Four months into the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, the government still appears to have no noticeable plan to contain the spread of the virus.
Since the first three cases were reported in the country early March, the government departments supposed to deal with the crisis have been displaying inefficiencies and lack of coordination by making the wrong decisions, often ignoring the recommendations from expert committees.
While the country is witnessing a gradual rise in the numbers of death and infection, the need to control the raging coronavirus apparently became a secondary concern for the government centring most of its activities around restructuring the health services following a series of coronavirus testing scandals.
At least 2,23,453 people in the country have tested positive for the virus, and 2,928 of them died, and the fatality rate is on rise for the last couple of days.
Against this backdrop, public health experts cautioned that the number of new cases will rise by a lot if strict and effective containment measures are not taken during the Eid-ul-Azha holidays.
The country cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made before the Eid-ul-Fitr when thousands of people left the cities for their hometowns in crammed vehicles, ignoring social distancing rules. The daily new cases spiked soon afterwards.
But things are not likely to change this time.
The national technical advisory committee on Covid-19 had suggested not to let people leave Dhaka and three other major cities ahead of the three-day holiday from July 31-August 2.
But the government decided to let public transport operate, “maintaining” the health safety guidelines. In a circular issued on June 30, the cabinet division announced extending the duration of controlled movement and other restrictions until August 3.
Holidaymakers have already started leaving for their villages to celebrate the Eid with their loved ones and a massive rush is expected during the next few days.
The committee’s recommendation of not having cattle markets in Dhaka, Chattogram, Narayanganj and Gazipur cities have already been ignored.
The government asked all concerned to follow the health guidelines at the markets.
Seventeen cattle markets have already been set up in the capital with permission from the city corporations.
In the absence of proper monitoring, those guidelines are hardly maintained as cattle markets in and around the capital are drawing large crowds.
Many of the people in the markets are flouting the government order to use face masks.
The cabinet division on June 30 also said neighbourhoods would be marked red, yellow or green, based on the number of cases in the area.
But that decision has not been detailed yet.
The authorities experimented with marking zones and locking them down in two areas in the capital and several other ones in different districts.
The government imposed a lockdown on the capital’s East Rajabazar last month as an experiment. After that experience, it locked down Wari. The restrictions were lifted on Saturday.
But there is no visible plan to lock down larger areas, as suggested by the national technical advisory committee.
Noted virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, who is a member of the committee, said, “Our focus has changed from Covid-19 control to other issues like corruption [in health sector] and arrest [in forgery cases].
“We have done some work on treating the Covid-19 patients at hospitals, but we couldn’t do anything significant to control coronavirus…We didn’t lay emphasis on controlling it in the beginning and we still are not….”
Prof Nazrul, also a former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said the committee had not put forth a specific plan for Bangladesh.
As the committee found a conventional lockdown is not applicable in Bangladesh, it earlier suggested implementing a zoning system.
“But that is also not being followed…. I can’t comment on the whole country. Local authorities may have taken some initiatives, but I don’t see one in Dhaka city to control coronavirus now.”
Prof Muzaherul Huq, former Southeast Asia regional director of World Health Organisation, said there should not be any gatherings, especially at cattle markets, inside red zones, or wherever the transmission is high.
“Cattle markets will obviously increase the risks of more transmissions and thus, there should not be any cattle market inside Covid-19 hotspots,” he told this newspaper recently.
Prof Shah Monir Hossain, one of the eight members of Public Health Expert Divisional Advisors’ Group, said nobody is acting as they should.
“The measures that should have been taken to control it have not been taken. So, the outbreak could not be brought under control,” he said on Saturday.