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Policy failures might hurt Covid-19 situation in Bangladesh

Published : Tuesday, 11 May, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 857

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

Apparently, Covid-19 situation has improved in Bangladesh during the last two weeks suggesting that the 'lockdown' policy of the government has paid off. But, considering few facts, we cannot surely say that, we will be able to keep the transmission of this deadly virus under control in the upcoming months. Few policies of the government seemed unplanned and might backfire soon. Hence, some focused agenda with different viewpoints are required soon if we want to protect the people and economy of Bangladesh.

For the last few weeks, we were afraid that, the fierce Indian variant of Covid-19 termed as 'B.1.617' might enter Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government even imposed a 14-day closure of borders with India which was extended for another 14 days recently. But the authority confirmed on Saturday that the deadly Indian variant has finally arrived in Bangladesh through few people who returned from India few days back. India is suffering viciously from this variant as their health system has fully collapsed during the last few weeks. Daily infected toll is crossing 0.4 million and daily death toll is being recorded over 4,000. This figure is also not all-inclusive, reports said.

We can hardly stop our interaction with India as we are heavily related with our largest neighbour for trade and many things else. Many from Bangladesh have close relatives in India. Many visits India frequently for treatment. Thousands of goods-carrying trucks enter Bangladesh from India everyday. Though the borders are closed due to COVID-19 threats, many Bangladeshis, who are currently in India, are returning everyday. Thousands of trucks are crossing the borders with Indian drivers and workers. Our people are also working with those trucks. Hence, it is almost impossible that, we will be able to stop the Indian variant from coming to Bangladesh.

So many Covid-19 patients are dying in India only for the unavailability of oxygen. With the arrival of Indian variant, the Bangladeshi government should concentrate on stockpiling oxygen with utmost importance along with collection of Covid-19 vaccines. Even if we have the regular supply of the vaccines, it will take years to vaccinate the whole population while many developed countries have already completed the first two doses of their people and now working on the new dose after initial vaccine's effective tenure.

While we are terrified with the arrival of Indian Covid-19 variant's arrival, the so-called ongoing lockdown has turned into a mockery. The lockdown was funny from the very beginning as it kept the offices, financial institutions and factories open but mass transportation closed. Even the book fair was kept open. Initially the shopping malls and markets were closed but later those were also opened upon protests. Mass transport also started recently. Keeping the Covid-19 threats aside, millions of people are rushing to the markets everyday without maintaining the Covid-19 safety guidelines. Millions of people are rushing to leave Dhaka city ignoring all health safety rules. We could all have anticipated that this will happen. Only the government, National Advisory Technical Committee on Covid-19 and other relevant authorizes could not realize that.

The Health Minister, the Public Administration State Minister and several other high profile government leaders requested the people to maintain Covid-19 safety guidelines, to limit shopping and to stay at Dhaka. But they really do not know the situation, attributes and sentiment of the people of Bangladesh. Hence, their policies have failed and might become a much bigger failure in the upcoming months.

The most important factor in fighting Covid-19 is to ensure social distancing. It means staying at least 6 feet away from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces. So, we should have taken policies to ensure social distancing but we really did not.

We could anticipate that, people will rush to the shopping malls. But we opened the shopping malls before Eid-ul-Fitr for a shorter period of time. People usually start their Eid shopping even before the start of Ramadan. But this time, they got 15 days. Moreover, the operational period of these shopping malls are curtailed. Moreover, people are getting the mass transportation service inside cities like Dhaka for only 9 days before the Eid. Hence, this extreme rush is being noticed and it may really create serious Covid-19 hazard in the near future.

For some reasons and with blessings of the Almighty, Covid-19 situation has not yet turned severe in Bangladesh, which allowed the people to be careless. Along with that, the financial stress with lack of income, uncontrolled inclining price of commodity products and everything else, lack of government incentives has pushed the people to ignore the threats of Covid-19. Moreover, the majority of our people are not educated enough to easily absorb the Covid-19 safety guidelines and lack of related effective campaigning has made the situation worse. So, our policy makers must take innovative policies to control Covid-19 transmission in the near future.

India is already talking about controlling the third wave of Covid-19 as they apparently have severely failed with the second one. We should also think about the third wave. The Covid-19 transmission is mostly concentrated at the cities, especially the densely populated ones like; Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna, Sylhet, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Savar etc. These cities are so densely populated that it is almost impossible to maintain social distancing at these cities. Hence, the government needs to take short-term policies to reduce the population density of these cities.

We are seeing millions of people leaving Dhaka city for their ancestral home to enjoy Eid with their family members. The offices, factories, shopping malls, mass transport and many things else are operating. Then we need to think who these people are leaving Dhaka. These are mostly day laborers, unemployed and floating people. With the ongoing lockdown, it is impossible for them to stay at Dhaka. Many have no income and cannot pay house rent or cannot maintain the cost of living in the city. Many have come to Dhaka for different reasons and now trying to leave. We should make their process of leaving easier as that will reduce the population density of cities like Dhaka for a while. For all city corporations, the same policy should be applied.

The government has increased the tenure of the ongoing lockdown phase by phase. For that, many people who would have left Dhaka remained here. If the government have any plans to increase lockdown after Eid, then that should be declared previously so that people can remain at their village home for a longer period. The government has shortened the leave over Eid to keep people at their current places. But that idea is definitely not working. People are leaving by any means with higher costs. There is no need to restrict the people to leave densely populated cities.

The administration has appointed BGB at Paturia and Shimulia ferry stations to restrict people from gathering to go to their homes. We cannot feed these people like the developed countries. They have no work in the cities. There is no point restricting them. Moreover, there are several other routes towards different districts and we have not closed those yet. It will be wise to let all inter-district transports including bus, train, launch, ferry operate normally during this period. Then we should take policies to keep most of these people at their village home for at least 21 more days.

Unlike many other countries, Covid-19 has not come to Bangladesh unnoticed. But we ignored the possible threats.  We should not do the same with the upcoming third wave. We missed the threats of UK variant or South African variant of Covid-19 and must not do the same with the Indian variant.

Densely populated cities are the most affected ones from Covid-19 till now as social distancing is a rarely manageable concept in these places. Rather than lockdown, we should adopt 'lockout' policy for these cities to reduce Covid-19 transmission in the near future. We hope the relevant authority will take such diverse policies soon as they will be held accountable for the third wave of Covid-19 transmission, especially with the Indian variant. Any unplanned policy failure now will really hurt the Covid-19 situation in Bangladesh.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela














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