Dr. Md. Jafar Ullah
In Bangladesh, the first COVID-19 cases were reported on 8 March, and the first death on the 18th of the month. Surfacing in China last December, this virus travelled to different countries of Asia, Europe, Africa and America. Up to now, it attacked 60,61,206 people and hunted 3,67,436 lives as on the 30th of May. As against this, COVID-19 has been changing the atmosphere in the natural and social arena. In the meantime, the virus has taught us ‘equity’ showing that we, the inhabitants of the world, are one race among which it did not discriminate while attacking human beings. It has improved our environment to a great extent making us realize that nature also deserves ‘having a rest’, at least for a while amid our massive resource exploitation. It has also made us rethink about some of our professionals about whom we had different attitudes before. Along these corona days, we saw that the students, professionals, some politicians, social workers, GO/NGOs and even some individual persons came forward to help the corona infected patients and the distressed low-income people. There were some people who had no other alternatives except to collect free food-items for their family members as the whole country was in lockdown for more than two months closing down the avenues of earning even in exchange of their physical toils. Our humble submission of gratitude for all of the above-mentioned people who extended humanitarian assistance to the distressed people. During the past two months, we experienced that many people or organizations have been supplying food items to the poor. Many frontline workers such as physicians, lab technicians, nurses, and journalists, Army, Navy and Police have been providing services at the risk of their own lives.
Along these ‘corona days’, we saw many policemen providing the nation with a wonderful service that gained a lot of praise from different sections of people and social organizations. We saw them requesting people to maintain social distancing in humble ways, singing in groups to create awareness to motivate people, feeding hungry people and supplying food items to the homes of lower middle class people who feel shy to beg foods from others. Many frontline police persons have been infected with the virus while performing their duties on roads, markets and highways. Some of them also sacrificed their lives for the nation. Our humble gratitude is also for these frontline fighters. In the meantime, the police department has set up ‘Plasma Bank’ for the corona-patients and already some policemen have donated plasma to that Bank.
After the detection of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, the government took some steps to prevent its spread any further. The whole country was virtually locked down and this meant shutting down all the government, autonomous, semi-autonomous offices, private organizations, public transports, commercial enterprises and educational institutions. Exceptions were the operations of the health department, medicine shops, grocers, mass media and other most urgent service providers. This lockdown situation for more than two months had created a tremendous impact on our socio-economic life resulting in the serious unemployment problem in the private sectors including public transport. Poor people such as rickshaw pullers, artisans and labourers lost their avenues to earn livelihoods for their family members.
Many garment owners lost their international clients; workers lost their jobs, businessmen counted huge interests on bank loans. In addition, remittance earners returned home losing their jobs. Financial experts apprehend a drastic decline in Bangladesh’s GDP growth which had risen from 6.00 percent in 2010 to 7.9 percent in 2019. So, under this situation, the country had to ease the restrictions in some specialized sectors to keep the country’s economy moving at least at the marginal level. Actually, we are in a dilemma regarding our future.
Shutdown in Bangladesh was imposed in six phases starting from 26th March extending up to 30th May. However, these restrictions were broken in some cases, especially it seemed dreadful over the confusing decisions of garment owners. Another noticeable gathering was also seen three days ahead of the last Eid Ul Fitr when there was a massive rush in the peoples’ movement to and from Dhaka.
The government issued a circular on the 28th of May ending the general holiday and allowing its offices and commercial organizations to resume operations from May 31. According to the circular, public transport and private organizations also start their operations, although on a limited scale, complying 13 health directives given by the government, although this circulation has not satisfied many of our health experts. Some experts opined that the ongoing restrictions should have been continued for at least one month more. It is speculated that if this could be done, the Covid-19 outbreak might reach its peak by May and thereafter that flatten to a ‘tolerable level’ by the end of June. They also apprehend that due to this declaration, the transmission period may prolong up to July or August.
A gazette of the government put forth thirteen health directives. Among those, using masks, washing hands, keeping social distance are the prime ones which were also included in the previous lockdown programme.
In the early days of the lockdown in March, the law enforcing agencies were on direct action but they had to halt their initiatives at one point. One common action of the law enforcing agencies was to punish people who unnecessarily came out of homes. Some actions so widely criticized in the social and mass media that the respective authorities had to shrink such actions in the subsequent days. The outcome was, people from almost all the social strata showed more tendency of coming out. A mild advice approach taken by the law enforcing agencies actually resulted in no significant and fruitful outcomes.
Even as late as the last few days, ferries and some public vehicles were found operating with passengers travelling in the streams of crowds. But breaking the social distancing norm by our citizens may bring a dreadful situation in Bangladesh. In our childhood, our mothers made us swallow bitter medicines to recover us from illness. What did we do? We used to cry and prevent them from doing so. But now we all realize what our mothers did was for our welfare. So, let the police be strict in maintaining the social distancing to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, especially in respect of wearing masks and keeping safer distances.
(Dr. Md. Jafar Ullah, is a Professor, Department of Agronomy, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka-1207)
Dr. Md. Jafar Ullah