Disturbing disregard for social distancing

Now with the latest decision to allow people to leave Dhaka and the subsequent rush of people without showing respect for social distancing at exit points the whole exercise of lockdown from March 26 to May 30, 2020 has become meaningless, futile.

Shamim A. Zahedy

They ‘strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage’ and then they were ‘heard no more’. So much of words were uttered, so much of efforts were made, but all in vain.

In the newest display of sheer disregards to people who have remained indoors to stem novel coronavirus outbreak since March 26, 2020 the authorities on Thursday (May 21) allowed people to use personal cars and microbuses to leave Dhaka for Eid-ul-Fitr holiday.

Amid the nationwide shutdown or lockdown stemming from the Covid-19 outbreak, the directives were that people would stay in place during the Eid celebration.

The latest decision to allow people to leave Dhaka city, the home to the largest number of virus patients in Bangladesh, comes in contrast to the 19 May announcement by the police chief that people headed home were creating obstacles and steps would be taken to send them back to Dhaka.

Asked about the risks of virus transmission during the Eid travel, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) chief said it would be safer as people would use their own transport and that public transport would not be allowed.

The novel coronavirus global pandemic is new to every nation in respect to containment of the disease but that does not mean that there will not have coordinated measures and actions.

It is not the first instance that the government functionaries lack coordination. 

When garment factories reopened on April 26, mosques on May 7 and shopping malls on May 10, experts vented concern of possible virus spread, terming the steps suicidal.

Earlier in the first week of April when readymade garment factory workers streamed towards Dhaka as factories were set to reopen, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said National Committee to Curb Coronavirus’ Spread Committee, which he himself heads, was not consulted about textile factories’ operation resumption.

It is hard to comprehend the rationale behind the authorities’ decision to allow people to leave Dhaka with private vehicles when new virus infection cases and death tolls are hitting daily records all most every day.

The people are now leaving Dhaka and will be coming back to Dhaka after Eid celebration will only aggravate the Covid-19 situation by infecting more people.

Another aspect of the new order to allow people to leave Dhaka with private vehicles leaves many baffled as to what could be reason. Is the administration one-eyed, allowing the rich people with personal vehicles to celebrate Eid with their relatives and extended family members in their home towns and village? Are the people who can only afford public transport left?

Overall mishandling and poor management of the whole situation following the first confirmed virus case on 8 March 2020 in Bangladesh have led to this alarming situation. The decisions were taken; the decisions were changed repeatedly, frequently without showing any logic and reason.

It has no use of comparing the situation in Europe and the US with that of Bangladesh. Better the Vietnam model could have been replicated, but alas!

Vietnam that shares a long and porous border with China, the first epicentre of the coronavirus, has successfully been able to contain the disease through swift and strict early action. Vietnam had no coronavirus–related death until May 24.

The strict controls paid off in Vietnam as the Southeast nation put tens of thousands under state quarantine, including people returning home, at military-style camps across the country.

But Bangladesh awfully missed the opportunities in the early days of the global pandemic in end-February and early March: the slack screening at airports and land ports proved to be pointless.

And then came the big blunder in mid March when some Bangladeshis from Italy, the then hot spot of coronavirus, 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.

The authorities badly needed ‘to be cruel to be kind only’!

How many people were at the airport? How many planes did bring the Bangladeshi expatriates? Was it so unmanageable task to keep those people in makeshift camps? Was it a task involving so much of money? 

A stitch in time saves nine. Had the authorities taken strict measures of proper screening and right quarantines initially, perhaps they would not have needed to announce Tk 100,000 crore financial packages and the likes. Alas!

Now with the latest decision to allow people to leave Dhaka and the subsequent rush of people without showing respect for social distancing at exit points the whole exercise of lockdown from March 26 to May 30, 2020 has become meaningless, futile.

And throughout the whole process of either strict or lax enforcement of shutdown and social distancing the role of health experts and epidemiologists has not been visible. It is sad.

The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent. E-Mail: shamim.zahedy@theindependentbd.com


First printed :

24 May, 2020 05:04:28 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 24 May, 2020 06:18:08 PM


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