Covid-19: Awareness rather than lockdown must be the last resort

Published : Tuesday, 13 April, 2021 at 12:00 AM

The COVID-19 situation in Bangladesh is getting worse day by day. We are setting new records everyday and almost all taken measures have failed miserably till now due to several reasons. Considering the current context, the government is imposing serious lockdown from tomorrow for seven days with intent to contain the transmission of COVID-19 though it has no scientific basis as it requires at least 14 to 21 days lockdown to contain COVID-19 transmission. Unfortunately no lockdown will be the ultimate solution considering the economic structure and status. Hence, we need to focus on some logical areas if we really want to create any positive impact on fighting COVID-19.

9,822 lives were lost and 6,91,957 were infected with COVID-19 in Bangladesh till now with a sharp incline in both the numbers of infected and dead during the recent weeks. Though vaccines were developed in quick time but the effectiveness of vaccine to prevent from getting COVID-19 infected is still under research. The vaccine producers mostly focused on increasing immunity in human body. Overall, looking at the whole picture, one thing is for sure that, COVID-19 is not going away very soon and we have to live with that for a long time.

Moreover, though vaccination has started in Bangladesh, it will take around 2-3 years at least to vaccinate the whole population while the vaccine is effective for maximum one year in human body. So, we will always have continuous flow of citizens who will require vaccination. Hence, vaccine might not be the ultimate solution too. The ultimate solution lies with making people aware to wear masks as a must, increasing COVID-19 test capacity and proper isolation of COVID-19 patients.

From the very beginning of COVID-19’s arrival, almost all the countries had taken shelter of lockdown to stop transmission. Very few countries have received proper benefits of lockdown as whenever the lockdown was lifted up, the transmission again gained pace. Due to economic reasons, it was not possible for even the most developed countries to impose continuous lockdown. Even strong economies like; USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, UAE, Saudi Arabia had to discontinue the lockdown due to economic countries.

Many developed countries initially closed down offices, businesses and factories to keep people at home while the government paid their full salaries or income as well as arranged and delivered food at the citizens’ homes. But it was very hard for even those strong economies to continue with. The scenario in Bangladesh is much tougher than those developed countries.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries of the world. With a huge population, a large part of our population still remains under the poverty line though we are fast moving towards becoming a developing middle-income country. Moreover, our economical activities are mostly people-oriented rather than technology-oriented. It is impossible for any government to arrange food and money for this huge population. Even the overall national production will be seriously harmed if people are not at work.

Moreover, the government may continue paying the 1.5 million (approx.) public service employees, but it is already proven that, they have no plans for the private sector employees. Many private sector employees lost their jobs and even had to leave the cities. The government had declared many stimulus targeting different groups or sectors but no stimulus were provided for private sector employees. The government promised to ensure no one loses his job or pay is not cut but no news of such monitoring was noticed. Hence, the private sector employees, who mostly hail from the middle-income group, suffered the most.

The small and medium business mostly rely on festivals like; Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha, Pahela Baisakh and even Ramadan for making profit. Last year such businesses incurred huge losses. If they had to face the similar fate this year too, then this group will fully collapse. As we imposed moderate lockdown from April 5, we have seen huge protest from such businessmen throughout the country and the government had to open up the businesses.

Moreover, a front-liner like; doctor, policeman, journalist, nurse, firefighter, defense personnel is present in almost all the families. They will perform their duties during the lockdown and will come back to their family everyday bearing risks of COVID-19 contamination.

Considering all these factors, lockdown cannot be a solution to contain transmission of COVID-19 in Bangladesh. Rather we need to create mass awareness and alarmingly, we have failed completely in that effort.

COVID-19 spread is following a wave-pattern throughout the globe. But when the COVID-19 scenario improved in Bangladesh along with the whole world during the last part of 2020 and vaccine reached our country at the first quarter of 2021, we became reluctant and started elections, political protests, rallies, meetings, admission tests and many other irresponsible activities. Now, we are paying for that reluctance.

Here, we must mention the religious leaders or groups who ignored the threat of COVID-19 completely. They do not wear masks at their institutions and mosques. Recently also, Junaid Babunagari, Amir of Hefajat-e-Islam said that, COVID-19 will not enter madrasas. Though many of the Islamic leaders were infected with COVID-19, they are motivating the huge number of religious minded people to ignore all safety protocols with their irresponsible acts.

The government has not taken much step to create mass awareness on maintaining COVID-19 health guidelines. Not only the COVID-19 health guidelines but also the health and economic impact of COVID-19 should be campaigned. The campaign should include messages of how a family can be economically ruined by ignoring COVID-19 risks. There are many television channels, newspapers and online media in Bangladesh. The government should use all those modes. The government employees at district, upazila, pourosova and union level must run effective physical campaign along with the local leaders. Those campaigns must be real result-oriented rather than being a facebook post-oriented.

The media, especially electronic media, of Bangladesh has played the most dissatisfactory role till now. There were hundreds of talk-shows and other programs involving the COVID-19 issues. These programs were mostly debate-oriented and nothing constructive came out rather than blaming each other. They usually invite representatives from different opinion-groups and initiate debates and fights. Unfortunately no recommendations come out from such programs. No COVID-19 related innovative programs or campaigns were launched by the media to make people aware. We wish they could be a bit more responsible with this deadly pandemic.

The serious lockdown will be imposed from tomorrow for seven days and we wish it is for seven days only. Many groups like; the so-called poor garments owners are already asking for stimulus. But along with creating mass awareness, if the government needs to provide any stimulus, it must be for health services.

In most developed countries, the COVID-19 test and treatment is absolutely free. Many families in Bangladesh cannot afford COVID-19 test let alone treatment. The government hospitals are having inadequate facilities to serve the total needs of health services. The treatment at private hospitals is ruining many families. The government should provide stimulus to increase low-cost COVID-19 treatment facility at private hospitals and clinics as well as to create new COVID-19 treatment facilities.

On May 17 last year, the health minister inaugurated a hospital, equipped with 2,031 general beds, 71 ICU beds, and 10 ventilators at Bashundhara. The health ministry, however, closed the makeshift hospital on September 30 last year due to lack of patient. Now, with increased COVID-19 patients, we are struggling with lack of ICU beds or ventilators. We hope, the health ministry portrays some far-sightedness in the future to reduce our struggle.

The government can also provide stimulus to the families of those who died from COVID-19 and those who recovered from long COVID-19 treatment. The government has the data of these people and can easily reach these families as they are the ones who are facing the worst financial hardship.

We hope the government as well as all related authorities, NGOs, humanitarian organizations, volunteer groups focus on creating effective mass awareness to maintain COVID-19 health guidelines while the government also invests on providing low cost COVID-19 test and treatment facility. It is time for everyone to act right to fight COVID-19.
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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