do deserve a pat on their back.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 doesn't discriminate. Anyone from the man on the street to the head of the government of any nation falls within the target range of this malicious and unknown virus which has already brought down many developed nations including the U.S., Britain, Italy, Spain and France to their knees despite their sophisticated medical facilities and health care systems.
The virus has caught the world almost off guard. Even the presidents and prime ministers of many countries are nervously addressing their nations. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself has tested positive for coronavirus and is currently under quarantine and treatment, candidly told the British media the other day that "the situation in Britain will be worse before it will get better."
The U.S.-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended Americans to wear facemasks for protection from coronavirus which spreads from person to person. However, it's not mandatory and so U.S. President Donald Trump, who is widely known to have his own ways of doing thingseven in these days of coronavirus, has said "he will not wear a facemask."
But the president told Americans that "the next couple of weeks will be crucial for America." It's worth noting that America has had the largest number of the affected people by the deadly virus surpassing China and European nations including Italy and Spain. And New York lost the highest number of people in the global pandemic. Among them were at least 64 people of Bangladeshi origin.
Now the most worrying development in Bangladesh is that it has decided to reopen at least partially the garment industries of the country. According to some reports, 15 to 20 percent garment industries will be immediately reopened in and around the nation's capital city causing concern not only among the garment factory workers but all Bangladeshis throughout the country.
In most garment factories across Bangladesh, workers sit pretty closely next to each other and they often have conversations among them. Additionally, these factories have extremely limited washroom facilities and these washrooms are not supplied with necessary toiletries. Even if all workers strictly follow the guidelines of wearing facemasks, they may still contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
The number one reason for the spread of the disease, if some workers somehow have in the garment factories, will be certainly non-maintenance of social distancing because of their close association. And if once the killer disease starts spreading from the garment factories, no management of those factories - and not even the government with all its might - will be able to quickly bring it under control.
And that will be a massive disaster for Bangladesh. So, before the government allows the garment factories to reopen even partially, it must think twice whether or not it could pose a serious danger to the entire nation. Some reports suggest that some factories are reopening to make PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and facemasks for domestic uses and export purposes.
Only one or two garment factories may be allowed under strict conditions and surveillance by the members of law enforcement agencies to manufacture PPE and facemasks just to meet domestic requirements but they must not be allowed to make them for exporting abroad and making quick gains taking advantage of the situation arising out of a global pandemic.
National interest must supersede corporate greed and the guardian to make sure that is only a patriotic government of a country. No one should have any suspicion about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's love for Bangladesh and thus her government hopefully will not hesitate to make tough decisions during this global emergency in the greater national interest.
The writer is a Toronto-based Bangladeshi journalist who also writes for Toronto Sun and Canada's Post Media Network as an opinion columnist.)