The Financial Express

Homework before lockdown is missing

| Updated: June 28, 2021 21:58:03

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Lockdown or shutdown has come in various shapes and sizes. The earliest form was not even called lockdown. Euphemistically it was named general holiday but to what purpose remains a mystery. Yet for the longest stretch of time, people's movement was restricted particularly in the capital city more than any time later on. Perhaps, a fear factor in the initial days made this happen. But as time passed, people became more familiar with the situation and also their desperation almost made a mockery of any subsequent lockdown.

From today the entire country was supposed to be under what is called a 'strict' or 'hard' lockdown. Now it is likely to be enforced from July 1. That members of the armed forces will reportedly be deployed alongside the police and the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) gives the impression that the government is serious about enforcing the lockdown.

Be that what it may, but the homework that was supposed to have been done is completely missing. A Bangla proverb, 'Bajraatuni foska gero' (Penny wise pound foolish) rather sums up the situation. As the news broke out of the coming lockdown and Dhaka was cut off from the rest of the country with the imposition of lockdown on Dhaka Division's seven districts and suspension of all modes of public transportation, people in their thousands started milling out of the city. A comparatively thinner stream of entrants also made its reverse journey.

In the absence of long haul public transports including trains and launches, the outgoing and incoming crowds were compelled to undergo unmitigated travails. They had to hire all kinds of smaller vehicles at three or four times the regular fares to travel smaller distances and thus made it to their respective destinations. Even entire families with women and children had to embark on such desperate journeys. The question of maintaining physical distancing does not arise as they are huddled together like animals on a truck or covered van. On ferries and ferry terminals, the situation is even worse because of lack of sanitation in addition to non-compliance of health protocols.

Now had the authorities been mindful of their desperation, there was a need for taking a stock of the situation. Most of them travel out of the city because they fear that the sources of their daily income will diminish during the lockdown. If they return to their villages, at least they will have some backup for survival of the critical period. On the other hand, those who enter the city have medical or other emergencies that cannot be left unattended.

Now the travellers of both ways run the high risk of not only catching the disease including the Indian variant but also spreading it among those with whom they come in contact subsequently. Contact tracing has ever remained a much neglected issue in this country whereas in China and particularly in Vietnam, this was done religiously together with isolation of an entire district or region once infections were reported. This is exactly what made their programmes of dealing with the virus so successful.

Now the homework that had to be done is the preparation of a list of people whose livelihoods would be disrupted on account of a severe lockdown for a week or two or even three. The local administration could do it on the basis of the national identity cards and by means of opening a centre in each locality with prior announcement for contacting there. The bottom line is not allowing anyone to move out of the city because of financial vulnerability. In a situation like this the most vulnerable people deserved at least this much help.

Then again there should have been an arrangement for decent transports for those moving out and in on emergency errands. If they could prove the authenticity of their emergency, they had to be allowed to travel maintaining the required health protocols. As long as the mismanagement at its worst persists on roads and highways, ferries and ferry terminals and desperate people are compelled to move out and in on their own, the virus will make the most of the flaws for its proliferation.          


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