Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The coronavirus situation in Bangladesh is now at a very devastating stage. With limited testing facilities, more than one thousand new cases of infection are being found daily. The figures now speak for themselves. On Thursday the identification of 1,041 new patients was announced and the total cases rose to 18,863. With 14 more deaths, the tally went up to 283. If one does shed light on the nature of the infections one would find that these are now taking place at the community level. Innocent silent coronavirus cases who are unaware of their health status might be contributing to this. The Police Department has reported the infection of 1,878 of its members till Tuesday (May 12) and the death of them.
The Inter Service Public Relations Directorate has, on the other hand, reported that 345 members of the Armed Forces, both in-service and retired military or civilian members and their families, were admitted to Dhaka Combined Military Hospital after being infected with COVID-19 until Monday (May 11) and six were dead.
More than 600 physicians and over 375 nurses of both government and private hospitals have been infected by coronavirus as of Wednesday. A number of doctors and nurses have died.
The community level infections are reflected also by reports such as five people, including policemen, bank officials and a physician, were diagnosed with coronavirus in Bogra until Wednesday. Similarly seven people, including six members of a family, have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Feni. In Rangamati on the other hand ten people, including two physician and four nurses, have tested positive for coronavirus until Thursday. During the same period three people, including a policeman, have tested positive for coronavirus in Khagrachhari.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS) of Dhaka University reported on Wednesday that a total of 929 people died with symptoms similar to that of coronavirus across the country until May 9. This figure is in addition to the official coronavirus death toll of 283. The two figures total 1212 corona deaths in the country.
Apart from the doctors and nurses who have apparently been infected while dealing with undetected patients, most of the new infections have taken place at the community level. Members of Police were infected mostly while doing their duty in the field. These unsuspecting men did not know when people carrying the virus passed by them and they contracted the virus. The same is the case with most of the Armed Forces members.
The infection of journalists is taking place in the same fashion. Senior Health officials at the Directorate General of Health Services believe that the infection in Bangladesh is likely to reach its peak in the current month. Some of them are, however, more careful about making predictions because the virus itself is unpredictable.
Now the health authorities have before them a gigantic task of identifying all the infected people and determining their locations to be in a position to stop community level infections. But the testing facilities remain inadequate and still people have to queue up in the capital for corona tests.
It is to be noted that the Bangladesh shop owners association has decided to keep their markets shut in view of the jumping rise in coronavirus infections. Small shop owners, however, are open because they are unable to absorb the economic shock of closure for months. A few large shops which opened just after the green signal given by the government, closed within a couple of days as they feared, it was impossible to maintain social distancing of customers to prevent spread of the virus.
The extension of the general holiday till the 30th of the current month and with it the suspension of public transportation system till that time reflects the concern of the government about the gravity of the situation. Yet in view of the withdrawal of restrictions on Eid shopping people have started taking to streets. Plus hundreds of expatriate Bangladeshis are coming back home by different routes. The health authorities should keep eyes on them and ensure quarantine of those having symptoms like fever and coughing.
Because of the general holiday that began on the 26th of March and lockdown measures taken by the authorities, general awareness about the coronavirus has been created. However, due to shortage of time and inadequate awareness campaigns, some misconceptions and prejudices have also been created in the minds of the ordinary people about corona patients and dead bodies. Some mass media campaigns are urgent to remove the misconceptions and prejudices.
Each and every citizen of the country should know that safety from coronavirus is for the good of all collectively. As in the case of HIV/AIDS, conscious and active cooperation of those who are already infected is a must to prevent further spread of the virus. A patient who is subjected to neglect with contempt cannot be expected to cooperate to keep others safe from transmission of the most dangerous virus that we as those in the rest of the world are confronting.
Mostafa Kamal Majumder