As the country is going through the period of shutdown, it has become urgent for the government to look after the well-being of the poor and low-income group of people
Shamim A. Zahedy
With Bangladesh passing the fourth week of the novel coronavirus outbreak following the first confirmed case on 8 March 2020, the country now requires to zero in on expanding disease detection facilities as the WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged in his message to the world: ‘test, test, test.’
Thus far 51 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Bangladesh and it is a good piece of news so far. But there is no reason to become complacent about this low number of confirmed cases in the country of some 162 million people crowding in 148,460 sq km of area to become one of the top densely populated nations in the world.
The fact is the scope to test COVID-19 in Bangladesh is still limited: only four laboratories in Dhaka and one in Chittagong offer the testing facilities and the authorities are taking preparations to make 11 more laboratories ready. At Rajshahi and Rangpur, the testing was about to start from Monday.
Until recently, IEDCR, which started releasing info on coronavirus detection case on 29 January 2020, was the only oraganisation offering testing facilities. A total of 1,602 tests up to 31 March have indentified 51 COVID-19 patients. Mainstream news media outlets, however, almost every day publish or broadcast news of deaths of two or three people with coronavirus symptoms. No one would ever know for sure whether they really died of the disease.
According to IEDCR records, 802,580 corona-related calls were made to the hotlines from January 21 till 29 March, 73,134 such calls were made on three hotlines.
Testing apart, the government has taken some steps to contain the virus outbreak. One of the key objectives of the 10-day closure of public and private offices beginning from March 26 is to enforce ‘social isolation’ or prevent people from gathering.
Besides the closure or so-called lockdown, there are other priorities for Bangladesh such as expanding test facilities meaning more labs and trained healthcare professionals need to be put in place, making contact tracing of people who have come in contact with disease carriers and ensuring their isolation. The WHO has indeed rightly pointed out that countries need to isolate, test, treat and trace new cases to effectively suppress and control the virus’ spread.
Bangladesh should take the example of the US to remain extra cautious. The number of confirmed cases in US was 53 around 40 days after the first case was reported on January 21. Then came the big jump, taking the total cases to 164,266 cases in the US as of March 31.
Spain also is having the same crisis for ‘delayed’ response. This European country reported its first case on January 30, and the number of cases went up to 45 within 31 days. As of March 31 the number of confirmed case stood at 87,956.
Singapore and South Korea are two glaring examples for containing the virus. On December 31, 2019 when the world for the first time came to know about the coronavirus in China, Singapore started to get prepared. And by the time the WHO declared a public health emergency at the end of January in 2020, the city state was all ready.
On the other hand, South Korea nearly tested 20,000 people for coronavirus a day, ‘more people per capita than anywhere else in the world,’ to stop the spread of the disease.
Apart from the initial slack screening at airports and land ports, Bangladesh missed the initial opportunities to contain the virus spread in mid March when some Bangladeshis from Italy and other countries were released from institutional quarantine camps and sent to ‘home quarantine’, a foreign concept to many. Obviously no one followed all the do’s and don’ts of it.
As the country is going through the 10-day shutdown and the authorities are set to extend general holidays, it has become urgent for the government to look after the well-being of the poor and low-income group of people. Many have come to the aid of the government in helping the poor, but the efforts are fragmented and disjointed.
In this fight against coronavirus, considered the worst health crisis in the last 100 years, the government must be taking everyone, from both sides of the aisle, on board to give full attention to the crisis. All government functionaries leaving aside petty jobs and empty rhetoric must be engaged in the fight against the catastrophe the humanity has not witnessed over the centuries.
According to media reports, police have of late arrested a number of people in Dhaka and other parts of the country for their ‘involvement in spreading misleading information and rumours’ regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
The police have also kept an eye on over 100 social media accounts and have already blocked 50 other social media accounts for the same ‘crime’.
On March 25, the secondary and higher education division of education ministry suspended two government college teachers, following their “critical” Facebook posts over the shortage of PPE for doctors.
Authorities need to unlearn what they have learned over the years and learn anew how to ignore things sometimes.
The authorities should leave it to the target audiences to judge whether the information is authentic or unauthentic or rumoured. The audiences ultimately look for authentic information for which professionals are always ready.
Did the comments of the two teachers go against Bangladesh? As a government employee, everyone should know how far he or she can go. But the constitution also ensures the ‘right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression’.
The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
First printed :
1 April, 2020 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 2 April, 2020 01:04:40 PM