In My View
It’s time to limit mobility, not stroll thru’ the fair
It has been well over a year since the pandemic of COVID-19 started from the Chinese city of Wuhan and spread through virtually the whole world taking a massive toll on human life and global economy, but unfortunately it is not yet showing any promising sign that it is going to leave our planet anytime soon.
Instead, a frightening new surge of the pandemic has begun with a greater strength in many countries around the globe claiming more lives, infecting more people and causing more damage to their economies. Bangladesh being a member of the global community is no exception. So, Bangladesh too is sadly experiencing a fresh wave of coronavirus cases.
The national statistics about the deadly disease speak for themselves. On April 6, COVID-19 killed 66 Bangladeshis -- the highest in one day. And on April 7, the virus infected 7,626 people exceeding all previous daily records. So far, a total of 9,447 Bangladeshis have lost their lives to the pandemic while the country's active cases have climbed to 659,278. Meanwhile, 561,639 people have recovered from the disease.
But as said, Bangladesh alone is not experiencing the sudden spike in coronavirus cases. Canada, for example, is also going through a more fearsome wave of COVID-19 which may spread across the country with transmission of new infectious variants. As reported by media, a lot of young Canadians are now also being hospitalized with severe complications from COVID-19.
Bangladesh's closest neighbour India too is experiencing a similar surge. In just 24 hours on April 7, India registered a record 126,315 new cases of coronavirus while 684 more people died from the disease. India is one of the five worst-hit countries in the world. According to latest data, coronavirus has killed 166,892Indians while infected 12.9 million people. And so far, a total of 11.8 million people have recovered from the deadly disease.
In an effort to combat the new surge of COVID-19, many places in Canada that relaxed or lifted lockdowns have re-imposed them. Declaring third state of emergency, the Ontario government issued stay-at-home order effective 12:01 a.m. on April 8 for four weeks. These measures are in addition to province-wide shut-down announced just a few days ago. Under the new shut-down rules, indoor public events and social gatherings are prohibited except for those in the same household.
Outdoor public events and social gatherings are limited to five people except for those in the same household. Indoor and outdoor dining are barred at restaurants which can only provide takeout, delivery and drive-through services. Personal care services are prohibited, and indoor or outdoor fitness or sports facilities such as gyms are closed with very limited exceptions. Grocery stores are limited to 50 percent capacity and all other stores to 25 percent.
In view of the fresh wave of coronavirus, Bangladesh which performed better compared to many other countries in handling the pandemic, has also imposed a week-long countrywide lockdown starting April 5 and issued a set of new guidelines under which all government, private offices as well as industrial units will run with reduced workforce while all religious, social, political and other gatherings will be restricted.
People have been ordered to stay home from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. until April 11. Except for emergency services, all public transport systems including rail, road, river and air have been suspended. In a speech from the nation's parliament, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought cooperation from people in tackling the new surge. She put the value of life above everything and reminded the people of difficulties they may face during the lockdown.
However, while browsing through the digital edition of the Daily Observer on Sunday, I was transfixed by a photograph of the ongoing book fair in Dhaka. It was an image of a bunch of young girls and boys standing shoulder-to-shoulder at a bookstall. Behind them were more men and women. None was wearing any facemask -- let alone maintaining physical distancing. I instantly thought that a gathering like this could very well be a "super spreader."
I was even more surprised by the callous decision of the authority to continue the book fair through a surge of the deadly pandemic that increased the daily death toll to 66 and infection cases to 7,626. What good logic is there to continue book fair at a time when the nation has been placed under a lockdown? This is not the right time under any consideration to hold such event. Once the virus is gone, we will have enough time to hold book fair -- twice in a year if need be.
Book publishers reportedly put pressure on Bangla Academy to organize the annual book fair. Who will blame them? Every publishing company is a business venture. They publish books for selling them. And a book fair creates an opportunity for them to showcase their books. So, it is quite natural for them to pitch for the book fair. But it is up to the authority to make the final decision. Holding a book fair at this time is a bad idea. Now is not the time for any kind of fair; now is the time to take precautions against a surging virus and save lives.
Taking into consideration the new deadly wave of the pandemic, the Bangladesh government should suspend the book fair, extend the nationwide lockdown for few more weeks like in Canada and must not hesitate to take even tougher measures. As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said, nothing is more important than people's life. Even though the economy may suffer due to restrictions, so be it in the greater interest of saving people's lives. It is life that comes first; not business or economy.
Even though few vaccines -- AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna -- are currently being administered to people, they are not widely available yet in the world. It will take whole year as well as at least part of next year to immunize majority of the world's population. These vaccines are only for prevention of COVID-19. Medical scientists haven't yet succeeded in coming up with any effective drug that can cure the deadly disease. Even after taking the first dose of the vaccine, some people tested positive for COVID-19.
So, we must continue to follow the health guidelines even after getting the COVID-19 jab. That means we must keep wearing face masks anywhere outside home including offices, maintain two-meter physical distancing and frequently wash our hands with soap water. Many people think that once they are vaccinated, they will no longer need to wear face masks, wash hands with soap and stay apart from people. That's wrong. We must continue to follow health safety rules until the virus is completely eradicated.
According to the latest available data, 5.54 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Bangladesh till April 5. The number is counted as a single dose. So, it may not equal the total number of people vaccinated in the country. The actual number of vaccinated people may be even less as some people may have had already two doses. The number suggests that this is just the beginning and Bangladesh has a long way to go to immunize a crowded nation of 166 million people. So, following health guidelines across the country is extremely important.
As American health expert Lisa Maragakis says people are frustrated and tired of taking coronavirus precautions after months of stress, economic challenges and postponed regular activities of life. All these factors are responsible for spikes in coronavirus cases. So, she too prescribed to "continue to practice COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, hand washing and mask-wearing."
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network