The 10-day-long closure of all government and private offices (March 26-April 4) declared as a measure to contain the COVID-19 spread enters its fourth day today (Sunday). Popularly dubbed general holidays, educational institutions also form a part of the period of closure. The latter were declared closed March 18-April 9. Although the rural areas are now presumably filled with city-based people, like seen during the two Eids, the large metropolises of Dhaka and Chattogram offer a dreary look, with roads lying without the usual rush of traffic, and footpaths free of pedestrians and street hawkers. An eerie silence has descended on Dhaka.
The spectacle in the capital might remind many above 60 living in Dhaka during its occupation by the then Pakistani army for nine months in 1971. That was the time of valour and defiance demonstrated by the heroic Bengalees. That was also the time of panicky and desolate moments amid a savage genocide let loose by the occupation army. The enemy was clearly visible and targetable in 1971.
A war-like situation also grips Dhaka at the moment. There is a great difference though. Unlike in the past -- 49 years ago -- a new kind of war now rages in which people, especially doctors and researchers, are engaged against a shadow enemy. Due to its largely unknown and elusive nature, scientists have yet to come to the grips with it successfully. Frenetic efforts, however, are in place to home in on the culprit -- the COVID-19 virus and its exact nature. Several countries are engaged simultaneously in the task, which is set to result in invention of an effective vaccine.
Different from the 1971 Liberation War, the ongoing anti-virus war couldn't be limited to a single country. Over the last three months, beginning in China in December, it has now spread to around 197 countries and territories. The all-out anti-COVID-19 battle has emerged as a global war. Unlike the World Wars, this war is not between opposing alliances. It is being fought by the whole world against one common enemy -- the novel coronavirus or COVID-19.
Amid the frightening news of deaths of nearly 26,000 people in the world, the case of Bangladesh is negligible, at least for now. With a few deaths and the number of affected people far below the moderately hit nations, Bangladesh still has enough time to prepare to face a major pandemic. Experts and professional epidemiologists, however, do not feel comfortable. Against the backdrop of widespread mismanagement and lack of coordination between agencies, the outbreak is feared to spread suddenly throughout the country. Unawareness of the basic facts about the virus, the incredible speed at which it can afflict communities and also the least interest of people in properly learning about simple preventives is feared to wreak havoc on the country.
One may cite the case of the Indian capital of New Delhi. In spite of a spontaneous lockdown in place, the health research experts in that city predict, around 1.5 million people may contract the disease in the next 200 days. India's Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata may find half a million cases each during this period. Concurrently, the situation in large and mid-level cities in the 10 most affected countries keeps worsening. These countries include Italy, Spain, France, the USA and the UK.
In Bangladesh, a large percentage of the population, including literate ones, has not yet realised the ferocity the otherwise curable COVID-19 can unleash. Mere face masks and hand sanitisers will not help. A lot more deterrents are needed. In 1971, many people could save themselves by hiding. The invisible COVID-19 has the capability to hit a person anytime at any place.
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