While we were bidding farewell to 2020 and welcoming 2021, we were hopeful that we will be safer from the pandemic in the New Year. In fact, Bangladesh was doing an appreciating endeavour in controlling this life-threatening virus when daily death, as well as confirmed cases, started decreasing from January this year. We passed February with great expectation that by March, Bangladesh might be able to come out from any risk of coronavirus infection. We were happy and the world community praised our government’s sincere efforts to handle the pandemic. Our rural areas were almost free from Covid-19.
Considering this situation, the government of Bangladesh was thinking of reopening educational institutions step by step, which were shut down since March last year. Social gatherings and recreational activities started running slowly. People were expecting that the situation would be better after the winter. However, there was a continuous warning from our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about following health guidelines, particularly using masks and maintaining social distance until the country becomes free from the pandemic.But things were not going as desired by the government. People started avoiding the use of masks while going outside for shopping or simply to have a walk, though there are some people in Bangladesh who never used masks or maintained a social distance from the very beginning of the pandemic since March last year. The most surprising observation is that not only the kitchen markets, but salesmen in maximum shops, including pharmacies, do not use masks. The practices of ‘social distancing’ do not exist anymore in Bangladesh. As a consequence, from the second week of March 2021, the rate of death and infection started climbing every day. The number of deaths per day crossed 40, while confirmed cases crossed five thousand in March.
In this situation, the government declared a week-long lockdown from 7 April. It finally came to an end like a hide and seek game, when all sectors were allowed to function normally. In fact, it was not a lockdown. However, by that time, thousands of people left Dhaka or other big cities for their homes in the village. Thus, coronavirus was spread among the villagers who were there without any fear of this epidemic. The infection started in no time. The rural areas of Bangladesh are now being included as red zones.
In this context, I would like to share one event. On 10 April, I had to go to Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital to take the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. I was shocked once I got into the room where the vaccination was organised. Chairs were kept there without keeping any gap between them according to the government’s health guidelines. Even people were standing in front of the table where we had to submit our vaccination slip. It was really a mess. It was difficult to believe that we have been passing every moment through the life-taking pandemic. People wore face masks, but what are about other health guidelines, like social distancing? Those were totally neglected. The management did not take care of for a smooth running or maintaining any discipline for the entire programme. It was beyond my imagination why the hospital administration did not take steps for providing better service in a disciplined way. If this is the situation in a renowned hospital in the heart of the capital, the gatherings seen in the shopping malls or on the streets seem less important to me.
Proper management of any work is very important for its success. I did not see any supervisory staff or anyone from the hospital to maintain proper discipline in the event. Even, the number of vaccination staff and the number of the booth were not sufficient. At one time, there was only one both running. The staff was roaming around, keeping the elderly service-takers waiting in the serried line. I do not think that they have any shortage of manpower to provide this emergency service, as they have been doing this without any interval since February. Anyway, I left the hospital with the feeling that such mismanagement might turn hospitals into a big virus-exposing site.
Once again on 14 April a lockdown for 8-day has been imposed and later extended for another week. It was said that it would be a very strict lockdown. Except emergency services, all sectors would be closed. There was a restriction on people’s movements, but garments industries, kitchen markets and some branches of banks were allowed to operate. That means, there were movements of peoples, whether they were going to industries, banks, kitchen markets or other destinations. In fact, it was not a lockdown as we had thought before. Somehow, the seriousness of the pandemic was compromised.
We know that June and July of last year were the most serious months when both death and confirmed cases were at an alarming level. Coronavirus infection cases exceeded four thousand per day on 18 June (4008), 30 June (4014) and 3 July (4019). The highest number of deaths was 64 on 1 July, though there were more than 50 deaths on several days in June. On the other hand, during the last three weeks of April this year, death cases crossed 100 on several days. The confirmed number climbed up to seven thousand. Maybe the actual numbers were higher than the official data.Nobody should think that they are protected as they have taken the first dose or both doses of the Covid-19 vaccines. They should not take the risk of going to crowded places, attending social gatherings, etc without using face masks and maintaining social distance. No vaccine can ensure cent per cent effectiveness. There are cases where vaccinated people have also been infected with the virus. Irrespective of vaccinated or non-vaccinated, the best way to keep oneself secured is to use masks, maintain social distance and follow other health guidelines. We should not go outside our residences without reasons. One point I like to mention here that the vaccines (Covisheild) we are using in Bangladesh produce protection against the virus through the development of our immunity. The vaccine, thus, reduces the risk of developing the disease in our body and its consequences. In fact, this immunity helps us fight against the virus if exposed. We, the vaccinated people, are also protecting people around us with less risk of infection.
Being a Muslim, I believe that Allah has never said to commit suicide, which is a great sin. If we do not use masks or do not follow other health guidelines during this corona pandemic, it would be nothing but committing suicide. Is there any harm if we take precautions to be in good health or protect ourselves from any pandemic? Is there any religion that does not allow taking medicines when we fall sick? We go to doctors, take medicines and if required, are hospitalised. If so, then why we do not use masks and do not follow necessary guidelines, which are like medicines for our protection from the virus? Our religious leaders should come forward and explain to our people that these precautionary measures are not contradictory to our religious guidelines. “None of you should wish for death due to a calamity that has afflicted him,” Prophet Muhammed said in one of his famous hadiths, urging Muslims to find legitimate and protective ways to survive.
It is very difficult to predict where the situation will stand and whether we would be able to bring down the gravity of the pandemic at all. The situation would not go beyond control if our people respect the guidelines suggested by our government and cooperate with each other to ensure the necessary health measures. At the same time, the government should consider the continuation of complete lockdown or curfew, till we have the least risk of getting infected with coronavirus. Otherwise, lockdown would just be a hide and seek game! And we have to count more and more deaths every day.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary