2nd wave of Covid-19 pushes health, economy into crisis

Special Correspondent

13 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Economists and health Professionals think tank group, Healthy Bangladesh said the second wave of Covid-19 pushes Bangladesh into dual crises of health and economy.

In view of this, it came up with three solutions-- community engagement, smart lockdown and accountability --to overcome the crisis.

“Covid-19 second wave is truly upon us. It is true the Covid 2nd wave is a global crisis, perhaps more so in South Asia,” Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman, PPRC and also convenor of Healthy Bangladesh in a statement said on Monday.

 The consequences of the crisis in each country depends on the effectiveness of the country’s internal response as well, both from the policy-makers and from the public, he pointed out. 

“Even when warning signs had begun to appear over the horizon, combating covid-19 had clearly slipped in government’s priorities and attention,” Dr Zilur said expressing disappointment.

The accumulated lessons of 2020 in combating covid-19 have clearly been not acted upon in creating a required state of preparedness, he said.

“The despair for ICU beds and oxygen outside Dhaka and the clear failure to increase hospital capacity within Dhaka after a year of the pandemic provides stark proof of the poor state of preparedness even after a year of pandemic experience,” he asserted.  

The health ministry, as well as government as a whole, has shown visible indifference in using one of Bangladesh’s greatest disaster response strengths i.e. involving community stakeholders in combating the crisis, he also said in the statement. 

“The success of the initial rollout of the vaccine campaign is probably the sole exception in this case.  On the flip side, even amidst this catastrophe, numerous and specific allegations of corruption in procurement and misuse of resources against the health ministry are constantly doing the rounds,” he noted.

On behalf of Healthy Bangladesh, he proposed the adoption of a 5-point action agenda including ensure effective involvement of public health experts in policy making and to involve grassroots actors in community awareness.

“A new message tone emphasizing ‘whole society’ approach and is a must for combating this 2nd wave and for it to be credible, this new message tone has to come from directly from the head of the government.”

Healthy Bangladesh also proposed four core components of ‘smart lockdown’ to be set as per a clear classification of hotspots.

“In order to curb export of transmission, it is of paramount importance to halt inter-district passenger public transportation services for a limited period. But within cities, transportation     

service should remain open in a limited capacity.”

Strong time restrictions on market-places, ban on recreational public gatherings particularly indoors in urban hotspots, switch to WFH (work from home) for both public and private offices as much as feasible, continuation of factories with residential workers, he suggested.

New restrictions are bound to have adverse economic impacts, especially on the low income population and the informal economy, he also said. “It is essential to both lessen the economic suffering and provide temporary assistance.”

In Dhaka and the other mega cities, it is crucial to increase TCB distribution of essentials manifold. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief has to take specific initiatives to provide emergency assistance to the urban poor.

Last year, initiatives were taken but there were leakages in distribution. It is important to keep that experience in mind while taking new initiatives. Besides disbursement of existing safety net supports cannot be held up and needs to be expedited.

“Overcoming the crisis of credibility and trust in the Ministry of Health is one of the vital aspects in   effectively combating the 2nd wave. The Infectious Diseases Act 2018 needs to be activated and current tendency to use Expert Advisory Committee only for token purposes and in a highly discretionary manner has to be reversed.”

In 2020, the health ministry and the police forces respectively acquired the treatment facilities of the Holy Family Red Crescent Hospital and the Impulse Hospital for a few months.

“The second wave has reinforced the 2020 global lesson that it is impossible to combat COVID-19 without social awareness and responsible behaviour of every citizen.”