Pandemic coronavirus response in Bangladesh
Practical steps required, not gibberish
Being pandemic coronavirus has taken several lives in Bangladesh, measures to contain the life-taking virus should be practical, updated and sincere because if it gets epidemic in our densely populated and poorly managed country, we will lose hold on it and the death toll may count in several digits, which will not be a wonder! The only way to fight menacing coronavirus in Bangladesh is to take it as a threat to our existence. Rich and developed countries of the world with less number of people and state-of-the art medical facilities are still struggling to contain the virus. It is not difficult to imagine virus-induced worse consequences in Bangladesh where people open their windows to neighbor’s bedroom and sneeze on others in public transports in the cities. In factories, not to mention in garment factories, thousands of people work sitting very closely in unhygienic environment and when they walk on the road you cannot ensure they maintain a one-meter gap between them like Italy and some other countries. In villages, we love to visit to each other’s house without necessity and crowd at tea stalls for refreshing ourselves. We feel proud to bath in open ponds and shit in open fields. We believe these are healthy means.
Airy steps will bring disaster for sure. The government is planning to lockdown vulnerable areas, may be a few districts. Is it practically possible according to socio-economic conditions as well as cultural mindset of the people of our country? We will learn about the nature and spread of the virus around the world but we cannot follow developed countries for their ways to fight the pandemic. ‘Lockdown’ is a nice word but it will never work in our country for several reasons. The lockdown will restrict people’s earning. Who will supply them with necessities? Many countries have announced million-dollar budgets to respond to the pandemic but it is very likely we cannot. Several developed countries urge people to stay home and sanction them with full salary without work. Will our government and private organizations pay employees salary without work? In our country, garment workers need to take to street for salary and festival bonus after working the whole month. How can we expect government and non-government organizations will pay without work? The high number of people living in a single square kilometer is another reason why responding to coronavirus is very difficult for us. Around 18 crore people live only in 1,47,570 square kilometers in Bangladesh meaning more than 1200 people per square kilometer. The only so called developed city in the country is Dhaka, which is the most densely populated city in the world with around 50,000 people per square kilometer. Approximately 2000 people are adding to the population of Dhaka every day, with the current population at over 20 million. ‘Home quarantine’ is next to impossible here. The city is famous for pollution and an array of unhealthy issues. How can we ensure hygiene in this city overnight? As a resident, you may cover your face while coughing and sneezing but can you cover others’ where unfortunately most of the people are careless? How can we think of fighting a pandemic virus in a city where we scatter garbage on the road while sewerage and water-supply pipes get happily married?
Coronavirus is a serious issue that requires practical measures for the containment of the outbreak. Political speeches with imported terms to convince people for the time being are not a solution. The parties outside power are also to blame for irresponsible response. This is not the time to run the blame game rather they are supposed to stay beside people with honest intention. Media reports that mobile courts are fining returnee expatriates with money for violating home quarantine. Is home quarantine a viable concept in Bangladesh perspective? Moreover, five to ten thousand taka is nothing for expatriates, especially when we feel proud and heroic in violating laws. China has introduced obligatory 14 days quarantine in designated hotels on the self-payment of the travellers and seven years in prison in violation. We also need such strict laws.
Coronavirus is extremely threatening to us and we need the highest-level awareness and management to respond to it. In response to coronavirus, Bangladesh Heath Ministry has asked for TK 200 crore but we have the experience of government purchase where pillows, aprons, tress, huts, etc. are bought for lacs of taka. How should we believe the money disbursed to contain coronavirus in the country will be sincerely appropriated? In our country, disaster management administration works best at the hands of the army in our country. I believe government should summon the army right now to take over coronavirus response management in our country. If they think the situation is not bad enough to call army to assist them, I’d rather disagree and say if it worsens, it may go totally out of hand. Moreover, government may take practical measures that include establishing isolation centers at least one in a district and several in Dhaka with sufficient supplies of the caregiver and necessary stuff. The centers should be managed by the army. Army is required to ensure strict management and supervision. People will stay there for two weeks and they will be provided with free accommodation, food and medicine. The infected people will be picked from hospitals and clinics and kept in the nearest center. If the confirmed infected people deny isolation, they will be charged with at least one year in prison. Returnees from abroad must go for the obligatory two-week quarantine in the special airports, sea ports and land ports isolation centers. Denial to the quarantine will result in at least one year in prison. The government should also cancel or limit flights, trains, buses and ships from abroad. Tourism must be controlled strictly. When government shuts down educational institutes for checking the outbreak, people cannot go for tours and crowd at tourist spots. Some people may behave crazy but government should intervene into their madness with strict measures like closing hotels, motels, cottages, resorts and restaurants at tourist places in the country at least for a month in the first session which may continue if the situation demands. Finally, the government must consider COVID19 as the deadly menace to the nation and work for the greater interests for people and nation though they encounter opposition.
(The author is a freelance columnist. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)