On Sunday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned that the Covid-19 situation will likely deteriorate in the upcoming winter, and urged all involved to prepare for another outbreak in wintertime. Experts around the world have predicted that winter will exacerbate the spread of Covid-19, and there are widespread fears—and evidence to support such fears—that the second wave will be even worse than the first. Europe is already in the middle of a second wave as it moves into winter, after having brought down the number of infections and deaths in the first wave, and daily case numbers in the EU have reached record highs of more than 45,000 on a 14-day notification rate, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). If these numbers and predictions say anything at all, it's that there's no room for complacency, as we prepare for what promises to be a drawn-out battle.
Unfortunately, the government's response from the beginning of the pandemic has been one of denial, at worst, and complacency, at best. Over the past months, we have relaxed most Covid-19 measures, including allowing transport to operate at full capacity, despite the fact that our positivity rate remains well above the global average and that of our neighbouring countries, including India and Pakistan. Worse still, we have reduced the number of tests in the country and made them inaccessible to the masses by slapping a fee on them. The Covid-19 testing expansion policy is still in its draft stages, after months of negotiations between different departments of the health ministry. Meanwhile, there are talks of reopening schools in the immediate future, amidst fears that implementing safety measures proposed by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education will simply not be possible in a vast majority of educational institutions in the country.
Less than a month ago, the health minister himself said that "Bangladesh will be coronavirus-free very soon" and added that he didn't think "we'll even need vaccines." Comments such as this, coupled with contradicting measures from the government, have confused the public as well, who are no longer taking the precautions that they ought to as they engage in social and economic activities and risk increasing the rate of community transmission.
Under the circumstances, the prime minister's warning should be taken with the utmost seriousness by policymakers and the public. We need to revisit the shortcomings of our healthcare system and prepare it for a second outbreak, checking corruption at every stage and learning from past mistakes. We need to prepare now if we are to mitigate the repercussions of another outbreak as well as another economic decline.
We failed to take advantage of early warnings the first time around; we cannot afford to do the same if a second wave comes.