In My View
Nations prepare to gradually withdraw their lockdowns
The novel coronavirus has put the world in an extremely difficult situation. Many countries in different parts of the globe which are still experiencing a growing number of deaths and infection are caught between a rock and a hard place.
These countries still have no clues whether or not they have seen the peak of the disease yet as more and more people are dying from and getting infected with coronavirus each day. The deadly disease is continuing to take its human toll in all these countries.
Simultaneously, the pandemic is impacting the global economy so badly that a lot of businesses around the world--media included--have already announced that they are shutting down their doors permanently. And due to the continued lockdown, millions of people in the world have no work and thus no money to feed their families.
So, it's a double whammy. The virus has been killing and infecting people to kill even more down the road on the one hand, while it has been crippling the economies of the affected countries on the other. Many people of those countries are now finding themselves on the verge of starvation due to cessation of their work.
The World Food Programme chief has already warned that the coronavirus pandemic may cause "famine of biblical proportions." More than 30 countries in the developing world could face widespread famine and there are already over 1 million people on the brink of starvation in 10 of those countries, he told the Guardian in an interview.
David Beasley, executive director of the UN food relief agency said: "COVID-19 pandemic has taken us to uncharted territory. We are looking at widespread famines of biblical proportions. We are talking about extreme conditions, emergency status---people literally marching to the brink of starvation. If we don't get food to people, people will die."
In countries where the virus is still killing and infecting more and more people, the governments are perplexed as to what to do. If they continue lockdown, the businesses and the mills and factories will remain closed and thus suffering of working people will continue to increase. But if they lift lockdown, they will take risk of more coronavirus caused deaths and infection.
In this situation, the only viable option for these countries is gradual lifting of lockdown which India, the next-door neighbour of Bangladesh, has chosen to pursue. And that's why even though the lockdown is set to be extended through June 15 in India, the Indian government has already resumed domestic flights from May 25 and planned to start international flights from mid-June or July.
By partially reopening air and rail travels in India, Indian government is taking a much cautious approach towards lifting of restrictions. The government is apparently worried about the rising number of deaths and infection due to coronavirus in the country. So, there is no doubt that it will carefully monitor the fallout of the reopening of domestic air and rail travels in India over the next few weeks.
With a steadily growing number of deaths and infection in different parts of the country in the last few weeks, India has moved up to the 10th position among all coronavirus-affected nations in the world. And that is precisely the reason the Indian government is seriously considering the option of further extending the nationwide lockdown by another two weeks.
But Pakistan took not so cautious approach as India with regard to lifting of coronavirus restrictions. In fact, Pakistan already began withdrawal of lockdown in phases from May 10 as Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government was unable to provide financial support to millions of Pakistanis relying on their daily earnings for survival and feeding their families.
The Pakistani government lifted the lockdown even though the authorities reported a big rise in new coronavirus cases as well as fatalities in Pakistan. A close aide to Prime Minster Imran Khan said the government could not enforce lockdown in the country for an indefinite period of time as no one had any idea at all as to when the coronavirus crisis would actually come to an end.
The current situation in Pakistan will be evaluated immediately after the Eid holidays and if things turn out to be worse as a result of relaxation of the restrictions, then the lockdown may be re-imposed, said a special assistant to Imran Khan. Like Indian government, the Pakistani government is also quite worried about the recent increase in coronavirus cases as well as fatalities.
As far as the COVID-19 situation is concerned, Bangladesh is no different from India and Pakistan, two subcontinental countries. In fact, the situation is quite similar in all three countries. Over the past one week or so, all three countries witnessed a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases and also fatalities. And all three countries have to choose between two equally unpleasant courses of action.
If Bangladesh continues lockdown, that will be an action to keep coronavirus in check but hurt the economy of the country. And with the hurting of the economy of the country, the people --- especially those belonging to the low-income group---who survive on their daily earnings will also be hurt. They may even be pushed on the brink of starvation and their children and other family members may ultimately die from hunger.
On the other hand, if Bangladesh lifts lockdown, that will be a step to restart the economy but run the risk of increasing the number of coronavirus deaths and infection. Once businesses and mills and factories are opened and inter-district travels by public transportations are allowed, people may not be maintaining physical distancing from each other and that will further increase the possibility of spreading coronavirus in the country.
Such a situation will bring a massive disaster for Bangladesh and the country never wants to find itself in that kind of situation. So, the best bet of Bangladesh is to follow a cautious approach as taken by neighbouring India. As in India, Bangladesh too has been witnessing a steep rise in the number of deaths and infection due to coronavirus for the last couple of weeks even under continued lockdown.
If the lockdown is fully lifted at one go in Bangladesh, the situation may get out of hand and the country may come under a calamity it never saw before. So, a step-by-step withdrawal of restrictions will be the best way forward for Bangladesh as being followed by not just India but many countries including Italy, France and Spain, three of the world's hardest-hit nations.
The novel coronavirus began about five months ago in China and still there is no clear indication that it is going to completely end soon. Spanish Flu or H1N1 virus, known as the mother of all pandemics, lasted for some 15 months. Who knows how long COVID-19 willremain this time around on our planet. We better gradually learn to live with it.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network