Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The entire human race is in the grip of the coronavirus scare. The invisible enemy is so dreadful and deadly that even the frontline warriors including doctors and nurses are among its victims. Not even Chinese doctor Li Wenliang the whistleblower who tried to create awareness in Wuhan in early December was spared. Social distancing that the virus has forced on all societies, has all-pervasive effects on work, production, marketing, banking and all other forms of economic activities. In Bangladesh, all offices are remaining shut between 26 March and 4 April. Educational Institutions have been closed from 18th of the month.
Warnings against all forms of gatherings, and against the use of public transports have reduced the movement of people to such an extent that the transport owners and workers of Rajshahi and Khulna have on their own stopped the plying the long-distance buses.
The Bangladesh government has shut down train and domestic air services and has filled all media with messages asking people to stay at home, maintain cleanliness and hygienic safety to protect themselves and others from the spread of the virus. The Armed Forces have been called in to assist the civil administration in enforcing social distancing that has been preached by the World Health Organisation as the panacea against the pandemic.
While the people in general have by and large interned themselves homes in keeping with the tune of the Pied Piper, businesses have raised the alarm that their transactions are going to be flattened by the stoppage of work at mills and factories and the closure of shopping malls and stoppage of air services and shipping.
Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh garment manufacturers and exporters association has urged the international community and brands to take in all their goods and allow shipments and production to continue till July at least.“So far it’s been $1.5 billion lost, impacting the lives of 1.2 million workers,” she said.
The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) has urged the government to bring together its global allies and partners in a coordinated endeavour in a bid to protect the people and economy from the adverse impact of coronavirus.
How far the international community and the Bangladesh government will be able to respond to their call is to be seen. As the onslaught of Covid-19 continues at the moment they look like having no option but to strengthen social distancing so long as the infection and death curves are not brought down, as has successfully been done in China, the first epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, March 25, 2020 morning Worldometer reported 18,906 deaths so far from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. There were 423,142 confirmed cases in 194 countries and territories.
The fatality rate is still being assessed. The death figure has been jumping since March 19 and the epicentres are now Europe and the United States.
Thus despite its adverse impact on economic activities, lockdown is going to be more stringent. A number of countries including Bangladesh, the UK have called in their armies to strengthen social distancing. India has been locked down for 21 days warning people not to come outdoors.
The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have earmarked 16bn and the Asian Development Bank an initial 6.5bn dollars as emergency response. The United States has come up with 2 trillium dollars Covid-19 rescue plan. How far Bangladesh will benefit from these funds will depend on the efficiency of initiatives.
The pandemic of unprecedented proportions looks virtually compelling a global shut down, for how long nobody knows. Its chain effects would clearly bring far-reaching consequences that look unimaginable now. Particularly at risk are the day-labourers and small wage earners who have suddenly lost their day to day earnings.
Coronaviruses are said to have their origins in bats. The sequences from US patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir.
Early on, many of the patients at the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread subsequently reported also outside Hubei and in countries outside China, including in the United States.
Some international destinations now have ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19, as do some parts of the United States. Community spread means some people have been infected and it is not known how or where they became exposed. This explains the repeated emphasis on social isolation – identify and isolate plus remain confined to homes.
Thus health security has taken the centre stage on all human activities across the world irrespective of its impacts. Safety from coronavirus has become a question of life and death at all corners of the globe.
The question is how long humanity can sustain this global lockdown that is affecting not only social and cultural interactions but also wreaking havocs to production in mills in factories and other income-generating activities.
With thickly populated Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, experiencing thin traffic on roads during day hours and falling silent as early as 10 pm, people are passing difficult times that are different from the past.
None knows what these days of transition will lead to. One thing that can be said for sure is that after all these lockdowns and social distancing; things around us will not be the same again.
As Wuhan has won the first battle against Covid-19 by succeeding to stop new domestic infections, the human race will definitely win the war against the pandemic as it did in the past against diarrhoea, SARS, Ebola and HIV/AIDS. The questions are, when and at what costs.
(First published in The Asian Age, Dhaka. The writer is the Editor of Greenwatch Dhaka online daily.)
Mostafa Kamal Majumder