COVID-19 situation in Bangladesh, along with the whole world, is worsening again in Bangladesh. With the arrival of omicron variant, which tagged with the already existing delta variant, the pandemic seems to bring in the third wave. We are already experiencing a steep rise but the worst may hit us from the end of February as summer is the peak time for COVID-19 spread in our country. The government has already taken few steps to control the spread along with the ongoing vaccination drive but those measures might not be helping us much as the implementation is really under questions. Hence, it is high time that we concentrate on restrictive measures considering both health scenario and economy of the nation.
Community transmission of COVID-19 is happening in Bangladesh, which did not have a noteworthy health policy and legislative structures to combat a pandemic like COVID-19. We have already hit COVID-19 identification rate of over 20 per cent against the total number of tests conducted as 6,676 were identified with the virus on Monday. During the last two weeks the transmission is getting pace. Early strategic planning and groundwork for evolving and established challenges are vital to gather resources and respond in an appropriate timely manner. The health minister already declared that, if such trend continues, another lockdown is inevitable. But lockdown is not welcome by anyone in Bangladesh and that calls for strategic approach immediately.
It is predictable that during a pandemic, a humanitarian crisis may arise in a developing country like Bangladesh. In most incidents, it will be the combined effects of a variety of shortages that will likely culminate in the worst outcomes. This can lead to a shortage of basic needs including foods, goods, and services such as job loss, economic and financial loss, food insecurity, famine, social conflicts, and deaths. Besides, an impact on the psychosocial and socio-economic and health and well-being of the citizens may be affected. Reductions of COVID-19 pandemic have been linked with the cessation of public transport, educational institutions, the closing of entertainment and business centers, the prohibition of public meetings etc. till now. But, keeping up with the economic progress faces critical challenges with those measures.
To contain the transmission, the Cabinet Division issued a notice with an 11-point directive, including wearing masks outdoors, from January 13. Mask use has been made mandatory at shops, shopping malls, bazars, hotels and restaurants and all public places. If one violates the rules, legal action will be taken against him or her. All must use masks in offices and courts as well. If the health guidelines are not followed, mobile courts will have to be conducted across the country, the notification said. COVID-19 vaccine certificates must be shown when dining in restaurants or staying at hotels. Without vaccine certificate, a student, over the age of 12, will not be allowed to attend in-person classes after the specific timeframe set by the Education Ministry.
Moreover, as per the order, scanning facility must be increased at land ports, seaports and airports. Restriction must be imposed on the exits of crews of ships at ports. Only drivers of trucks will be allowed at land ports. The access of visitors accompanying passengers must be stopped at airports. Trains, buses and launches will carry passengers at half capacity. Drivers and helpers of all types of vehicles must have COVID-19 vaccine certificates. Home-bound passengers and others concerned must show COVID-19 vaccine certificates. Imams will aware people concerned of the health safety guidelines and mask use in their sermons of Jummah prayers at all mosques. Deputy Commissioners and Upazila Nirbahi Officers will ensure this matter.
Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will take necessary publicity and other measures in accelerating COVID-19 vaccination and its booster dose inoculation. In this regard, it will take assistance from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. All social, political and religious functions will remain closed at open space until further notice. In case of any special situation created in any area, the local administration can take action in consultation with the authorities concerned, the notification said.
Experts, however, said it would be tough to implement the directives as around 25 per cent of the 80 percent of target population are yet to get the first dose of COVID vaccine. Warning that the transmission of Omicron would put pressure on hospitals soon, the public health experts stressed on ensuring that, everyone wears masks outdoors. Meanwhile, the bed occupancy rate in the COVID-19 hospitals has increased to around ten percent up from 6 percent on January 1.
Though the government declared few restrictive measures very recently, implementation is improper from the very beginning. With everything open, using mass transportation in half capacity is completely illogical as it only creates chaos for people. The people are still neglecting measures like wearing masks or maintaining social distance. Programs and events are still ongoing and the continuation of DITF 2022 is the biggest proof of that. Moreover, though the book fair was declared to be delayed for two weeks, it is still on board. Students without vaccines are regularly going to the educational institutes. Children below 12 are attending schools without any vaccine.
Our health sector will soon face tremendous pressure. It is very difficult to identify the variant type of a COVID-19 patient at the initial stage. Hence, the treatment of omicron and delta patients starts similarly. But the delta patients may require ventilation support at some critical stage. Ventilation support is inadequate in our country. When more and more COVID-19 patients will require ventilation or oxygen support, our health sector might even fail. Hence, it is very important that we get prepared by both increasing our capacity and containing the transmission.
Safety of the health workers is very important as many developed countries are facing trouble due to that. With limited capacity tagged with a large numbers of health workers infected by COVID-19 is going to cause a lot of trouble. So, we cannot be reluctant on their safety. Countries like; USA, UK are facing such scary situation and we must prepare ourselves to face such crisis. The new wave of COVID-19 pandemic can even push us up to identification of 20,000 infected patients per day. If even one-fourth of them require medical support, we will be under lot of pressure. Fortunately, everything can be handled if strategic approach is there and negligent acts can be eliminated.
Our topmost focus should be on mass awareness campaign and every possible resource should be dedicated for that. We must make the people follow the health guidelines seriously. Imposing fine or a stunt-like mobile court at some random streets is not going to work. We must think beyond that. Strong campaign at all levels is highly required. But unfortunately, we are missing out on such campaigns. The local government officials, local leaders must participate in this campaign proactively. Though the government is trying to ensure vaccine for all, our failure to produce vaccine in our country is going to cause serious trouble for us.
The government of Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is trying to keep the country on track. With another lockdown, it will be very difficult to turn around. For that, the people need to respond to the government guidelines and the government must also facilitate a supporting system. Ensuring people’s welfare is the topmost priority right now. We hope that all relevant stakeholders including the people act responsibility to avoid future menace and Bangladesh comes victorious against any adversities.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela