The Financial Express

The enigmatic path of a pandemic  

The enigmatic path of a pandemic   

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Chebreyesus has triggered a considerable amount of uproar in a few rich nations, especially the US, since they were hit by the corona pandemic. Thanks to his disapproval of these nations' slipshod handling of the outbreak, Tedros has drawn their ire. The chutzpah demonstrated by him has annoyed President Donald Trump to such an extent that he threatened to cut funds to the WHO. On several occasions, the WHO chief has drawn a grim picture of the future pandemic-hit world.

Many in the developed world might feel like calling him a doomster for his tendency to talk gloom in his typical forthright manner. Mr Tedros is, evidently, wary of the pandemic's unpredictable path of assaults. In a barrage of outspokenness, Tedros has lately lambasted the feared monopolisation of the corona vaccines. In a sarcastic expression he has dubbed the practice a 'vaccine nationalism' patronised by the richer countries. As he has observed, if the world wants to recover faster, it should recover together; because it's a glolalised world. The economies are intertwined.

Upon being put against Tedros' world-view, Bangladesh finds itself in a labyrinthine situation. Apart from the widespread public apathy towards the deadly pandemic, there are scores of opposing forces in the testing and treatment segments which continue to convolute the overall picture. If anyone from outside visits Dhaka these days and spend a few hours moving around its busy neighbourhoods, s/he may encounter little signs that the city has been hit by coronavirus for over four months now. They might feel stunned by the sights of pedestrians in general moving about casually. At the crowded places, the mandatory physical distance is conspicuous by its absence. Except a few, most of the people are found going about their day-to-day business without wearing masks. In brief the spectacle of Dhaka is one of utter nonchalance, and, in cases, it betrays clear defiance.

The public awareness of the pandemic, which had been seen during the March-April-May 66-day shutdown, continued to disappear after the order's phase-wise withdrawal. The following days witnessed the rising tendency to get adapted to the 'new normal'. What now represents a politically charged defiance of a section of pro-establishment people in the US on the question of wearing masks, the reluctance of the Bangladeshi city residents to use this gear points to dreadful times ahead. Despite the continued rise in the number of deaths, the USA and many other developed and developing nations see no let-up in their endeavours to invent a corona vaccine. To speak dispassionately Bangladesh is still nowhere near them.

The truth is until the country can afford to avail of the foolproof, effective vaccines, it has to remain dependent on the 'homegrown' preventive measures. A distressing aspect of the pandemic scenario in Bangladesh is: the overall picture has yet to become fully clear. Scores of confusions and blurry scenarios still rule the roost.  

That vast swathes of the country remain unscathed by the Covid-19 pandemic has now emerged as a riddle. The countrywide picture of the corona onslaught finds many remote villages and townships still unaffected by the pandemic. People living in those areas have begun considering the deadly disease as being confined to the large cities only, especially Dhaka. Apparently, it's their firm belief that they will not be invaded by the pandemic's ferocity. Even people in villages and local markets in the upazilas not far from Dhaka wear a puzzled look on being enquired about Covid-19 prevalence in their areas.

The phenomenon continues to befuddle experts like epidemiologists and virologists. Taking cues from their overseas counterparts, the Bangladeshi pandemic watchers have lately put blames on the ever-mutating nature of the Covid-19 virus. As they watch warily, these changes in the virus' nature might make the efforts to invent an effective vaccine a purely challenging task. Moreover, as has been revealed lately, the virus remains active in different countries in different strains. Its continuously mutant nature adds to its ferocity.

In reality, highly grim and frightening at that, the virus remains dormant in many seemingly healthy people for long. These people eventually emerge as the asymptomatic virus carriers. They continue to infect people moving around them. They themselves mostly remain free of the many Covid-related health complications. Upon visits to the Dhaka slums, a section of local epidemiologists couldn't hide their befuddlement as they found the negligible rate of corona infections in those dingy settlements. These densely populated and squalid shanties are normally blamed for being the sources of many contagious diseases. But the prevailing notion has been turned upside down with the discovery of many city slums as being largely corona-free.

A section of indefatigable researchers are not prepared to give up without venturing into the root causes of the slums' remaining immune to the pandemic. Many others point out the phenomenon of the 'herd immunity'. According to another section of epidemiologists, this theory is not commensurate with the slums' conditions. Normally, 'herd immunity' originates in crowded places. These venues, i.e. a marketplace, are peopled by lots of disease-free people coming into close contact with the virus carriers.

Slums do not offer any such scenario. These are, in essence, clusters of human habitats. Everybody living there is known to each other. There are little scopes for hiding the cases of Covid infections from the large segments of people living there. According to observers, there might be cases of corona patients in the slums. But their number is so tiny that the principle of 'herd immunity' doesn't work here. As a result, the Dhaka slums remain a unique case vis-à-vis their being excluded from the path of Covid-19 outbreak. So do the scores of rural pockets. People in these places claim their areas to be free of the deadly scourge. There are still many quandaries and inscrutabilities associated with the pandemic. Global attempts to resolve these riddles brook no further delay.

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