Monday, 23 May, 2022

Worsening Covid Situation Calls for Strict Enforcement of Restrictions

Z A M Khairuzzaman

Worsening Covid Situation Calls for Strict Enforcement of Restrictions
Z A M Khairuzzaman

The government in a gazette notification issued on January 21 declared closure of schools and colleges till February 6 this year. The decision was taken following the directives of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to curb infection rates and keep the students safe. Hardly had the students been able to breathe a bit peacefully when the third wave of the pandemic overtook them with Omicron, a new incarnation of the coronavirus and also Delta variant. The official notification also prohibited any kind of assembly of more than 100 people to curb the bug amid a rapid surge in new cases. Issuing a five-point directive, the Cabinet Division also stated that government and private company employees must show vaccine certificates at work. Soon after the directives, Dhaka University and Jagannath University authorities suspended in-person classes. National University too suspended all examinations.

Health Minister Zahid Maleque informed that public offices would operate with half the manpower at workplaces and a circular to this effect would be issued soon. According to him, there will be a rotation every week. Considering the countrywide Covid-19 situation, a fresh decision will be taken on the educational institutions two weeks later. However, health experts opined that the directives are not sufficient enough to contain the transmission keeping tourism, trade fairs and markets open. They also raised concern over the implementation of the official directives stating that such stray measures will not yield any fruit. The government has already declared a few districts as red zones, but kept tourism and everything open. "What is the justification of declaring the red zones?" they posed a question before the health authorities. It is to be mentioned here that earlier this month, Dhaka and Rangamati were identified as Covid ‘red zones’.

Presently, coronavirus is spreading like wildfire across the country. Daily test positivity rate has shot up alarmingly. The situation is likely to further worsen amid widespread violation of the new restrictions enforced since January 13. Public transports, excluding trains, are now operating in full capacity while people continue to mingle in social, political and religious functions, often without wearing masks. As per government instructions, people should have shown Covid-19 vaccine cards and RT-PCR test certificates while commuting on public transport. In reality, the instructions are not being followed. It appears that the transport owners and their workers have taken the official directives lightly. This is indeed a dangerous approach!

Astonishingly, there appears to be another confusion regarding the directive given to the transport sector to run buses at half capacity. The Dhaka Road Transport Owners' Association instructed its members to operate their vehicles full capacity, violating the government directive on the very first day of the curbs. The association representatives claimed that the ministry concerned had given them a ‘verbal’ permission to do so, a statement that has not been confirmed by the ministry as yet. But, why is the confusion in the official instruction? On what basis did the authorities concerned make the decision? They might have retracted their decision in face of the pressure of the transport owners. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been observed the authorities floundering when they should have made timely, practical and farsighted interventions. It is of urgent importance that the government takes judicious decisions in the coming days, if we are to expect the public to take these directives seriously.

 Hotels and restaurants continue to attract large numbers of people though they should have allowed in vaccinated people only as per the curbs. Police should take actions against these hotels and restaurants at once for violating the health guidelines. At the same time, the public should be penalised for ignoring the rules. On the other hand, the progress in the vaccination campaign is also not that satisfactory as the health authorities are yet to put in place a mechanism to inoculate vulnerable people such as factory and hotel-restaurant workers for their job requirement of coming into mass contact. The country is yet to ensure the first-dose vaccination to half of its 170 million people, with only about a third fully vaccinated.

The DGHS reported 9,614 new coronavirus cases for 24 hours on January 22. Seventeen infected people died during that period. And, the positivity rate was recorded at 28.02 percent.

The health minister revealed that around 33 percent of hospital beds in Dhaka have already been occupied by Covid patients. It is alarming indeed! If the transmission is not contained right now, the health system will be under severe pressure and may even collapse, the minister apprehended. But, regrettably, people in general are seldom wearing masks and maintaining health guidelines at public places like markets, shopping malls, mosques, bus stands, launch terminals and railway stations, et cetera. Local administration and law enforcement agencies must strictly monitor the day-to-day situation and ensure compliance of the government’s 11-point directive. Local councillors and volunteers will have to act more vigorously to create awareness in this regard.

We must remember that curbing infection depends on people. If people follow the health protocols properly, the situation will come under control. There is no better way to fight the malady than stopping its propagation. That can be done by following the safety rules, individually and collectively, remaining indoors as much as possible, avoiding gatherings of any nature and of course wearing face masks all the time. We need mass awareness in this regard. Otherwise, things can get out of hand fast.

The administration should not sit idle by merely issuing orders. Ensuring its compliance is equally important. Strict enforcement of the restrictions is the need of the hour by conducting harsh mobile court drives, if we are to curb the spread of the virus. It is hoped that the curbs would prevent the need for a complete lockdown and would help avoid the adverse consequences of it. Currently, the government is also not considering putting the country under lockdown. But, if people do not cooperate with the administration then it will have no alternative but to impose a countrywide lockdown in near future. So, the public need to understand the importance of abiding by the restrictions, if we are to avoid loss of lives as well as another lockdown that will inevitably harm the economy and people's livelihoods.


The writer is a columnist. E-mail: [email protected]