The everyday scenes on the streets, markets and other places might lead an outsider to believe that the deadly virus does not exist in this country anymore. Nearly 70 to 80 per cent of people do not bother to wear masks when they are outside their homes. Markets, hotels and restaurants are crowded like the normal times. People shop, dine and travel standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder. Anything called social distancing is least observed in most places.
But the ground realities are different. The virus is still there and is infecting people in their hundreds daily. The number of fatalities per day is still hovering between 20 and 30. On occasions, the number goes up further. Statistics published by the directorate general of health services (DGHS) are on the lower side. Now the number of Covid tests done daily is far fewer than before, so is the rate of infection. The recovery rate has gone up---around 75 per cent. Many PCR labs doing Covid tests are now shut and booths that used to collect samples in different parts of Dhaka city have been withdrawn.
The health ministry honchos are talking about the preparations to face the possible start of a 'second wave' of Covid infection. But most people are clueless about the fate of the 'first wave'.
There is no denying that many people, to a large extent, have overcome the fear of the pandemic that had brought their life and living to a standstill between March and May this year. Most of them are slowly returning to their pre-Covid time daily routines. It was an urgency they could not avoid for the sake of survival. But will it be too much if they are advised to rigorously practice some scientific measures for reasons of personal as well as family members' safety?
They need to follow the safety guidelines since the people are still getting infected in their hundreds daily. The actual number remains unknown as the majority of the patients are trying home remedy or taking advice from doctors online. Unless seriously ill, they are not seeking treatment in hospitals.
The number of critically ill patients is reportedly still high. The ICU beds of Covid patients in most government hospitals are almost full to their capacity.
A good number of ICU beds for Covid patients in private hospitals are empty, mainly because of the high fees they collect from their patients. Since the beginning, the Covid patients taking services of the private hospitals have been subjected to paying abnormally high fees. There have been several stories in the media on cutthroat charges imposed on Covid patients. Unfortunately, the DGHS did nothing effective in this regard.
The private hospitals in the Indian capital New Delhi in the initial months of Covid outbreak indulged into similar malpractices. But the government there stepped in and fixed fees for hospitals treating Covid patients. That proved to be a great relief for patients and their families.
The government agencies here are found to be reluctant to make any move that would benefit the vast majority of people with limited means. In most cases, they are found more interested in protecting the cause of the parties on the opposite side. For instance, volumes have been said and written about the high fees charged by the physicians and diagnostic laboratories, but the DGHS or the health ministry has remained unmoved despite the fact the relevant pieces of legislation empower them to take actions favouring the people's cause.
These agencies are least interested in safeguarding the interest of the people. But most of them, including the public health agencies, waste taxpayers' money indiscriminately.
A few stories about corruption in the purchase of medical equipment had hit news headlines during the pre-Covid days. Then the outbreak of the pandemic has brought to the fore many irregularities, financial or otherwise. Several scams have been unearthed in the health sector in recent days.
It is not known how much the government has spent on meeting Covid-related emergencies. It must be a big sum. There exists strong suspicion that a substantial part of the Covid allocation has either been misappropriated or wasted.
A case in point is the 2000-bed Covid isolation makeshift hospital built at Bashundhara Convention site. The government, it was reported in the media, had allocated Tk 450 million for the project. Most of the money has gone waste as it has been a highly underutilised facility.
The number of patients there had never crossed 200 even during the peak days of infection. According to the press statement issued by the DGHS on the country's Covid situation, there were only two patients at that field hospital on Saturday last. The government had engaged a large number of doctors, nurses and other staff in the hospital.
The health ministry last Thursday ordered the closure of the field isolation centre by September 30 next to save the 'huge losses' the government has been incurring on account of its operation.
The pandemic over, there should be a thorough investigation into the public funds used to face an unprecedented health emergency. A few more scams could be unearthed. Who knows?