Stringent Enforcement of Lockdown – the Only Alternative
।। Pranab Kumar Panday।।
The situation of Covid-19 has exacerbated further in Bangladesh in the last three weeks as over 6000 patients have been diagnosed Corona positive in each of the past few days. Public health experts believed that the free movements of a vast majority of the population across the country, the movement of different political groups and the decision to hold public examinations by different bodies have accelerated the contamination rate of Coronavirus across the country. As the first wave of Coronavirus, there is a considerable concentration of patients in Dhaka, Chittagong and few other cities. Meanwhile, the government has identified more than 50 districts as vulnerable to Covid-19 contamination. When the contamination ratio started to escalate during early March, the Public Service Commission remained firm on holding the BSC examination involving more than seven lakh students. Along with the students, the guardians also moved to different parts of the country with the candidates. Through social and electronic media, we witnessed that the authority could not guarantee a stable safety environment outside examination centres though the situation was relatively safer inside the centre.
The Health Directorate remained adamant in its early decision to hold the MBBS entry test regardless of public health professionals’ apprehensions at the disastrous effect of these public meetings on the spread of Covid-19 infection and the issuing of 18 Government guidelines to reduce the rate of infection. Of course, some points may have been made by the authority favouring its decision to hold an examination. However, the reality was that large gatherings took place alongside the examination centres on the examination day on which Covid-19 protocol was not followed. Even the guardians were very reluctant to abide by the principles of maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and using sanitizers. I must appreciate the authority to ensure a relatively better environment within the examination halls. However, students’ entry and exit from the examination halls created a mass gathering that could exacerbate the coronavirus infection.
The government has already expressed concern about the second wave of the outbreak of the virus. The Prime Minister has also highlighted the relevance of practicing Covid-19 protocol. As in the first phase, she urged the countrymen to abide by the Covid-19 protocols. The most alarming aspect is that the Covid-19 patients have already occupied all available hospitals beds and ICUs within three weeks of the second wave of the outbreak. Bangladesh has become exposed to the new strains of the Coronavirus identified in the UK and South Africa. These strains are more potent than the previous strains as these could contaminate patients 70 times faster than earlier strains. To save the country from further deterioration of the Covid situation, the government has already imposed a bar on the entry of people flying from 12 European countries. Even they have made 14 days quarantine obligatory for all passengers flying from outside. Along with these measures, the government has imposed restrictions on the mass gatherings through a declaration of 18 points guideline.
Now, a pertinent question is whether the existing measures would save the country from further catastrophe. The possible answer to this question is NO. How the Covid-19 patents are getting increased is very alarming for us. Such a leap in the number of patients in the last week has not even created any fear among the majority of the countrymen as they have become reckless. I have seen the Health Minister admit that if the situation continues to get aggravated in such a manner, we will not handle the situation if we transform the whole Dhaka City into the hospitals. Another TV report stated that the number of positive patients in different labs in Dhaka ranges from 35 to 65 per cent, which is intimidating news in the present context.
We must admit that all actors involved in Covid-19 management, including the countrymen, were reluctant to maintain the last few months’ protection measures. Therefore, we have already lost a few weeks that could be used to restrain the rate of contamination. The situation has worsened very severely amid our reluctance. Therefore, we do not have time to experiment with different mechanisms. Our prior experience suggests that most fellow citizens do not show any respect to the government guidelines. Therefore, it was suggested from different corners that the government should have enforced whatever measures they took forcefully. If they do not take stringent measure at the quickest possible time, the situation may go out of our reach. Considering the gravity of the situation, the government has rightly decided to enforce a countrywide lockdown from 5 May.
It goes without saying that due to the lack of coordination among different government departments, the required degree of success could not be attained despite the Prime Minister’s unflagging attempts to save the country from this pandemic. Typically, the authorities concerned need much time to decide on every matter. This is because of their too much dependence on the Prime Minister on reaching a definitive decision on each matter. If the same trend continues at the government level, it would be challenging to manage the second wave of infection.
Consequently, the government has no choice but to enforce stringent lockdowns in the country. From our prior experience, it can be said that the tranquil enforcement of lockdowns would not help the government to curb the contamination rate of this lethal virus. The government of a country like Bangladesh indeed has to weigh many factors before reaching a definitive decision on the enforcement of the lockdown as such a decision would undoubtedly affect the livelihood of a vast majority of the working population. There is a possibility that there could be a price hike of the kitchen commodities in the market, which has already been increased centring the upcoming Ramadan. The lockdown may further threaten the price hike as a group of businessmen always try to make money capitalizing on the working class population’s miseries, which happened in the first phase of the coronavirus infection. Therefore, the government should also take the initiatives to control the price hike of kitchen commodities.
The government should also devise another scheme to support vulnerable people with no income during the lockdown. During the first phase of the infection, the government provided its best assistance to the poor in the country, which the countrymen and the international community highly proclaimed. Our Prime Minister has reaffirmed that we are passing through the most turbulent time of history. Yet, we will overcome the challenges triggered by the pandemic. However, to overcome the challenges, the government must enforce stringent lockdown to restrain the contamination of the virus. If we fail to enforce complete lockdown again, we will have to face tough days ahead. Hence, all government agencies will have to work cohesively to overcome this challenge. It has been proved that without the support of the citizens, all-out efforts of the government would fail to attain the ultimate objective. Therefore, the citizens should extend their wholehearted support to the government to make Corona free Bangladesh.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.