Death toll to rise with relaxed lockdown

The World Health Organisation (WHO) came up with certain strategies to tackle coronavirus, based on experience from the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Bangladesh has been following the WHO directives for the prevention of the virus, but it has been slow in decision-making and there has also been a lack of coordination in implementing the decisions. Neither was proper preparation taken for coronavirus management. There was even a crisis of PCR machines and test kits for coronavirus testing.

The government failed to take the right decision at the right time and also did not implement the decisions in a coordinated manner. As a result, a lockdown was not enforced in due time. There was also confusion over lockdown and general holiday. The law pertaining to control of contagious diseases was not properly implemented either.

Coronavirus does not come along on its own, someone carries it along. Coronavirus can be on shopping bags from the market, on fruit and vegetables or even on clothes. One must be careful about these things. One must wash one’s clothes upon coming in from outside. Vegetables, fish and eat must be cooked well before eating.

This lack of coordination increased the number of infections. The number of cases we are seeing are not the factual numbers, it is just based on the number of those who have been tested. The number of actual infected people is much higher.

Anyhow, we tried to keep people at home, halted public transport. People were told to follow the health directives. But telling them is not enough. The public must be motivated, they must be involved in this. We failed to do so.

The people were not properly motivated or involved. The government also failed to take action against those violating the health rules. As a result, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is going up daily.

And now the government has allowed public transport to resume and offices to reopen. Prior to that, garment factories and jute mills were reopened.

WHO has six recommendations for any county before lifting lockdown. The first is that that transmission of the virus must level out and come under control. We have not heeded this first recommendation. This will increase the rate of infection. This will put further pressure on the health management and health service capacity of the country. Already many patients aren’t getting beds in hospitals, there are no vacant ICUs. If the infection increases, the crisis will deepen. The coronavirus death rate will increase.

Rather than opening up the entire country in one go, the various districts could have been indentified according to the rates of infection. For example the district will less than 100 cases could be marked green, with 100-300 cases, yellow. Economic and all other activities could be carried out in the green districts. The upazilas of the yellow districts where there were less than 100 cases, would be treated the same as the green districts. The districts with over 300 cases would be marked as red and strict lockdown would be enforced in these areas.

In the green districts or the upazilas with less cases, the patients could be identified, isolated and given due treatment. Persons coming into contact with them would be placed in quarantine. Then as the situation improves, the lockdown could gradually be lifted.

In that sense, Dhaka city should be under strict lockdown. Instead, the lockdown has been lifted and the situation will be observed for 15 days.

Now that the government has lifted the lockdown, the transmission will increase and public health and life will be at risk. The people must take precautionary measures at an individual level. They must follow the health rules. The essential directives to be followed include: maintaining social distance, wearing face shields and masks, making a habit of washing hands or using sanitisers, no touching anything as far as possible. The face must in no way be touched without washing hands or using sanitisers. And if a person had any symptoms or coronavirus, he or she must isolate themselves at home and take the physician’s advice.

Coronavirus does not come along on its own, someone carries it along. Coronavirus can be on shopping bags from the market, on fruit and vegetables or even on clothes. One must be careful about these things. One must wash one’s clothes upon coming in from outside. Vegetables, fish and eat must be cooked well before eating.

Mozaherul Huq is former advisor of the World Health Organisation’s South East Asia region

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