Leading health experts yesterday called on the government to be cautious in its measures to ensure health and safety in the aftermath of offices and different sectors reopening amid high numbers of daily confirmed coronavirus cases.
The government should closely monitor the situation for the first 15 days of the reopening and then adopt new measures based on the outcome, they said during a virtual dialogue.
Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh organised the dialogue on "post-shutdown health concern".
Yesterday, the Directorate General of Health Services reported 2,381 new Covid-19 positive cases and 22 fatalities in 24 hours. There have so far been 49,532 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, and 672 fatalities.
After a countrywide shutdown enforced from March 26, the government announced resumption of all public transport services, and public and private offices on a limited scale from May 31.
However, all educational institutions will remain closed till June 15, according to a circular issued by the Cabinet Division on May 28.
Addressing the dialogue, Ahmed Mustaque Raza Chowdhury, an adviser to James P Grant School of Public Health, Brac University, said a "zoning method" can be followed as the country reopens.
Applying the method, initially businesses, schools and colleges, shops and mosques can be opened in 10 selected districts and its effectiveness monitored, said Mushtaque, a core group member of the citizen's platform.
Besides, effectiveness of preventive measures like hand washing and sanitisers has to be looked at as well, he said.
"Through this, we will be able to understand where the risk lies and from such lessons we can gradually reopen other districts," he added.
He urged for continuation of rigorous coronavirus tests and said testing facilities were still not evenly available throughout the country.
Abu Jamil Faisel, one of eight members of a government-formed expert committee to supervise, monitor and support the coronavirus response, said the government has to look at measures to break the transmission circle while reopening.
He said 100 percent use of face mask has to be ensured and if required different punitive measures alongside monetary fines should be imposed for violations.
He added the eight-member expert committee already recommended the government to distribute face masks among at least one crore people free of cost.
Similarly, free hand sanitisers could have been distributed, he added.
He also said better coordination between the government's health department and other bodies was essential in this crisis.
Khairul Islam, regional director (South Asia), WaterAid, said the government should observe the current resumption of offices until June 15.
After that, the government should not hesitate either to add new measures or curb the current one based on the outcome, he said.
Dr Firdausi Qadri, emeritus scientist at International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, said there is a necessity of further research on the virus.
It is also important to know what kind of immunological response has been developed among those who were infected with the virus, she said.
Rawshan Ara Begum, a member of the national technical advisory committee to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, said as several government circulars have been issued already, the committee recommended placing greater emphasis on their implementations.
She said maternal mortality has turned out to be a big concern because of the pandemic as it forced an additional 35 percent women to give birth at home.
Already, 50 percent of the country's babies are born at home, she said, adding that home delivery has been the main reason behind maternal mortality.
She said diseases like eclampsia could develop due to home delivery and cause a rise in maternal deaths. Besides, fistula could also rise and mothers can face various other complications.
Addressing the virtual programme, Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam said reproductive health rights of women, especially the adolescents, has been ignored amid the pandemic.
She stressed that a strong recommendation to this end be placed before the government.
She also urged for safe disposal of used face masks and gloves.
Summing up the dialogue, noted economist and convener of the citizen's platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said there is still a concern about the relaxation of the shutdown.
He urged for rigorous coronavirus testing and applying zoning method to contain the virus.
Besides, he also stressed on more research and urged the government to make the public informed about the pandemic.
Asif Ibrahim, chairman of Chattogram Stock Exchange, and lawmaker and rights activist Aroma Dutta, among others, spoke during the virtual dialogue.