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Experts see increased infection risks as Bangladesh suspends COVID curbs

  • Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-07-14 03:47:10 BdST

bdnews24
People of the southern districts pack a ferry in Munshiganj’s Shimulia as they travel back home on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2021 ahead of a strict lockdown over the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Loosening the coronavirus lockdown when Bangladesh is being hit the hardest by the pandemic has raised the risks of infection, believes Professor Mohammad Shahidullah, chief of the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19.

Public health expert Dr Mushtuq Husain, who has been advising the government by closely watching the outbreak since the beginning, thinks lifting the curbs will send a wrong message to the people. 

But the prime minister’s personal physician Prof Dr ABM Abullah thinks the government has taken the right decision to save livelihoods by keeping the wheel of economy running. 

In a bid to curtail the spread of the virus, the government has enforced a raft of restrictions on daily life since April. But as the pandemic curbs failed to have the desired effect, the government imposed its harshest lockdown yet on Jul 1.

Following the advice of the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19, the government extended the lockdown by a week to Jul 14.

But with Eid-ul-Azha ahead, the lockdown appears to be easing in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh as stores are reopening with more people and cars venturing out.

Finally on Tuesday, the government announced withdrawal of the lockdown restrictions altogether for nine days until Jul 23 morning to allow the people celebrate the festival by travelling home, buying sacrificial animals from markets and shopping at malls.     

“The more the people socialise and breach the health rules, the higher the number of infections will be. So the risks persist,” said Prof Shahidullah.

He said the national committee of experts was thinking about advising the government to extend the lockdown by two more weeks as the numbers of infections and deaths have continued to soar even as the restrictions are being somewhat adhered to.

“It (the spread of the virus) is not relenting because of the pre-lockdown behaviour of the people. We might have some success if the restrictions remained in force for two more weeks.”

“It will of course stop, but another two weeks of lockdown would have brought the level of infection further down.”

Dr Musthuq, an advisor to the government’s disease control agency IEDCR, said public health and epidemiology do not suggest it is a suitable time to ease the curbs.

“Socio-economic and religious reasons may have forced the government to think about relaxing the lockdown, but lifting the restrictions altogether for nine days will send a wrong message.”

Dr Abdullah, however, disagreed with Prof Shahidullah and Dr Mushtuq, saying lockdown is not the only solution to the outbreak.  

“It (lockdown) cannot continue day after day. It is upending the lives of those who live from hand to mouth. They have become helpless. People need livelihoods to live on,” he said.

The professor argued that farmers raised cattle throughout the year only to get a good price during the Eid and use the profit to live on for another year, but many of them may not be able to sell the animals if the lockdown drags on.

“And the markets and shops are closed. They (traders) also need to live on. The government officials are staying at home and drawing their salary, but many private company employees have lost their job.”

WHAT TO DO NOW?

The government in the order lifting the curbs asked the people to maintain heightened caution to reduce the risk of infection.

Prof Abdullah said the government should take steps as well to ensure mask and physical-distancing rules. “People must avoid gatherings.”

He advised the citizens to follow the health rules at all times, especially while travelling, visiting cattle markets, slaughtering animals and joining the Eid congregation.

“The people should be repeatedly reminded that we are at greater risk and the government has been compelled to relax the curbs.”

He urged the government to be tough and strictly enforce the health rules.

“If the government takes a tough position on the health rules, the people will not behave in an uncontrolled manner,” he said.