The rate at which COVID-19 is spreading in the country, it is difficult to say when we would be able to free Bangladesh from this pandemic. Even the information we are getting from our limited management capacity for infection diagnosis every day is not at all promising. The number of infected people is increasing day by day. It is assumed that this number would be several times more if the diagnosis of infection could be made on a large scale. There are people who even disagree with the death toll announces by the concerned government authority. But whatever might be the numbers, like other countries in the world, we are stricken with corona pandemic - not just for fear of our lives, but for its inhuman economic consequences.
The fight against COVID-19 started with the declaration of public holidays from March 26 which continued for quite a long period (more than two months). Except hospitals, kitchen markets, pharmacies, banks and other emergency services, all other establishments such as offices, courts, educational institutions, industries, shops, business establishments, public transport were kept closed. But during the lockdown period, people were not serious in following the government guidelines or safety measures, instead they were seen walking amidst gatherings while shopping in the kitchen market or buying medicine, without wearing any mask or disobeying social distance. The chaos we saw centring Eid-ul-Fitr and still we see in the shopping locations, streets or other places, one cannot feel that there exists any serious threat from a virus called corona. Lack of awareness and the mentality of the people of this country are the main obstacles to any improvement of the corona situation. On the other hand, the situation is aggravating day by day due to the fact that the government is executing its policies in a relaxed way, not based on the reality of the overall situation as well as the right-track implementation of those policies.
It is widely said, if a curfew could be imposed for the first month (from March 26) all over Bangladesh territory, the area of infection would have been determined very easily. And accordingly, it was very much possible to make an area-wise complete list of the infected population and to take further necessary measures including treatment of those identified people. The people of the safe areas could go back to their normal activities and livelihood. Though the people had to suffer, but they would not mind to accept it for a month. But, we have lost that opportunity.
The present initiative for lockdown is somehow not bad, but the results would not be the same as that would have been achieved if the curfew had been imposed for two/three weeks all over the country at the first instance. In the current lockdown system, we may be able to make the lockdown area free from corona within the stipulated timeframe. But, one cannot guarantee that the already locked down area would not be infected in the future; because, as soon as the lockdown is lifted from that area, the people will travel to other areas where people might have been carrying the corona virus. We do not want to experience such kind of lockdown that would be like a 'lockdown game'. Can we actually be able to stop the ongoing pace of infection with such a piecemeal lockdown? That might take a lot of time and lives.
In this context, I would like to share a plan. According to that plan, Bangladesh will be required to divide into three zones and then impose curfew for two/three weeks on each of the zones separately. In this case, the components of each zone would be our administrative divisions, considering their population size or area or economic importance. If curfew is imposed for fifteen days on one zone, then curfew may be imposed on the second zone on the eighth day of the curfew imposed on the first zone and on the fifteenth day on the third zone. And if the curfew is planned for three weeks, that is, for twenty-one days, then the curfew can be imposed on the second zone after ten days and on the third zone after twenty days of the first zone respectively. However, it should be kept in mind that no one should be allowed to go out of the zone during the curfew period except those involved in emergency services. In addition, no one from outside will be allowed to enter the area where curfew has been continuing. Curfew should be like curfew, the slightest relaxation in the implementation will foil the purpose.
However, it is to be noted that before imposing curfew on an area, prior notice should be served indicating necessary instructions and arrangements so that people there do not face any major difficulties, such as for foods, medicines and other necessities. Industrial sites might require some special arrangements.
The corona virus is not a visible object or creature that one can shoot or arrest as soon as it is visible. On the other hand, there is no need to prove that majority of our people are not aware at all or do not care the corona pandemic. We have experienced it during the last few months. Might be adherence to the rules of hygiene in this regard is a thrust to their personal freedom! Besides, we have seen some fanatics laughing and joking about government’s instructions for safety. Basically, we have very little respect for laws or regulations or government’s instructions. When the red light of traffic is on, some people think this is the chance to assert their power, so he crosses the road. In this country, you have to show your power by breaking the rules. This mentality of most of our people has already proved that the polite approach and instructions of the government do not work here. Therefore, it is not only difficult but impossible to prevent corona pandemic without strict implementation of the government's directives in this regard.
It is needless to say, the way our doctors, health workers, police and others are providing services putting their lives at risk encourages us and gives us enough strength and hope for survival. Many of their colleagues have already died and many are fighting with corona infection. There is no end to our love for them. They should not be neglected in any way. Please provide them full protection as and when required. They need to be ensured with the supply of quality PPE and other materials as per their demands. If these front-fighters can't be protected, then who else will fight to save us, the 160 million people of this country, from the life taking COVID-19?
Last week, a Bangladeshi company named Globe Biotech has claimed to have developed corona virus vaccine and is going for clinical trial soon. It is obviously good news for us. However, in this context, I would like to request our government for placing a reasonable amount of money in the budget for research purpose, particularly in the medical science. I believe we have the people with such calibre who can contribute to this field. We are going to complete 50 years of our independence, how long we have to wait for such initiatives? Yes, we have many limitations, but we can do that if we really want.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary