The destitute have been left out of any thoughts behind ‘lockdown’
The Road Transport and Bridges Minister gave an announcement about an imminent lockdown on April 3. The government-announced restrictions on April 4 avoided the word lockdown, instead, it specified some directives. Although it is a bit late, the fact that the government has taken the Coronavirus infection issue seriously is reflected in the restrictions that have been imposed. Public transport, movement on roads and waterways, as well as domestic flights will mostly be halted. Government and private offices have been instructed to stay open at a limited capacity. The employees will have to be transported by company-owned vehicles. Specific points like people cannot get out of their homes at night, shopping malls have to stay closed and buying and selling can only be done online, kitchen items can be sold in open space during pre-fixed hours, and the notion of setting up of field hospitals near the garments factories have also been mentioned in the directives. However, it has not been specified how the garments workers will commute to and from the factories. Soon after the announcement, we came to know that the book fair will go on. It seems the decisions are in conflict with each other.
With restrictions in place, many activities stay closed and some stay open in a very limited manner, which cause the biggest inconvenience to the low income groups. It affects the day labourers and slum dwellers. The government's announcement does not say anything about addressing the pressing needs of these people, or any plans about supplying food to them.
What are we supposed to do during this lockdown or restrictive period? The transport workers and day labourers will not have any work. What will they do? Should they roam around searching for work? It is likely that they will go back, or at least try to go back to their village homes. Even there, everyone will not find work. Also, if they return to their villages, the virus will follow them.
If people manage to spread across the country, the Coronavirus will also spread similarly.
The plight of these poor people has not been considered in these restrictions. No one bothered to realize that hunger is a much bigger peril than the Coronavirus. No one understood that if food cannot be supplied to the poor, they will not stay confined within their homes. The government announcement does not seem to be well planned.
This lockdown or restriction was expected to be announced much earlier. But instead, huge crowds were amassed, and a number of events took place in order to celebrate many things. In between, the Hefajat movement and the general strike further enhanced the infections. The government did not seem to react at all to these circumstances.
'Suddenly, the Corona infection has risen', 'The number of infections and deaths have skyrocketed'—many people are saying these on behalf of the government.
In this perspective, first came the 18-point directive, followed by the announcement of lockdown and restrictions.
It is evident that the number of infections and deaths have been rising rapidly. However, is it true that the infections and deaths have jumped "suddenly"?
We realized in December last that the number of infections may rise again. On December 29, The Daily Star published an article and specifically warned everyone about the new strains coming from Britain. But the government did not take any precautionary steps. It may appear that the government has deliberately allowed enough time to the Coronavirus to infect properly. In a process similar to chickens hatching their eggs, Coronavirus was also given free rein to multiply. By arranging the medical entrance examination on April 2, the virus was given a golden opportunity to spread across the whole nation. Seemingly, the government was the first one to violate its own instructions; as they were mentioned in the 18-point directive. But that's not all; the education and health departments have made a mockery of the general population by amassing a huge number of people. They publicly announced that the medical entrance examination was held in compliance with the health guidelines.
Let us shift our focus towards the information shared by the health department on March29. The additional director general of Directorate General of Health Services Meerjady Sabrina Flora said, "Every week we analyse and determine which are the most risk-prone areas. We found six districts on March 13. In total 20 districts were identified on the 20th March's analysis. On March 24, 29 districts were identified as risky. This means, the infection is slowly spreading".
The statement from the health directorate clearly proves that this time the infection has not increased "suddenly". The directorate had information about the spreading of the virus throughout the month. But they did not reveal this information, and instead, decided to keep it a secret. What can be the benefit of hiding such information? Apparently, it only has demerits. On March 13, the information about the virus spreading on to six districts should have been publicized in order to create a wide scale awareness about the risks. We had the opportunity to discourage people living in those six districts from travelling to other parts of the country. Also, we could have imposed restrictions on people trying to enter those six risky districts.
In that case, may be the infection would not have spread from 20 to 29 districts. The information was kept a secret, no effective steps were taken, and now, it is being claimed that the infections have skyrocketed 'suddenly'.
A brief window of 48 hours has been provided until the lockdown is imposed. As soon as the announcement came, people started crowding around the bus terminals and train stations. Apparently, everyone wants to leave Dhaka. Such activity was not unexpected at all.
Lockdown is a scientifically endorsed, logical step towards preventing the spreading of a pandemic; it is not a political move. However, the announcement came in the manner of a political programme. Quarantine has a duration of 14 days, but the lockdown or restrictions only have a validity of 7 days. Yes, there are opportunities for increasing the duration later on. But it is evident that there is no chance of being able to check the Coronavirus in a mere seven-day period, so why this has not been considered during the initial plan is a baffling matter. Even the factories will stay open. It is highly critical to keep the economic machine running, but on the other hand, it is also essential to fight the pandemic in an effective manner.
It is being said that the health guidelines will be strictly followed within the industrial factories. If not all, some factories will definitely follow those guidelines. However, how will be the outside environment of these factories? Seemingly, all these variables have not been considered deeply.
I want to finish this write-up by citing two more examples regarding information hiding and lack of efforts. It was predicted since December last that the Coronavirus might spread again. During the last few days of December, Britain was terrorized by a new strain of Coronavirus. The new strain spread across the Bangladeshi populated areas of London. At that time, about 50 countries stopped flights to and from the UK. But Bangladesh did not do it. A 14 -day quarantine period for all individuals arriving from the UK was made essential. But people took it casually and some mentioned being quarantined for 4, 7 or 14 days while others excused themselves by stating they will do or already doing, etc. In reality, the government did not take any steps to ensure the quarantine. Once the infection has already spread throughout the country, the government imposed travel restrictions on 12 countries, which included some European countries but did not include the UK. It was expected that the first country to be banned would be Britain, but interestingly it was kept out of the list. Funnily enough, Britain itself imposed travel restrictions on Bangladesh after just one day.
The new strain from Britain was identified in Bangladesh in the first week of January. That information was revealed in the first week of March. It was imperative to that immediately and to create public awareness; but instead, the information was withheld. Now it is being claimed that 'the rate of infection has suddenly risen'.
Another glaring example of a lack of effort stems from the fact the RTPCR tests that are used in Bangladesh do not have the capability of identifying cases infected with the new strain from Britain. On December 29, The Daily Star highlighted this information in its report.
In Bangladesh, the two gene test kit is used for the RTPSR tests. Three gene test kit is required to identify the British strain. Although the three gene test kit is widely available in the global market, Bangladesh has not collected it as of April. Instead, Bangladesh has been identifying the new strain from Britain using the highly time consuming and expensive method of genome sequencing. But it is still unknown what percentage of the new infections is coming from the new strains.
Does anyone actually have the answer to the most critical question, whether the unplanned 18 points, the lockdown or the restrictions will be able to bring any benefit for us?