Today we are passing 39th day of general holiday for COVID-19. The whole country along with almost the whole world is standing still due to this deadly pandemic. Around 3.5 million people were infected and around 0.25 million people died from coronavirus while 10,143 were infected and 183 died from this pandemic in Bangladesh. The majority of the infected and deaths in Bangladesh are from the capital city Dhaka and the rest are also somewhat connected to the capital. During the last few days, numbers of newly infected are increasing in an alarming rate. It seems like Dhaka is the center of the COVID-19 spread in the country. Along with this coronavirus, we will have other issues in the upcoming weeks. Hence, it pushes us to think about a different but comprehensive strategy to contain the sufferings of the people of Bangladesh.
From the very beginning, most of the coronavirus infected hailed from country’s capital city Dhaka other than those who came from abroad and were thought to be the source of COVID-19 in Bangladesh. After the initial infection, when people from the capital spread to the different areas of the country, the virus reached to the far corners of the nation.
Dhaka is the connecting hub for all the districts as people move through this megacity for travelling from one part of the country to another. Alarmingly, around 50 per cent of the total coronavirus patients were found in this city and if we calculate the originating source, this city will bear no less than 85 per cent. So, it is very important to contain the spread of this deadly virus at its source.
When the general vacation was declared, people, especially the lower and lower-middle income group opt out to move to their village homes. Millions of people left the capital city to be with their family. But unfortunately, few of them carried the virus along with them, which later became the source of coronavirus in other districts. As we moved at different corners of the country, at most of the places, whenever a COVID-19 infected person was identified, it was heard that, he or she came from the Dhaka city few days back.
Though the government declared the general holiday for people to stay at home, despite good efforts, the government could not control the outflow of people from the capital to other parts of the country. Later, when RMG factories along with some other factories were opened for urgent productions without any coordination with the government, there was a huge inflow of people to Dhaka. The movement of these workers could not be controlled either and hence, it was very difficult to contain COVID-19.
The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, tried hard from different ends with the support of the law enforcers including the police and the army to maintain the lockdown but unfortunately, we are always keen to ignore the orders which brought higher sufferings for the whole country. The government even conducted huge relief distribution program, despite some barbaric acts of corruption, throughout the country so that the people need not come out of their homes for work to ensure food at their homes. Several activities to ensure food security of the people under lockdown were visible but nothing actually succeeded cent per cent. This scenario was grave in the capital city as people showed their highest creativity to come out of their residence everyday without even proper safety.
Now with the reopening of operations at most of the RMG factories and that of few government offices along with continuous operations of the media houses, hospitals, law enforcing offices, the scenario might get even worse. We are already finding increasing number of corona patients throughout the country. But it was not supposed to happen if we could place ourselves under complete lockdown for at least 15 days of the general holidays. Today, despite increasing number of infections, we are getting bound to open the factories and offices to keep our economy rolling and this is very unfortunate as only our ignorance and attitude is driving us towards a bigger calamity.
We are approaching Eid-ul-Fitr, the largest festival of the country, within the next three weeks. Many people, who are in Dhaka and who returned to Dhaka for works, will again move to their village home for celebration. There is a huge possibility that many of them will carry the COVID-19 along with them to their homes. We need to be alert to contain that scenario. Though this celebration is emotionally attached to our core and we always want to celebrate this event with our close ones, this year that can be deadly. Hence, the government along with the law enforcers must be utmost alert to control this outflow of people. If we fail to do so, the coronavirus scenario might last much longer in our country.
Right now, we need to impose the lockdown with the highest strictness. We must keep the citizens inside and restrict their movements at least for 15 days. China contained the COVID-19 spread, despite being the source, due to this strict lockdown impose. We must learn from their experience along with that of many European countries. Any ignorance of the lockdown must be seriously punished. For that ensuring food security will be vital and providing ration card for every citizen can be the best solution.
Moreover, the markets at different areas should have a particular operational time for 2-3 days in a week. We need to maintain health services also and for that, we need a special hotline for area wise health support as well as home delivery of medical supplies. The local councilors should get more involved in efforts to contain coronavirus in their areas. Most importantly, these efforts must be strongly conducted in Dhaka city along with other metropolitan cities of the country.
COVID-19 is not the only concern that Bangladesh, especially Dhaka city should be worried about. The next disease is Dengue is preparing for the monsoon season to wave through Bangladesh. Dengue has been a common bio-hazard in Bangladesh over the last 20 years. The dengue outbreak first impacted the country in 2000; it has more or less been present since. But in 2019, the country experienced one of the largest outbreaks of Dengue disease to date.Cases of Dengue were found throughout the country. In 2019 it was reported that 101,354 patients were affected by the disease.
A judicial investigation holding Dhaka city authorities responsible for the unprecedented dengue outbreak in 2019, which left 270 people dead and more than 100,000 infected, appears to be correct. The report, done by a committee on a High Court order of November 12, 2019, says that that the two city corporations of Dhaka, the north and the south, could not act effectively to destroy Aedes mosquitoes, the vector of dengue and chikunguniya and the corporations used ineffective larvicide for mosquito control.
The report, however, says that city authorities are not wholly responsible as they need to depend on other agencies, especially on the health services directorate general as the corporations have no labs to examine the efficacy of larvicide. The report has put forth a number of recommendations – an integrated initiative with other agencies such as Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, the Water Supply and Sewerage Agency, the Directorate General of Health Services, the environment department and others to stop the spread of dengue and chikungunya. An involvement of city residents and awareness campaigns are also important.
Unfortunately, despite a lot of discussions, we have not found much effort till now to stop the dengue outbreak. During the last few weeks, heavy and continuous rainfall was observed which is making us concerned about the possible dengue outbreak this year also. But the city corporation, especially Dhaka North and South, are horribly silent. The city mayors are difficult to trace out during this time of need as many suggests that they are the ones who are maintaining the ‘stay home’ policy with utmost honestly. But if proper cautions are not taken right from now, we will not be able to control the ‘dengue’ scenario this year too.
If dengue starts affecting people alongside Covid-19, the ongoing health crisis is sure to aggravate further.All attention of the health sector people are now focused on dealing with the Covid-19 emergency. Thousands of people afflicted with other ailments have stopped visiting hospitals and physicians for many weeks. Even out-patient departments in public hospitals are not working properly. Many doctors scared of coronavirus have stopped attending patients.In such a situation, if dengue infection reaches the last year’s level in the coming monsoon, it could trigger yet another health crisis.
Hence, the city corporations must take necessary actions immediately by spraying insecticides to destroy the breeding zones of Aedes mosquito. They should also clean the canals and riversides surrounding Dhaka. Moreover, a nationwide awareness campaign should be run immediately to make people alert without any further delay. If required, the district administrations should be involved in this drive. If is alarming that, the initial symptoms of COVID-19 and dengue might be similar on some instances which might create more havoc and hence, we must control the dengue outbreak with utmost importance.
Along with all these health crises, we are entering the season of natural calamities. Already, strong storms were observed at different parts of the country and lightning took several lives away. These natural calamities will be deadly on both human lives as well as corps, which can threaten our food security. Therefore, it is required to work with a combined plan to tackle all these challenges and that should start right now.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has led Bangladesh during the last decade with her farsighted leadership on the route of fast development. From the beginning of COVID-19 outbreak, she has taken several steps to ensure food security as well as to keep the economy stable. She almost addressed all the sectors other than the media houses and security markets. We hope she has some plans for those two sectors too. We believe, she will lead the government and the people to fight the triple challenge of COVID-19, dengue and natural calamities effectively and efficiently. We belief, Bangladesh will come out successfully from these crises and will continue its journey of progress and development.
The writer is chief editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), editor at Kishore Bangla and vice-chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)