Now all offices and business have been told to open up, but half the number of transport will operate. Only those who use the taxpayers’ money to drive around in luxury cars can imagine this will enable the people to go to office in keeping with health and hygiene rules
The government has finally decided to draw an end to the lockdowns which have been enforced under various names in the country since April. Factories, government and private offices, shops, everything is being opened up. First there was a lockdown in the border-lying areas. Then there was the countrywide lockdown, the strict lockdown and then even stricter lockdown. All of that has come to an end.
From the adjectives that the government’s top brass have been using to describe the lockdown, one would justifiably imagine we have adroitly conquered coronavirus, or at least brought it well under control. Then there could be a third reason to bring the lockdowns to an end. It is no longer being feasible to actually enforce the lockdown and so, instead of just meaninglessly keeping it there on paper, it is officially being drawn to a close.
It has not been revealed whether the expert committee formed by the government has come to any such conclusion. However, at the meeting of the cabinet division on Sunday, it was said that from Wednesday all government, semi-government, autonomous and private offices, banks and financial institutions will open, maintaining the health guidelines. All road, railway and river transport will also be able to operate with full seating capacity.
The deaths that are recorded are basically of those under treatment in the government system. Not all deaths in private hospitals are taken into account, as the media has repeatedly highlighted since the outset of the pandemic
The cabinet division also said that in consideration of the country’s socioeconomic condition, economic activities and overall situation, the inter-ministerial meeting on 3 August took this decision after a review of the coronavirus situation in the country. However, no announcement has been made about opening up schools, colleges and universities. Perhaps the governments feel that children and youth are more vulnerable, though in other countries of the world they are considered least at risk and so are at the bottom of the vaccine priority list.
The prevailing coronavirus wave emerged as a matter of concern in March this year. The main reason for this is the rapidly transmitted Delta variant which emerged in neighbouring India. At that time the daily death rate was 50, with 6000 to 7000 cases being detected a day. When the seven-day restrictions began from 5 April, the newspaper headlines read, ‘7000 cases detected in a day, 91 per cent increase in a month.’ The numbers have gone up and down since then, but the coronavirus situation all over the country has taken on worrisome proportions. The Delta variant has seen a significant rise in cases and deaths. In July, 6182 persons died of coronavirus, that is 200 a day on average. This is the highest number of deaths related to coronavirus since it broke out a year and a half ago in Bangladesh.
On the day that the end of the lockdown was announced, official records showed 241 persons had died in the past 24 hours. And another 10,299 new cases were detected. That means both the death rate and the number of cases had increased since the lockdown. Also, there is no end to debate over the government figures. It is more or less certain that the numbers would go up if the testing went up too. This is further obvious by the deaths that occur with symptoms. And the deaths that are recorded are basically of those under treatment in the government system. Not all deaths in private hospitals are taken into account, as the media has repeatedly highlighted since the outset of the pandemic.
When the government says ‘the country’s socioeconomic condition, economic activities and overall situation,’ it is obvious that it is feeling the frustration and pressure from other sectors after the opening up of the export-oriented industries, the readymade garment industry in particular. There had been hints that a strategy would be undertaken to activate the economy after vaccinating the vulnerable part of the population. But that idea has fallen through. Having to face India’s export ban and search for alternative sources of the vaccine, to arrange vaccines for 120 million to 130 million people, is undoubtedly a time consuming task. It is to be seen whether the required number vaccines can be procured even within a year’s time.
The dilemma of prioritising between life and livelihood has never been as critical as it is now. But to all appearances it seems protecting livelihood is being given priority. Europe is just managing to emerge from the third wave of coronavirus. But from the first wave of the virus it has been proven that the countries which prevaricated over the lockdown question and delayed in taking a decision, were the ones that had to pay the highest price. The more delayed the lockdown, the more extended it turned out to be.
Britain is the biggest example. No other country of the world had to enforce such a strict lockdown for so many days the third time. Even so, the number of deaths has exceeded 130,000 and the economic harm has hit a record. The example of neighbouring India is distressing too. They have had to pay a steep price for not taking timely measures.
As Delta hit Bangladesh a bit late, it had been hoped we would learn from others and take correct measures at the correct time. It was hoped that the damages could be controlled and the transmission of the virus could be contained rapidly. But almost all experts agree that this time too, the lockdown was imposed too late and was not enforced effectively.
Special train services were arranged to transport cows and mangoes, but the government did not even consider arranging transport for the readymade garment workers
Illogical and uncoordinated directives were repeatedly imposed and then changed. Inter-district public transport was shut down, while public transport within the cities and districts was allowed. Shops and businesses were intermittently closed and opened on a limited scale, in a random and uncoordinated manner.
The failure to take adequate preparation in the health sector is shocking. Equipment including 300 ventilators and 1200 oxygen concentrators procured with donor funding, was lying idly at the airport from 10 months. There was dismal failure in increasing modern ICU beds, procuring RT-CPR equipment for testing and so on. The health ministry failed to utilise the budget allocations and foreign funding. Yet the ministers blame the people, not the government, for the failure of the almost four months of clumsy lockdown. They said that the virus is spreading because people don’t follow the health rules and don’t stay at home.
If people do not have food at home, they will come out to streets for food. Had past experience in relief distribution been put to use, the situation would not have been so. Instead of applying the experience of the armed forces in relief distribution during natural disasters, they were used to ensure that the health guidelines were followed.
Special train services were arranged to transport cows and mangoes, but the government did not even consider arranging transport for the readymade garment workers. Now all offices and business have been told to open up, but half the number of transport will operate. Only those who use the taxpayers’ money to drive around in luxury cars can imagine this will enable the people to go to office in keeping with health and hygiene rules.
The reports in the newspapers over the last two days indicate that registration for the vaccine and the state of the vaccination centres was in as pitiful a state as the sample testing and detection. How can the health guidelines be maintained in such huge crowds? If the vaccine centres themselves are the source of spreading the virus, how effective will those vaccines be? In many countries of the world people have been infected with coronavirus when they went to hospital for treatment of some other ailment.
It cannot be denied that the lockdown, by whatever name it is called, has been extended because of clumsy plans, lack of coordination and failure to implement policy. And because it is extended so much, there is lockdown fatigue and impatience for which it is now more or less ineffective. If the coronavirus transmissions become uncontrollable, who will be to blame?
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.