With the Eid-ul-Fitr around the corner, tension is mounting among health experts if the impending exodus of Eid holidaymakers from the capital and other big cities may finally cause to reverse the ongoing falling trend in Covid-19 infection rate in the country.
Bangladeshis are not particularly known for their respect for rules. This is true even when they are facing a potential health hazard, if only the agency behind it is not in plain sight.
Coronavirus is not visible to the naked eye. The reports that dozens of people at home and thousands more abroad are dying every day due to the Covid-19 do not perturb those who are yet to be personally affected. It is a strange state of mind!
The news and video clips from neighbouring India where the number of daily infections has surpassed all previous records hardly register with them. During the last one week, close to 50 per cent of the world's total Covid-19 infection has taken place in India, while it also shares 25 per cent of the Covid-related fatalities worldwide over this period. Reports in the print media apart, the social media is flooded with video clips on funeral pyres burning the dead on the streets of Delhi for want of space at the existing crematoriums. India is just across the border. But we are not still convinced and must join our relatives in the countryside.
What should the government do? Little, perhaps, at the moment. To be frank, a consistent approach to battle the Covid-19 should have been in place from the beginning. The restrictive measures being announced from time to time since April 5 when lockdown was imposed in the face of a fresh surge in Covid-19 infection since March, were often at cross purposes. So, the government has to be consistent regarding its restriction measures adopted and real harsh in their implementation if it wants to save the nation from an impending catastrophe. The Indian version of the virulent novel corona virus strains must be stopped from crossing our common borders. The Eid holidaymakers' rush at the ferry terminals, district bus stoppages, the cross-district movement of homebound people, the Eid congregations, if take place as usual, would trigger the chain reaction of infections. It has to be avoided at all costs. Religious leaders can play a vital role in making people aware of the calamity to come, unless they follow the health guidelines and control their movements. Most importantly, the government must put its foot down.
It is a strange twist of luck that unlike many other countries, Bangladesh has so far been spared a worst-case scenario regarding Covid-19 infections. It must therefore thank its lucky stars. But it does not also follow from the past experience what has not happened before will not happen in the future. There is little room for complacency.
But all is not lost. There is still time, however brief, to find a way out of what looks like the inevitable. If the exodus of the homebound people could not be stopped, their post-Eid rush towards the capital and other cities could at least be controlled. They must not be allowed to flood the city over a week or so. The number of land and water transports on the move along with the number of passengers has to be monitored and controlled. Law should be blind against such capital-bound people or transport operators who fail to obey health protocols including wearing of mask and maintaining social distancing. If necessary, fresh sites should be created to quarantine capital-bound Eid holidaymakers suspected of carrying coronavirus. The target should be to bring down the number of arrivals in Dhaka and other large urban centres to a minimum.
Meanwhile, the government should continue its ongoing drive to collect Convid-19 vaccines from as many sources as possible. At the same time, it must also expedite its efforts to get AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccines from countries that have an additional stock of the serum.
The anti-Covid-19 immunization drive must continue, come what may. It is the only way left before us to avoid the sights we have been witnessing in the immediate neighbourhood as elsewhere in the world.
Many are wondering if different types of vaccines from diverse sources could be an issue of concern. If truth be told, most of the vaccines including the ones developed in Russia follow similar methodologies. So, in most cases, they can be safely used. The method used to produce the vaccine, Sinopharm, to be carried out here under China's supervision, on the other hand, follow the time-tested traditional procedure of creating vaccines. So, from the point of view of safety, it should be as good as the existing vaccines against small pox, polio, diphtheria and other traditional vaccines.
In fact, any fear that the application of different kinds of vaccines among the population might be problematic is largely misplaced. However, the use of different kinds of vaccines in the first and second shots should better be avoided.
In sum, the government may concentrate its efforts to achieve two objectives. First, to control post-Eid gatherings of people as well as strictly apply the Covid-control measures so that basic health guidelines including the practice of mask-wearing and maintaining social distancing is religiously followed on the road, at the market places and workplaces.
Second, the vaccination drive should continue full steam until a substantial portion of the country's population is vaccinated.
It is believed such measures if taken in earnest would help the nation win the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.