The year 2020 started with great enthusiasm in this country. March 17, 2020 was the birth centenary of the architect of this country Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was decided to celebrate the occasion as the 'Mujib Year' through various programmess from March 17, 2020 to March 26, 2021. All sorts of preparations were made for the celebration of the 'Mujib Year' announced through various colourful arrangements throughout the year. It was planned that on March 17, 2020, amid the presence of some world leaders, the celebration of 'Mujib Year' would officially begin with the main ceremony of the birth centenary at the National Parade Ground. In the presence of President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the event was planned to feature holographic presentations and theme songs on Bangabandhu's personality and career, cultural programmes and fireworks, and chorus by hundreds of children. The organisers had planned to gather 0.15 million people at the event. But everything went awry due the corona pandemic. However, according to the changed plan, the Mujib Year celebrations were to continue throughout the year by avoiding public gatherings and the option was left open to organise the events supposed to be held in the presence of foreign guests at a convenient time later on.
A very difficult year has passed in the history of this country. In the recent past, the people of this country have never faced such a difficult test. When the country was moving forward with the Vision-2021 in steady strides, this blow of corona pandemic gave a big shock to the overall progress. When the first corona patient was identified on March 8, people still did not understand what was going on. When everything was kind of shut down to prevent infection, people slowly began to feel the heat. The 'holidays' for about two-and-a-half-months proved too burdensome. Many people lost their livelihoods. In the end, the government was forced to open everything except the educational institutions, despite the fact that the situation had not improved significantly.
Fortunately, the pandemic appeared relatively less fatal in this country than in many other parts of the world. As a result, the initial impact on the health care system could be managed without much difficulty. However, due to the shutdown of industries for a long time, many workers lost their jobs and production was affected. In addition to the stagnation of production activities on the one hand, the consumer countries have also collapsed in the clutches of corona on the other hand, causing many orders of export-oriented industries to get stuck. Although the government has tried to deal with the unfavourable situation by announcing financial incentives, many small and medium enterprises, according to analysts, have not been able to take advantage of this opportunity due to systemic complexity and lack of sufficient experience in banking activities. The closure of shops and shopping malls led to a serious crisis for traders and the staffs dependent on them. The salaries and allowances of the officers and employees working in various non-governmental organisations were stopped. When the wheel of the economy in the country came to a standstill on the one hand, the expatriates working in different countries of the world started returning to the country in large numbers. This not only added a new dimension to the number of unemployed people in the country, but also slowed down the flow of remittances in the country. The situation began to return to normal after the 'holidays' were called off.
But with the onset of winter, the rate of corona infection began to increase again in different places. In addition, new and more contagious corona viruses have been reported in many countries. In this situation, Saudi Arabia recently announced the closure of all international flights for a week. Europe has also witnessed a ban on international flights after a new strain of the coronavirus was detected in Britain.
Corona had its biggest blow on educational activities. Educational institutions have been closed since March. Although the government opened offices, courts, shops and factories with some risk, it did not take the risk of opening educational institutions. At one stage, educational institutions decided to take classes online, but many students living in remote areas are being discriminated due to poor networks. The biggest hurdle appeared in conducting examinations. At one stage the authorities were forced to decide to provide Higher Secondary (HSC) and equivalent examination results on the basis of average of JSC and SSC examination scores. By the end of November, the incidence of Covid-19 infection dropped dramatically, with many hoping that maybe within a short time there will be a situation like opening educational institutions. But soon the incidence of corona infection in the country began to rise again.
The New Year has come in this backdrop. This year marks the 50th anniversary of independence. Everyone is eagerly awaiting the solemn celebration of the golden jubilee of independence next March. But, will that opportunity really come? Perhaps the only hope is the arrival of vaccine. Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have already been approved by regulatory authorities in countries such as the UK and United States. Several other vaccines may also be approved soon. The question is, when can these vaccines reach countries like ours? It is hoped that the first consignment of vaccines will reach us by January-February. According to the World Health Organization's predictions, it may take until mid-2021 for mass immunisation to begin. Here one point deserves particular attention. Reaching everyone with the vaccine is not the only consideration; there is also the question of producing a sufficient number of vaccines. COVAX, a coalition formed with a commitment of ensuring global equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, wants to ensure 200 million doses of vaccines by 2021 for its allies. They hope that this will ensure vaccination of at least 20 per cent of the total population of each country. According to Adar Poonawalla, Head of the Serum Institute of India, it will take four to five years for the coronavirus vaccine to reach everyone in the world.
All in all, we are in a state of uncertainty; it is difficult to say when we will get rid of it. However, corona has been an eye-opener to us in a sense. The miserable state of the health care system in almost all parts of the world, including many developed countries, has never been exposed so nakedly before. Besides, we would never have realised so well the importance of introducing systems like education and office activities online and the need for rapid expansion and development of the internet network and the fact that we are still lagging far behind in this regard. However, as everything has an end, we will be able to get out of this disaster one day. We will then have to go for repairing the losses. Let the new year inspire us to move in that direction.
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is Professor of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.