Whenever the government announces a ‘complete’ or ‘partial’ shutdown or lockdown, the first group of people to come out on the street or shout from their windows would be a section of businessmen, more specifically those involved in the RMG sector. They would come out with hundred and one excuses to convince the government why their businesses should be allowed to operate and in the end they always win. It should not be forgotten that more that 70 per cent of the parliament members belongs to business community and their sole aim is to protect the interest of their own community. The greater interest of the country becomes insignificant to them. Following them others will also press their demand to keep their businesses open disregarding all the warning from the experts that if things continue as it is Covid-19 will make Bangladesh its final headquarter and millions of people will continue to suffer for the benefit of the garment factory owners and others in business. They will always come out with the excuse saying that they will lose their customers and most of them will not be able to pay their employees their salary on time. The government will immediately respond to them by sanctioning loans and other incentive packages and the loans will be given on very soft terms. The allegations that such loans are often not used for the purpose they were sanctioned for are too common to be ignored.
The RMG leaders very frequently will argue that workers whose number is approximately four millions enter and work inside the factory by observing all the Covid-19 health protocols but they intentionally forget that outside the working hour they also mingle with others in their community, and while coming from their living quarters there is none to ensure that they are abiding by the government announced health restrictions to prevent Covid-19 spread or contamination. So far no RMG leaders were ever heard demanding that all their workers be vaccinated. It goes true for all those businessmen who demand that their business be allowed to remain open. The country’s vaccination programme is yet to be called satisfactory as a sizeable section of the people believes that vaccination will not help if their time in this world is over. Some half educated Mullahs also preach against vaccination. Hefazat leader Junaid Babunagari refusing to close down the madrasas defying the government orders to close down all the education institutions announced that Covid-19 will not enter madrasas ignoring the fact that some of their leaders have already succumbed to the virus. Finally most of the madrasas, including the Hefazat’s headquarter madrasa in Hathazari is reported to have shut down. Another Mullah even had the audacity to announce couple of month’s back that if any Muslim dies of Covid-19 the Holy Qur’an will be considered to be untrue (Nauzubillah). He is still at large and preaching such trash.In reality the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) advised his companions to value their lives as the utmost importance over death in his numerous saying (hadiths), urging people to stay away from places where there were epidemics. The Prophet of Allah said, “When you hear that [a plague] is in a land that you are already in, do not go to it and if occurs in a land that you are already in, then do not leave it, fleeing from it.” (Sahi al-Bhkhari 5728, Book 76, Hadith 43) The Prophet of Allah strictly observed what he advised his companions about the epidemics as he had done in other issues. Huseyin Ari, an expert in the High Council of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs quoted, “The Prophet gave utmost importance to his own health and public health. When he was in Medina and was about to make agreement with one of the delegations, he refused to shake hands with one of the person (from the delegation) who had contagious disease sending him back to where he came from. “None of you should wish for death due to a calamity that has afflicted him.” (Sahi al Bukhari 5347) Unfortunately Bangladesh is full of self-styled half educated Mullah who has titles as ‘Allama’, ‘Shaikh’, ‘Madani’ etc., but people can hardly hear anything of real Islam from them which will be beneficial to the society. They forget that Islam from the very beginning always preached what was good for mankind which has been acknowledged as one of the most practical, dynamic and peaceful religion in the world.
According to published reports 130 countries haven’t yet started vaccinating and this has affected 2.5 billion people who so far have been completely shut out of the global vaccine campaign. Bangladesh is lucky that the Prime Minister who seems to be more pro-active then her colleagues in the Health Ministry did a good job by setting aside the necessary funds and booking few million vaccines manufactured by Serum Institute (AstraZeneca) of India. As a goodwill gesture the government of India also gave 1.2 million doses of vaccine to Bangladesh as gift. Bangladesh booked 30 million doses of vaccine from serum institute but so far received only about 10 million doses including those received as gift. As Covid-19 is spreading in India like wild fire Serum Institute is finding it difficult to meet the local demand and before Bangladesh runs short of vaccine it is looking for other options. World Bank has already allocated US$ 500 million to Bangladesh to help vaccinate 54 million people. According to the World Bank the additional financing to the Covid-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness Project will help Bangladesh procure safe and effective vaccines from other sources, expand vaccine storage facilities and distribute vaccines to about 31 per cent of its population, in support of the government’s prioritized plan of covering 40 per cent of the population in the first phase of vaccination. The World Bank has lauded Bangladesh for taking quick action to combat Covid-19 by rolling out a national vaccination program. Bangladesh has planned to acquire through the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) for about 20 per cent of the population.
In the recent past contamination and death due to Covid-19 has been increasing in a geometric proportion in many countries including Bangladesh. When things gets worse the only option the concerned authorities in Bangladesh can think of is partial or complete lockdown which instead of improving the situation just creates an unimaginable chaos and confusion. Those responsible for making all these decisions perhaps do not think it necessary to find out what other countries are doing in similar circumstances. If they had a monitoring team to do the job it could help them in making practical decisions. For example Indonesia has decided to impose a fine of approximately US$ 356 to anyone refusing to be vaccinated if he or she is eligible. Spain, Brazil, Singapore, South Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE and most of the Middle Eastern countries have taken similar or harsher decisions. The fine imposed is quite high and anyone failing to pay would land up in jail for few weeks. When the Covid-19 first struck the Philippines and Nigeria army was on the street with orders to shoot anyone found not wearing a mask. No excuse was accepted. Nepal, one of our closest neighbours from the very beginning involved the military to manage the vaccine. It has become one of the few countries which have successfully made their country safest in the region. The cases of Sri Lanka and Bhutan are also very similar. The Indian state of Maharashtra has imposed a complete lockdown something similar like Bangladesh but with more executable restrictions and named it as 15 day Janata Curfew which came into effect on 14th April. They have even closed down all places of worship including all Mandirs. In Saudi Arabia’s two Holy Mosques the Ramadan Tarawi has been curtailed to only ten rakats and it has to be completed within thirty minutes. Only adults are allowed to attend the Tarawi. No Iftar will be served inside the mosque premises. Serving Iftar by corporate houses and the mosque authorities to all attending the Iftar and Maghreb prayer was a very common practice. The Saudi government has also temporarily shut down ten mosques. No one protested. Unfortunately in Bangladesh when the government announced that only twenty people will be allowed to attend the Tarawi inside the mosque in certain areas hell broke loose. People smashed the gates and entered the mosques forcibly in dozens disregarding all safety instructions as prescribed. In some areas such behaviour was even fuelled by the half educated Mullahs and local elected public representatives.
If things continue as it is, conditions in Bangladesh can become worse as it did in countries like US, Italy, Brazil and in few other Latin American countries. The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research centre at the University of Washington in US, predicted that by the end of May Bangladesh may observe approximately 850 deaths per day at the current rate. They emphasized on two things to prevent such a big tragedy. The first one is of course in getting vaccinated and the second one which the government continuously keeps on publicising-wearing mask properly, besides washing hands and avoiding crowded places.
Though vaccination is a programme run by the government the progress still is far from satisfactory as mentioned, the primary reason being a section of people are reluctant to take the vaccine. These are the people who preach vaccine will not prevent their death if it is their fate. They need to be told that it is not only for them that they need to be vaccinated; it is also for their families and others they come into contact with. Though so far vaccination certificate is yet to be available once it is available restrictions must be imposed on travel, getting public utilities, entering public offices or even shopping centres without producing vaccination certificate. Same goes true for wearing mask properly. According to experts on an average about 70 per cent of people must be vaccinated to claim that the people have acquired herd immunity. In the case of Bangladesh the number could be even less as the number of young population is high and some estimates puts the number to about 45 to 50 per cent. However, the target is still quite far away in spite of the fact that the government is trying its best to bring everyone entitled under the vaccination coverage and it is being given free. In most of the countries one has to pay for the vaccination. Experts also unanimously opine that vaccine will not guarantee one’s complete safety and everyone will have to wear masks as directed and follow all the health protocols. To achieve something better sometimes the government must be harsh in implementing its decisions. This country once had to face small pox pandemic every year but due to the governments well laid out plans and executing it with vaccinating every citizen today small pox has become something of the past. The last smallpox pandemic was seen in 1971.
What can the government do instead of trying to control the situation by clamping lockdown? It can do number of things. First, it can impose higher amount of fines to those who do not wear masks as they should. Second, the vaccination campaign must be geared up so that it reaches every eligible person. Imams of mosques and clerics of other religions can also play a meaningful role in this case. The government has taken a right decision to vaccinate university students but it needs to be implemented more effectively. Currently the college students are not included in this programme. They also need to be included once the Health Ministry is able to collect sufficient doses of vaccine. Before the coming Eid people must be motivated not to travel from one place to another and in the worst case there must be a travel ban, if necessary. This year it may not be a happy Eid for many as was not the last one but certain harsh decisions may ensure a happier Eid next year. If necessary the government should deploy people of the armed forces in aid of civil administration to implement its Covid-19 related decisions. Certain sectors of business seem that they have taken the government hostage on the Covid-19 issue. As in many countries the economy will suffer no doubt but keeping in view the previous experiences the economy will surely make a comeback. Bangladesh has risen from the ashes of war of 1971; it will rise from the havoc being created by Covid-19 too. We must only be rational and have patience.During this pandemic time the country lost many of its illustrious sons, the last being the Chairman of Bangla Academy Dr. Shamsuzzaman Khan, and Abdul Matin Khashru, MP, the President of Bangladesh of Supreme Court Bar Association. My tributes to all of them.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator.