• Wednesday, Jun 03, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:49 pm

‘Lockdown should be eased slowly to avoid catastrophe’

  • Published at 09:04 pm May 22nd, 2020
Coronavirus lockdown
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The total number of confirmed cases in Bangladesh stands at 30,205

Bangladesh, like many countries around the world, is in the process of easing Covid-19 related restrictions. A number of businesses and other institutions have been allowed to open on a limited scale, although the lockdown has still been extended till May 30 and mass gatherings continue to be discouraged.

With the Eid holidays just around the corner and many people wishing to return home for the celebrations, experts have suggested the government ease restrictions on public transport in phases if it plans to do so. 

Opening up public transport outright could undo the effects of the lockdown and lead to a massive outbreak of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, as it is highly contagious, they added.

Among the countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam has one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 transmission and is yet to register a single death from the disease. The country has relaxed social distancing guidelines on planes, buses, taxis and ships, increased the frequency of domestic flights and reopened educational institutions at the beginning of May.

Former icddr,b research fellow Dr Shahriar Rozen, currently working as a senior policy lead for Alberta Ministry of Health, Canada, told Dhaka Tribune the lifting of lockdown is dependent on a country’s readiness to control transmission.

 “We cannot really predict exactly when the restrictions will be lifted in Bangladesh or in any country in the world. What we can do is make a realistic plan based on a country’s readiness and resources,” he said.

According to Dr Rozen, lockdown restrictions should be lifted in four phases and only if there is a downward trend in the number of Covid-19 cases.

There was no sign of any such downward trend in Bangladesh as of yesterday, with 24 new deaths and 1,694 fresh cases of Covid-19 detected in the last 24 hours. The daily death toll from the novel coronavirus was the highest since the first cases were detected in the country on March 8.

The total number of confirmed cases in the country stands at 30,205.

Dr Rozen said: “The authority needs to do more testing to see if there is a rise in Covid-19 cases after relaxing the lockdown. Based on the statistics and data, the authority can strategize more effectively. The government can again enforce lockdown in certain areas if there is a surge in Covid-19 positive cases in those areas.”

Periodic lockdowns will help curb transmission and buy the health authorities some time to enhance healthcare facilities so that they can provide medical care to more Covid-19 patients, he told this correspondent. 

 Virologist Dr Nazrul Islam of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) told Dhaka Tribune lifting the lockdown all at once is not a viable solution in controlling transmission and saving the country from an extreme economic crisis.

He said the authorities have to set a good example by enforcing a lockdown at the Dhaka's Tolarbag and other hard-hit areas.

Dhaka’s Tolarbag area was a major cluster of coronavirus transmission at the beginning of April. The area was put into lockdown after the first death was reported, but no Covid-19 positive cases from the area were detected in the next few weeks. 

Dr Nazrul warned that Dhaka division should be monitored particularly strictly, as more than 80% of the cases were detected in this part of the country.

Mosques in Bangladesh continued to draw huge crowds even after coronavirus patients were detected. On April 6, the government suspended prayers for the public at all places of worship and religious institutions across the country, but on May 6 the government announced that all mosques would be open to the public for mass prayers with some conditions and social distancing measures. 

The health guideline state that no more than five people should stay in the mosque for ihtikaf, not to lay any carpet on the floor, and to provide enough sanitizer and hand soap at every mosque. Worshippers standing in the same line must maintain a distance of at least three feet from each other.  

In Vietnam, religious activities resumed from May 8 but with preventive measures for large gatherings.

The real challenge is to make the citizens follow these guidelines, said Dr Rozen, adding that not everybody in Bangladesh is keen to follow health guidelines, while others do not have access to proper information.  

Additional Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr Nasima Sultana told Dhaka Tribune it is difficult for the authorities to make people follow health guidelines if they do not do so willingly.

She said law enforcement agencies are asking people to put on masks in public places and warning people if they see anyone flouting health safety guidelines recommended to avoid coronavirus transmission. 

On April 27, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said educational institutions in the country may remain closed till September if there is no improvement in the situation triggered by Covid-19.

South Korea, a country which has been lauded for keeping the Covid-19 transmission and death rates at bay, reopened educational institutions on May 13.  Italy, one of the worst-hit country in the world, will not reopen schools until September.

South Kerala, a state of India which successfully kept the transmission and death rate low compared to other States, reopened schools on May 13, with senior students preparing for university entrance exams returning first. The rest were allowed to return to school from May 20.

Rozen suggested that educational institutions be opened when transmission risk is significantly lower since there are many ways to initiate distance learning with technology. 

Dr Nazrul stressed the need for people in Bangladesh to strictly follow universal health guidelines such as covering their face, maintaining social distancing and sanitizing hands frequently.

The lockdown should be eased slowly and that is for the best, he said

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