Pandemic far from over in Bangladesh
It has been almost six months since the first known case of coronavirus was reported in Bangladesh. Despite a lockdown that the authorities insisted on calling a "general holiday" and half-hearted attempts at localised lockdowns in areas identified to be hotspots, it was not possible to stop community transmission. The official cases of coronavirus have now gone past three lakh infected, although research done by various organisations, including a joint IEDCR-ICDDR,B survey, estimate that the actual numbers of infected could be six times higher in the capital alone. In the past month, an average of 40 people have died per day.
Despite this, travel restrictions have been relaxed all over the country, with shops and offices opening up and people going about like before. The health minister even went as far as to callously remark that coronavirus will leave the country on its own accord, regardless of whether a vaccine is found or not. However, experts have recently warned that the real scenario is the polar opposite—without proper measures to curb transmission, there is no possibility of the coronavirus outbreak in Bangladesh coming to an end any time soon. In fact, because of this sense of fatigue towards the response to Covid-19, not just from the authorities but from the general public as well, the situation is likely to become even more dangerous. This was confirmed by the additional director general of the DGHS, who said that if social distancing and safety measures are not strictly followed, it will not be long before transmission increases.
Throughout the pandemic in Bangladesh, we have often seen such conflicting statements come from different arms of the authorities, with the health ministry and the DGHS rarely being on the same page. How can we expect ordinary people to take safety measures seriously, when the health minister himself is making such misleading statements? We urge the government to ensure that all authorities involved take the situation seriously and come up with coordinated policies to reduce community transmission of coronavirus before it gets out of hand. There must also be continuous public information campaigns to spread awareness on coronavirus safety measures.
A report in this daily from yesterday quoted several doctors on a lack of clear data on coronavirus deaths at home as well as cases of rising respiratory infections across the country. There must be a country-wide survey and analysis of all of these cases to understand the true extent of transmission. This situation cannot be assessed without mass testing, and the authorities should immediately ramp up antigen or antibody based rapid testing in communities to take policy decisions that are informed by proper research and data. In all of this, the government should be guided by the experts, who have already warned of bitter outcomes if the government chooses to reopen everything while safety measures are flouted.