With the Omicron variant of the coronavirus threatening to spread uncontrollably in the coming weeks, we are concerned at the lackluster implementation of the new Covid-19 curbs that took effect on January 13, 2022 across Bangladesh. There already appears to be confusion regarding the directive given to the transport sector to run buses at half capacity. Reportedly, the Dhaka Road Transport Owners' Association instructed its members to operate their vehicles at full capacity, violating the government directive on the very first day of the curbs. When asked, the association representatives claimed that the ministry concerned had given them "verbal" permission to do so—a statement that has not been confirmed by the ministry yet.
We cannot help but wonder: Why the confusion and contradiction in the government's instructions? On what basis did they make the decision in the first place? We had warned the government against taking measures that were impractical to begin with. With offices, factories and shopping malls all remaining open, it is unclear how operating public transport at half capacity would have helped the public.
This is not the first time that the government has given an instruction only to change it a day later. Often, they have retracted their decision in response to different pressure groups, the foremost among whom have been transport owners. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have observed the authorities floundering when they should have made timely, practical and farsighted interventions. It is of urgent importance that the government takes judicious decisions in the coming days, if we are to expect the public to take these directives seriously. Confusion does not beget confidence or compliance.
World Bank President David Malpass expressed concern about the "huge toll" the pandemic is taking on poor countries, pointing to "troubling reversals in poverty, nutrition and health." The head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, warned last month that it too may slash its global growth forecasts due to Omicron.
Meanwhile, according to our reports, other restrictions are also not being followed. A majority of restaurants are not complying with the directive to deny service to customers without vaccination cards, while many customers seemed clueless about how to acquire such a card. The mandatory mask use is being violated. It is apparent at this point that arbitrary drives alone will not help. We need mass awareness programs, along with strict enforcement of the restrictions, if we are to curb the spread of the virus. Both the authorities and the public need to understand the importance of abiding by the restrictions, if we are to avoid loss of lives as well as another lockdown that will inevitably harm the economy and people's livelihoods.