The Financial Express

For a dengue- and corona-free Dhaka

For a dengue- and corona-free Dhaka

The publication of reports on the prevalence of often-fatal dengue and Covid-19 has lately become ritualistic these days. Many people remain unaware of the vector-borne dengue's presence until they turn to the pages of daily newspapers. They show how the Dhaka residents are relaxing the precautionary measures taken against Aedes mosquito bites. According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), a total of 281 dengue patients died in 2022. The number of total deaths this year has been recorded at seven until last Saturday. The year 2019 also saw a nearly resembling and shocking number of 179 deaths. With the large number of deaths recorded in the preceding year of 2022, the country, especially Dhaka, cannot be called free of the dengue menace. The DGHS recorded 62,423 dengue cases and 61,971 recoveries in 2022. This picture cannot make the conscious citizens feel relieved. Moreover, many cases of suspected dengue remain unreported.

Normally, winter sees a dengue-free Dhaka, because of the season's dry nature. Dengue vector, the Aedes mosquito, comes out of the vector's larvae grown in stagnant rain water. This being the fact, the general people remain free of the fear of any dengue outbreak in the other seasons. Last year seemed to be an exception. The year saw the rise in the caseload of the disease for months in a row. As a result, many people suspect a variant of the original vector may have been spreading the disease for such a long time. Besides, a prolonged summer, continued accumulation of household garbage at roadsides, mindless littering etc are blamed for the higher breeding of the Aedes larvae.

Compared to dengue and its periodical emergence, Covid-19 pandemic was thought to be on the wane for now. But that was not the case. Even though the corona cases began subsiding in early 2021, the suspected cases of corona could be detected sporadically. With the lifting of the lockdown when the newly mutated virus Delta had reportedly entered Bangladesh, the unease among many people was interpreted as their disapproval of the decision. However, to be able to move about in a lockdown-free atmosphere delighted many.  Although the regulations of social distance and many other prohibitions were not in force, many in the cities were seen respecting those. Even in 2023, people in masks and keeping social distance could be found in every part of Dhaka. A suspected Omicron virus sub-variant, a highly lethal one, has yet to be coped with. This fact gains ground as reports of corona cases keep pouring in from many countries like China. However, China has withdrawn its stringent lockdown, allowing people to move in full freedom.

China appears to be prepared to adopt the post-corona style of life --- living in new reality. The vast country with a behemoth- like law enforcement establishment can relax and tighten any set of laws meant for its citizens. The reality of Bangladesh is different from China --- and also from the USA. In that vast country, the states have their own laws different from each other. During the peak of the pandemic, this divergence was seen at its full. When people in one state were forced to wear masks, in another they came into the streets to protest the rule of mandatory mask-wearing. The administrations didn't interfere in the people's choices in some other states.

The case of Bangladesh was different altogether at the peak of the pandemic. People were barred from coming out of their homes no matter if they wore their masks or not. Emergency purchases were allowed, so was seeing a doctor. Perhaps this unsparing application of law had a role in keeping the pandemic spread under a tight leash. Given this fact, the present faltering attitude of the health authorities towards corona prevalence seems surprising. They have withdrawn the corona lockdown, which means the country now is free of the pandemic. But to many people the regular press releases containing the updates on the corona situation seems contradictory. It's a kind of admitting the fact that the dreadful virus is still there in the country.

Newspapers in the country continue to report about corona caseload these days quoting DGHS. Following the official death toll from the disease remaining unchanged at 29,441 on Saturday, people no longer wanted to take chance. Cautious people can hardly forget the panicky days which saw queues of vehicles carrying bodies rush to the Dhaka graveyards without siren or honking. The bodies would be buried after brief last rites and rituals thanks to the fear of virus spread. With those dreadful days gone for now, people have again been back to public transports, crowded places outdoors and indoors, at offices --- a few of them with their masks on. According to the overly optimists, the Covid-19 viruses may have been eradicated from the country for good. But the pragmatists retort: then why people wear their corona-time masks still?  It seems until the health authorities come up with an unequivocal announcement that the Covid-19 dread has left the country at long last, the confusions will stay on.

Covid-19 vaccines lay bare another mystifying episode. After the announcement that anyone who wants to be inoculated with the vaccine can go straight to their nearest centres, and they do not need registrations, the said centres were overwhelmed by vaccine seekers. After a couple of days many such centres were declared closed. This incident shows people at mass level finally grew the awareness of the necessity of being vaccinated. In short, the left-over of dengue outbreak and corona pandemic still makes shaky people feel panicky. It's because they are aware of the long sagas of how the two diseases can wreak havoc on the careless and less informed people.


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