Legacy of Covid-19: The good, the bad and the messy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 20, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:40 AM, August 20, 2020

Legacy of Covid-19: The good, the bad and the messy

No, the pandemic is not over—far from it, actually, despite what the ministers might tell you—although at times it does feel like we've reached the end. The end of our patience and strength, of our resolve to keep fighting, of any flickering hope that things would somehow go back to normal. Since March, it has been a journey without a map or direction. We no longer talk of "flattening the curve" because it's just not going to happen. But even if the end of the pandemic is not in sight and people are still looking for a miracle cure to lead them away from this protracted nightmare, it's possible to pin down the legacy of Covid-19 in Bangladesh through three adjectives that future researchers of the crisis may find useful: the good, the bad and the messy.

The second and third components of the legacy are easy to discern. Pick a newspaper from any random day and go through the front and back pages. You will have grim headlines glaring at you that basically thrust up a mirror on how our economic, social and political systems have operated during the pandemic: it's either the bad guys taking advantage of the crisis to fill up their coffers, or government officials messing up their chances to contain the outbreak and getting away with it. Their shameless display of incompetence or insincerity and lack of remorse for the consequences of their action, or lack thereof, are unmistakable highlights of this crisis.

Together, these two groups of people and the corrupt system that enables them have created the great unknown that Covid-19 still is in Bangladesh, even after five months of its outbreak in the country. They are the ones responsible for creating a climate in which your existence is characterised by what you don't know: you don't know if your Covid-19 test result is accurate (even though you've paid for a service that few countries in the world have monetised), if you will get appropriate treatment if the test comes back positive, if your pregnant wife or diabetic father will be accepted in hospital, if you will have access to a vaccine when it finally emerges and is made available in Bangladesh, if you will be compensated for a pandemic-induced furlough or permanent layoff, if you will have your share of the cash benefits and stimulus packages offered by the government, if your academic journey will be impeded or cut short for lack of affordable internet access, if your exams will ever be held, if you will be refunded for the grossly inflated electricity bills slapped on households during the lockdown, if you can voice your legitimate grievances without fear of reprisals, etc.

You also don't know if the many systemic problems plaguing the health sector will be really fixed, if those skirting their responsibilities or exploiting taxpayer's money to show insanely high prices of medical and non-medical essentials in vital public institutions will be punished, and if the government will ever treat Covid-19 not as a PR war but as a war for survival, which it is.

The sheer uncertainty created by these developments and other Covid-19 catastrophes, felt across our socio-political spectrum, can be overwhelming. It's tempting to see this period only through the prism of the bad and the messy. But the pandemic is not just about the systemic failures or the myriad changes—from personal adjustments to global shifts—that came in its wake. It's also about the overflow of selfless services and humanitarian efforts pushing, with equal force, against the tide of its corrupt influences. So while it's important to remember all the madness that has ensued since March, it's equally important to acknowledge the good that has come along with it.

I am not talking about just the doctors and other frontline workers who have been putting their lives on the line to save people's lives. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been also an upsurge in volunteering and community action led by ordinary people and pop-up social groups whose contributions are no less significant. Their acts of altruism, at a time when many people have reason to be anxious about their private circumstances, continue to restore our faith in humanity. Such activism, more like David Cameron's Big Society theory minus the devolution of power that it entails, saw more people coming together for the common good, sometimes at great personal risks and without waiting for government interventions.

Let me share my pick of some of the initiatives covered by The Daily Star. First, let me highlight the most enduring of these initiatives, one that we inherited from a pre-pandemic culture of community service: blood donation. We have seen how volunteers of Facebook-based blood donation groups have ramped up their efforts since the start of the pandemic. Two such groups that recently made headlines are Roktodaner Opekkhay Bangladesh and Amra Roktosandhani. These groups, along with many other digital platforms, have been carrying out their lifesaving activities maintaining health guidelines. Although initially donors had trouble moving out due to lack of transportation and restrictions on movement, things have turned around after the lifting of the lockdown.

It's also heartening to recall the activities of Bidyanondo Foundation, one of the first responders to the crisis. Apart from providing food and personal protective equipment to people who need them, this organisation collaborated with the armed forces to bring aid to the remote regions of the country. Another such organisation is Suhana & Anis Ahmed Foundation (SAAF), which extended financial support to Bidyanondo Foundation. There are other such citizen-led organisations that have also mobilised resources to provide food relief and financial assistance to thousands upon thousands of people who have lost their only source of income during the pandemic.

Another inspiring example has been 49-year-old Ali Yusuf, who serves as the coordinator of one of the three teams of volunteers burying or cremating deceased Covid-19 patients in Mymensingh city. Ali, as per our report, also organises blood donation camps on a regular basis. For people like him, no voluntary work is negligible, be it collecting donations for marginalised communities, buying groceries for rickshaw-pullers or distributing free masks, soaps and sanitisers on the streets.

The humanitarian spirit of Quantum Foundation volunteers in Pabna also deserves a mention here. These volunteers believe that every one, irrespective of their religion, deserves to be buried with honour and dignity. And so a 12-member team of the foundation organises funerals for people dying with Covid-19 or similar symptoms. This is a particularly important work as there have been many instances where the families of the deceased have left their bodies by the roadside fearing contracting the virus. We have also seen how one hundred families in Aftabnagar have taken an exemplary initiative to address the food crisis: members of the community—most of whom had lost their jobs as construction workers, rickshaw pullers or day-wage workers—have undertaken the task of collecting, cooking and sharing their meals together.

Over the last five months, there have been many such instances of selfless and humanitarian activities covered by various newspapers and news platforms. As the Covid-19 crisis continues to shine a bright light both on ugliness and nobility in the nature of human beings, such services by ordinary people, social groups, and student bodies show that while there is a lot to grieve over—deaths, infections, lives destroyed or changed in unimaginable ways—there is also a lot to be hopeful about. Together, they constitute the "good" part of the legacy of Covid-19 and will hopefully go on to inspire millions of people in the future.


Badiuzzaman Bay is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. Email: badiuzzaman.bd@gmail.com

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