Bangladesh set to step into coronavirus new normal with a lot at stake

  • Moinul Hoque Chowdhury, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-05-29 05:42:45 BdST

bdnews24
Vehicles run on the main road in Dhaka’s Malibagh like ordinary days despite a transport shutdown over the coronavirus outbreak.

The government is restarting the economy as it has ordered reopening of offices, public transport system, domestic flights and stock exchanges amid a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths after more than two months of lockdown.

It has issued sets of health safety guidelines for protection from the virus for the reopening period of one and a half month, saying the strict rules will be re-imposed if the situation worsens.  

If the rules are followed to the letter, the government expects the reopening to help the country somewhat offset the impact of the crisis on job and income losses while containing the outbreak.

If not, then experts and critics fear a devastating explosion of coronavirus cases that will push the health care system to the brink and things will spiral out of control.

It took around a month for the caseload to reach 100 after the first COVID-19 patients were detected on Mar 8.

The number of coronavirus cases started to jump afterwards as some readymade garment factories reopened and rules were eased in April. The caseload topped 10,000 by the first week of May.

After further loosening of rules during Ramadan and reopening of shopping malls ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, the number of cases has surged rapidly.

The official orders on the latest reopening came on Thursday, when the country’s coronavirus infections surged past 40,000 after daily caseload crossed 2,000 for the first time. As many as 15 new deaths took the toll to 559.

WHAT CRITICS SAY

The BNP and the Left Democratic Alliance have protested against the reopening decision.

BNP Senior Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi described the decisions as “suicidal” while the leftist alliance called these “extremely irresponsible”

“Is the government out to prove that it is stronger than the coronavirus by lifting the so-called lockdown which had been enforced in the name of general holiday?” he asked.   

The government has put hundreds of thousands of people at the risk of infection, the BNP leader said, adding that the government will have to take responsibility for the deaths to occur due to the reopening.

The government has opted for “herd immunity”, which refers to a situation where enough people in a population have immunity to an infection to be able to effectively stop that disease from spreading, alleged the leftist parties’ alliance.

They say the countries that are talking about “herd immunity” are capable of conducting coronavirus tests on a large scale and isolate the infected people while Bangladesh’s “fragile” health care system lacks coordination.

WHAT GOVERNMENT SAYS

The government has been arguing that it must save livelihoods as well as lives.

"Life cannot remain at a standstill. We may have to live with the coronavirus at least until a vaccine is developed. But economic activities must be restarted for the sake of our livelihoods," Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had said on the eve of Eid.

Obaidul Quader, the general secretary of the ruling Awami League and road transport minister, said Bangladesh should follow the others who are trying to balance lives and livelihoods.

“No country can survive by freezing economic activities for months,” said Information Minister Hasan Mahmud.

WHAT EXPERTS SAY

Reopening almost everything means giving the disease a chance to escalate further, according to Mushtuq Husain, who is working as a consultant on COVID-19 pandemic control at the government’s Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research or IEDCR.

“Everything but schools has reopened. What’s left? The outbreak will not be under control in this way,” the former chief scientific officer of the IEDCR maintained.

“We know that the government is under social and economic pressure. But what will happen if a great disaster strikes people’s lives?” he asked.

Dr Husain thinks the government should have reopened some offices first and watched the situation before reopening everything.

“It appears that the government has given up as if it has failed to keep the situation under control. But this kind of attitude will be suicidal. No nation should give up like this,” he added.

The national technical advisory committee to fight the outbreak said Bangladesh will face a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths if it reopens economy without fully implementing the safeguards.

Citing experiences of other countries, the committee expressed fear of a rise in the disease if normal life is restored before the rate of infection comes down to a ‘certain level’.

A rapid rise in coronavirus cases will create heavy pressure on the health care system, it added.