• Friday, May 14, 2021
  • Last Update : 07:18 am

Commentary: Flirting with disaster

  • Published at 09:40 pm March 24th, 2021
covid-19 crowd
Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

What is happening in Sylhet in the name of quarantine is unbelievable, and the consequences could very well be calamitous

Are we making a farce of quarantine?

Quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to Covid-19 away from others. This isolation process helps prevent the spread of the disease that can occur before a person knows he is sick or if he is infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay isolated, separate themselves from others, monitor their health and follow directives from their state or local health department.

But what is happening in Sylhet in the name of quarantine is unbelievable, and the consequences could very well be calamitous. 

Last Sunday, nine UK returnees who were staying at the city’s Britannia Hotel, which has been converted to an institutional quarantine centre, went missing for a good 10 hours. They took a trip to their home village of Zakiganj, had lunch there and then returned to the quarantine centre, breaking all rules of isolation.

As if that were not enough, this week, in another Sylhet hotel – La Vista – a man, who was only into the third day of his mandatory stay in quarantine, arranged his wedding party on the very premises of that isolation centre. The groom’s family erected a temporary stage on the hotel’s rooftop and hosted at least 50 guests at the wedding. Words fail me.  

The authorities – that include the health department, local administration, law enforcement and hotel management – appear not to care in the slightest.

This newspaper has been on record since January 1 this year with its emphasis on a proper screening of incoming travellers and subsequent mandatory isolation as the first line of defence against the spread of a new and more contagious coronavirus variant from the UK.

Soon after the government enforced mandatory institutional quarantine for 14 days from January 1 for any incoming passenger from the UK, it was reported that some 200 returnees from there entered Bangladesh by slipping through lax screening at the airports. 

Conscientious travellers have themselves raised questions over lapses that they have personally experienced or seen with their own eyes in maintaining health protocols at airports and quarantine facilities in the country.

Two months down the line, we finally learned that cases of UK variants had already been traced in this country as far back as early January, but our health authorities considered it wise to keep that information secret up until March 10 -- till the media uncovered this troubling news.

Now what we’re seeing in the name of institutional quarantine is that it is becoming a genuine cause for concern as far as our Covid safety is concerned. But it appears that we simply couldn’t care less.

As citizens of this country, we consider it is our right to know: i) what are the criteria the health and district administrations followed in selecting centres of isolations? ii) what measures are in place to make sure quarantine rules are not flouted? iii) what punitive measures are there for violators? and iv) most importantly, what contact tracing mechanisms are there (if at all) once people illegally go out and mix with communities, flouting the isolation rules?

If we go by some recent Covid-19 statistics, there was a point just last month when the number of positive cases had dropped to as low as 5,800 (during the first half of February 2021) and 158 people died of the pandemic in Bangladesh. But in the past two weeks (March 9 to 23), some 262 lives have been lost and 26,066 people tested positive, showing a clear rapid upsurge. Things are pretty bad as far as a renewed spread of coronavirus infections is concerned.   

A government that has overcome many obstacles and resource and healthcare capacity limitations in fighting the pandemic relatively well and that can take pride in a very efficient nationwide rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination program as one of the first few countries of the world, doesn’t deserve a bad name because of a few people’s irresponsibility. 

Some 40 countries put in place a travel ban with the UK this January, but Bangladesh has continued the Sylhet-Dhaka-London flights -- which, of course, is the government’s prerogative. But at the very least, as citizens we could have expected better health safety and quarantine policies to push back the new risks we are confronted with.

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