Published:  12:35 AM, 02 April 2020

Hoping for better days to come

Hoping for better days to come

Barrister Al Amin Rahman

The entire world is experiencing a new challenge, facing a threat to which it is not at all familiar. The COVID-19 outbreak is incontrovertibly a unique public health challenge. The spread of this corona virus has forced countries around the world to adopt preventive measures including flight bans, mandatory lockdowns and social distancing in order to prevent the pandemic from spreading.

Bangladesh has also banned flights, closed down schools, colleges and offices and announced general holidays from 26th March to 9 April. During the period of general holidays, army is enforcing social distancing across the nation.

These measures are necessary to curb the spread of this pandemic as Coronaviruse is a zoonotic virus that circulates amongst animals and spill over to humans from time to time and have been causing illness ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.

However, people of Bangladesh have been found to have very little knowledge on how the spread of this deadly virus can affect their lives. This has been said as after the first reported death in Bangladesh from COVID-19, there was a mass religious gathering in the southern part of the country attended by tens of thousands of people even though such events were being discouraged by authorities (Source: Atlantic Council, dated 30 March 2020).

When the first batch of mass returnees arrived from China in February, they were all quarantined at the Ashkana Hajj Camp in Dhaka. Subsequently, in mid-March when the second batch of foreign returnees-over a hundred and forty Bangladeshis evacuated from Italy-arrived, confusion ensued when they were taken to the same inadequate quarantine spot. These returnees protested and were ultimately allowed to leave with the promise of "home quarantine."

On March 18, tens of thousands of people gathered in Raipur in the southern district of Lakshmipur to pray "healing verses" from the Quran. This event was organized by an influential local religious leader who urged people to join this event, promising a way to be "free from the coronavirus."

The same week, school holidays were announced to support the quarantine, but domestic tourist destinations such as the coastal areas of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar were all bustling with people and activity. On March 20, the Islamic Foundation allowed congregational prayers to go on albeit for a shortened length.

After the announcement of general holiday from March 26, people were leaving Dhaka to go their home like they do before Eid holidays begin. They were crowding in bus counters, rail stations; launch terminals to buy ticket for going back to their home districts.

A significant number of people have been seen going out of their homes on the fifth day of the public holiday, violating the government order for maintaining social distancing to fight the spread of novel coronavirus although experts warned that there was no room for people to feel relaxed. Reportedly, people who defied the ban mostly belonged to the low-income population while some owners of small business also resumed activities across the otherwise empty city.

One Hanufa Begum, a housemaid, has been seen waiting on Bir Uttam CR Datta Road with six other women hoping to receive relief from any sources. Hanufa said that she would prefer to be infected rather than dying in hunger. Nuru Mia, a meat trader at the Hatirpool kitchen market in the capital, said that he closed his store three days back fearing COVID-19 spread. But on the 6th day, he opened the store as his fear was gone and after receiving a sizable number of customers (Source: New Age, March 30, 2020).

On the other hand, public health expert and also former vice-chancellor of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Rashid-e-Mahbub said that peak time of spread of COVID-19 is not yet over in Bangladesh. He said that people should not feel relaxed as the number of corona virus case may increase at any time in the coming days.

The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research director Meerjady Sabrina Flora also warned that the risks of infections with coronavirus in Bangladesh is still prevailing despite a small number of people were found to have been identified with the virus in the last couple of days.

'There is no scope for believing that the risk of COVID-19 decreased in our country', she said urging the people to follow government instructions.

Former president of Bangladesh Medical Association Rashid-e-Mahbub said that Bangladesh missed two preventive measures - quarantining expatriates and testing suspected all people - if it missed the final one which was home quarantine and maintaining social distancing, there would nothing to do if the situation worsened (Source: New Age, March 30, 2020).

Medical anthropologist Atiq Ahsan said, "In Germany, France, UK and Italy, the number of patients diagnosed with Covid-19 was very low initially but the number started to increase in the fourth week". Hence, experts said that next two weeks is very crucial for our country (Source: Bangla Tribune, 31 March 2020).

Experts also said, "People should maintain the guidelines of the government and also obey the rules and regulations put forth by the health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO). Otherwise, the spread of the deadly virus may turn out to be even a bigger concern for us".

Having said all these, we cannot also ignore the fact that this 'unofficial lockdown' has taken a toll on the lives of the lower income people.

'Staying at home' is not something that they can afford for a longer period.  Although the government has promised to provide them financial assistance for coming six months, it is still very tough for them to survive during this lockdown (unofficial) period. Our Honorable Prime Minister has always been committed to ensure social justice.

She also understands that people with limited income cannot afford to maintain these instructions for a longer period. And hence, she has directed to provide the people who are in real need, such as beggars, day laborers, rickshaw pullers, van drivers, transport workers, restaurant workers, hawkers etc.; food assistance. Now, the main challenge is ensuring that the people who are in real need get these benefits and assistance. 

Currently, we are living in a dark world with this corona virus pandemic and hoping for better days to come. We know the things are not looking nice but we can't lose hope. Let's calm down, let's strengthen our faith on creator and be united for saving humanity.

 Barrister Al Amin Rahman is an Advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court. He is admitted to practice at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He runs the law firm, FM Associates; as it's Managing Partner.

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