Old habits die hard. The authorities here have proved the adage right again amidst the third wave of Covid-19 that is now sweeping across the country. They are showing their usual traits---lack of coordination and inconsistent moves---in their bid to rein in infections and fatalities.
The government last week issued a notice with an 11-point directive for public movement, effective from January 13 last as the number of daily infections, if not fatalities, has been rising alarmingly.
Unfortunately, most directives go unheeded or not complied with.
Buses, trains and launches are supposed to operate at half their capacity. But these services, including the state-owned Bangladesh Railway, are not in a mood to comply with the government directive. The defiance of the bus owners deserves a mention in particular.
During a meeting between the bus owners and the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) on the Covid-related movement curbs, the former demanded a hike in their fares to compensate for the loss to be caused by the capacity reduction. But the latter declined to do so, saying that a hike was not possible given a very recent hike enforced at a rate of 27-per cent following the increase in fuel oil prices. Most buses are now running at full capacity, with the relevant agencies overlooking the defiance.
The passenger launches are also giving a damn to the curbs.
The latest government curbs on public movement include one relating to the carrying of vaccine cards. It wants the drivers of buses and helpers and customers of restaurants and residential hotels to carry vaccine cards. This appears to be a very unrealistic directive in Bangladesh conditions. There is no sign that the government is serious about implementing its directive. None is checking the state of compliance with the directive relating to vaccine cards.
Like the previous occasions, the government has made the wearing of masks mandatory. But, as in the past, the directive remains unheeded. Only a small percentage of people, while in public places, use facemasks. Though the government has said mobile courts would slap a penalty on those found without masks, the number of mobile courts is few and far between to enforce the directive. This measure has also failed to bring about any change in the attitude of the people towards mask-wearing.
The government has banned gatherings in public places to help stop the transmission of Covid. But indoor gatherings that are considered more unsafe are still allowed.
Besides, questions have been raised about the holding of polls in parliamentary constituencies, city corporations and pourashavas and union parishads when curbs are in place on public gatherings. People in their thousands have gathered in election rallies, processions and polling in Narayanganj City Corporation polls.
Then again, an international trade fair is being held for the first time at the permanent fair venue at Purbachal. Initially, relevant authorities did not take measures to ensure compliance with the health safety protocols. Lately, the situation has improved a bit. Hundreds of visitors are moving from one stall to another, wearing masks inappropriately or without masks.
Convention and community centres are holding social events with no resistance. All these are opposed to the basic objectives of the government's curbs to contain the third wave of the deadly disease.
A sort of relaxed attitude among both the government and the people towards the latest wave of the disease is very much clear. This might be due to, at least, three reasons. First, the prevalence of the Covid-19 disease has been for almost two years and the fear that was generated in the initial months of the pandemic is largely gone by now because of the decline in infections and fatalities in the latter part of 2021.
Second, nearly 40 per cent of the population has already got two doses of vaccine under a well-knit and efficiently administered vaccination programme of the government.
The third reason is the dissemination of a mixed message about the newly emerged SARS-CoV-2 variant known as Omicron. The high transmissibility of Omicron is now proven. A record number of people are being infected daily with the new variant across the world, the USA and European countries being the most affected.
Some experts have, however, found the new variant to be less fatal, unlike the Delta that had wreaked havoc with the world until recently. People infected with Omicron do not require hospitalization in most cases. Some do not have any symptoms and some others show mild symptoms. People get well with no treatment in most instances. All these, possibly, have made the people bold enough to ignore health protocols.
But the fact remains that the Delta variant has not disappeared, and it is still claiming thousands of lives every day and Omicron proves to be fatal with unvaccinated people and the elderly with major health issues. So, there should be no reason to be complacent. The Ministry of Health needs to keep the health facilities, both private and public, ready to face any emergency as far as the fresh Covid situation is concerned.
The government should mean business so far as the enforcement of the Covid curbs are concerned. Any lax attitude towards the enforcement of laws, rules and restrictions does only strengthen the widely prevailed notion about poor governance in the country.