Thursday, 21 October, 2021
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Taming the Pandemic: A Herculean Task

Hussain Imam

The one and a half year long Covid-19 pandemic has severely upset the economy worldwide. It has not spared any country, be it the most developed, developed, developing, least developed or the poorest country. In consequence of the prolonged onslaught of a devastating pandemic, never seen before at least in the last one hundred years, the countries’ socio economic condition has suffered a serious setback leading to economic depression and social unrest of an unprecedented scale.

Bangladesh is no exception to it. Covid-19 has literally shattered the social, economic and mental status of its people. Jobs are lost in millions, businesses, especially the small and medium scale businesses, have collapsed. The middle and lower income group people are reeling to their knees in making both ends meet. The pandemic has already caused the death toll of more than 27 thousand people and infected another 15.5 lac in just a year and a half.

 The figure may not look so staggering if we look at the countries like the USA, the UK, Brazil or India where infection and so the death toll has been very high. With a death toll of more than 700,000 and infection of nearly 45 million the USA, despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, tops the list on both death toll and infection cases.

Thanks to Prime Minister Sheik Hasina’s personal initiative to arrange much sought after vaccines from across the world and distribute the same to the people in a systematic manner that the pandemic surge has come down to around 20 deaths and below 4% infection a day. Thanks to our doctors, nurses and other health workers for their relentless efforts in handling corona patients day and night risking their own lives.

But for a poor country like Bangladesh, with high unemployment rate, low per capita income ( $ 2064 )and fragile health sector, the economic and social impact of the pandemic, however small it may be, its outrage in terms of death and infection, is huge.

The fact however remains, if I am not wrong, so far only about 12% of the total 170 million people of the country have been vaccinated. Vaccination to at least half the populace is still a long way. The good news is that, according to some sources, we will be getting around 200 million doses of vaccine by next March.

The onslaught of Covid-19 is not yet over. The health experts around the world do not rule out the possibility of the third and fourth wave in a matter of days. According to WHO experts, the corona is likely to continue creating panic, if not havoc, for another year or so. So there is no room for us to be complacent. We have to remain prepared to cope with the situation and continue to follow the basic health rules like wearing face masks, washing hands and maintaining social distance.

The government on its part has to take every measure to improve the poor health sector of the country. The budget allocation for this sector has been the lowest even in comparison with any other country in South Asia. We need more hospitals, more ICU beds, more ventilators, more oxygen supplies and more qualified and trained doctors to deal with the pandemic.

The government has no alternative to increase its budgetary allocation substantially and at the same time deal with the corruption challenges of this sector with iron hands in order to cope with any unforeseeable situation in the near future.

We must not forget the tragedy enacted in India only recently because of acute shortage of oxygen in the hospitals. We had to witness with shock and anguish the tragic incidents of hundreds of corona patients in the cities like Delhi, Mumbai and other big cities, not to mention about the smaller ones, running from one hospital to another for hours and then dying at the doorsteps of those hospitals for want of oxygen.

We do not want to see repetition of similar tragedies anywhere in the world, let alone Bangladesh. We do not want to see people dying for want of hospital beds, for want of ICU facilities, for want of ventilators, for want of oxygen cylinders. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of billionaires in the country. We would urge them to come forward and stand by the government with monetary support in this critical situation.

Now let’s talk about the impact of the pandemic on our daily life. The pandemic has undoubtedly seriously affected the mental and economic condition of our people. All educational institutions have remained closed since March, 2020 jeopardizing the education of the country as a whole. Many of our   children remaining at home almost like under house arrest for days and months at a stretch have gone traumatized.

We are glad that our schools and colleges have now opened. The Universities are also expected to open soon. But the prolonged closure of the educational institutions has created other problems. Continued lockdown due to pandemic has put many guardians into financial crisis forcing their wards resort to work as child labour to earn their livelihood. As a result, the percentage of absenteeism from schools as well as dropouts is showing alarmingly an upward trend. So has increased the trend of child marriage.

The 18-month-long closure of most of the industries and businesses due to the pandemic has rendered a large section of the workforce of the country jobless by putting their families in a great financial crisis. The travel and tourism industry has been the hardest hit.  Many of its employees have lost their jobs.

The government has to ensure the mental and physical health of its people. It has to keep people safe from the deadly virus. At the same time it has to revive the economy. It is certainly a herculean task for any government. The government alone cannot tackle the situation. It needs help and cooperation from all section of the society.

 

The writer is a retired Merchant Navy Officer