• Thursday, Aug 05, 2021
  • Last Update : 02:28 pm

Commentary: Cost of secrecy

  • Published at 11:14 pm March 11th, 2021
File Photo- Garment workers return from a workplace as factories reopened after the government has eased the restrictions amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 4, 2020  Reuters
Garment workers return from a workplace as factories reopened after the government has eased the restrictions amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 4, 2020 Reuters

The country is seeing an upward trend of rising Covid-19 cases in March

Is our health officials’ steadfast adherence to secrecy beginning to cost us dearly? 

When the whole world was observing very keenly and reporting almost immediately about the emergence and tracing of any new strains or variants of Covid-19, Bangladesh’s health officials took over two months to acknowledge that we had a few cases of UK variants detected in this country back in January. 

The first case of the UK variant of coronavirus, also known as N501Y.V1, which is considered to be up to 70 percent deadlier, was detected in Bangladesh on January 5. The person infected had travelled to the country from the UK. Similar cases were also found in Dhaka and Sylhet too.

But not until March 10 did people in Bangladesh have any clue about this as our health officials dealing with the pandemic situation preferred keeping that piece of knowledge exclusive for their own consumption only. What prompted them to keep this secret, until the media managed to reveal it, remains a mystery.  

Professor Tahmina Shirin, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told the BBC that the variant was first identified among passengers returning from the UK in early January. She, however, did not answer the question of why this information was not disclosed earlier.

ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told journalists later, "Contact tracing is going on to find out the details of the spread in the country."

What difference did it make?

The two months in which our health officials kept such information beyond public knowledge was exactly the period when Bangladesh witnessed a steady fall in new cases of Covid-19 positives, giving many a false hope that the pandemic was nearly over in Bangladesh.

But corona data of the past two days are a clear indication that cases are in a surge again. 

Up until that point (March 10) people in Bangladesh did not know about the detection of UK variant cases in the country and instead saw Covid fatalities and positive cases on the wane. If not all, at least, some of them became somewhat complacent and daringly confident, to the extent that they thought they could congregate in social gatherings, matrimonial parties again and that they could relax a bit on mandatory facemask use and sanitizer applications.

The head of government had to remind people, on several occasions in the past few weeks, that even if case numbers were falling and vaccinations went on in full swing, people needed to adhere to the corona health protocols i.e., washing hands, wearing facemasks and maintaining social distance.

Now had the public got the information about the UK variant case detections in Bangladesh, in real time, what harm would it have caused? It remains a big question for our prudent health officials to come up with a response that will sound logical.

We consider it could have been a much better situation had our public come to know about the presence of UK variant cases in the country in the first instance. This public knowledge early into the detection would have made people more cautious in maintaining social distance and other corona hygiene precautions because, by then, they had already come to know from the media that the UK variant was deadlier.   

The UK government published a report in February on the variant, saying that the new strain might be up to 70 percent deadlier than previous strains.

After the first case was detected in September, it quickly became the dominant variant in the UK. 

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