COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the whole world by surprise, shock and panic. People are at a loss as to what to do, what not to do to stay away from such a deadly disease, never seen before. Every day people are dying in hundreds. As on March 28, the number of countries affected by the epidemic reached 199, death crossed 27,370 and confirmed infection cases reached 597,458. Highly developed countries like the USA, the UK, France and Germany are in the queue. The global epicentrer of the pandemic is about to be shifted from Europe to the USA with a record high 104,256 confirmed COVID-19 cases as on March 28.
The head of states of these countries have already warned their people of massive loss of lives unless stringent health measures are taken by them as per direction of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Remedy for this deadly virus is yet to be found out despite the fact that scientists and researchers all over the world have been working day and night to find out a solution since the outbreak of the disease. It is unlikely to find anti COVID-19 vaccine in less than 12 months.
The most important task for us is to abide by the guidelines given by the government as well as the WHO. The first step is to keep ourselves and our surroundings clean. It is time for us to assume social responsibility. We must stay at home and not go out unless it becomes absolutely necessary. We must maintain social distancing. We must take every measure to keep ourselves safe from this deadly disease and at the same time help others to do so.
The government has already initiated a number of measures to minimise the spread of the disease. It has rightly closed down all educational institutions of the country for the time being. It has asked people to stay at home and avoid any public or social gathering. It has made it mandatory to send the returnees from abroad to home quarantine or institutional quarantine or isolation depending on the merit of the cases. It has closed down all nonessential shops, restaurants and clubs in the cities. It has also started locking down areas where infection cases are high. The army have been called in to ensure compliance of these measures.
The government has declared 10 days public holiday for both the private and public sector officials so that people remain at home. It has closed down all bus, train, river transport and domestic flights except those required for carrying goods to limit spreading of the disease, although how far they will succeed in achieving that goal remains to be seen after seeing the home going spree of people during holidays.
What should now be the top priority of the government is to import or locally manufacture huge number of medical equipment like testing kits, ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), face masks, sanitisers etc. especially for the doctors, nurses and other public health staff. As regards medical experts and the health officials of the government, their first job is to test, identify and isolate people who are affected by the disease.
Lack of sufficient ICU facilities and specialised hospitals for the COVID-19 patients especially for the elderly people who are more vulnerable to this disease is a matter great of great concern. The health sector needs to wake up to do everything possible to improve these facilities.
The government on its part has also to take special care of the people living in slums in a most unhygienic condition. Apart from their hygienic aspect, they got to be looked after on their economic front. They will now be literarily jobless with little or no savings. They got to be provided with food and medicine free of cost for a considerable period of time. The civil society and the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) can also play a vital role in this respect. The government should think of a substantial rescue package for the limited or low-income group people of the country.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has emphatically announced that there is enough food grain in the stock. There will be no shortage of essential items in the market. So, we need not panic and start stock piling things. But at same time we should not be complacent. We should start rationing our food right from now.
As is predicted by the economists, the economy of the country is bound to suffer a serious setback because of the pandemic. Economists around the world are of the opinion that prolonged global economic recession is inevitable. We need to be prepared for that as well. We have to understand that the relief from this crisis is a long way ahead.
Capt. Hussain Imam is a retired merchant navy officer.