This is nothing less than a war, so let’s fight it
On February 2020, as I had been following the eruption of coronavirus in Wuhan since January, I alerted my school friends, who thought I was crazy and creating unnecessary panic.
Like many heads of state around the world, my friends also didn’t see this coming. In fact, nothing like this has happened before -- not even a hundred years ago during the Spanish Flu.
However, when we saw how the Chinese government was at war, tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, we could have done our own assessment. When we watched how our expatriate workers were returning from Europe and the Middle East, and observed the Covid-19 situation in those countries, we could have done our own assessment and found that our human resources would lose their jobs.
Imagine Covid-19 hasn’t hit Bangladesh at all. We would still be severely impacted as far as our economy is concerned. Our exports would suffer as well as our remittance inflow. Now that the virus has hit our country, we have a health care war to encounter.
When the first Covid-19 case was found on March 8, we were still nonchalant about the disease. We went on to continue our business-as-usual life and activities.
At the end of February, it was pretty clear what the virus was doing in many countries of the world. Like in many countries, we also didn’t have the foresight to realize that it was coming, and coming in a big way, and that we had to prepare ourselves.
How could we have prepared ourselves? We didn’t know anything. True that no one had any prior knowledge of what this virus can do. We understand that. We are a small country with a teeming population. One in four persons is poor in this country, which is about 40 million below the poverty line. We understood they would lose their daily income if there was a total shutdown.
So, we started shutting down everything in phases. The first point that we had missed is the entry of expatriates through the ports and airports without any test. We didn’t have any testing kit. We could have at least isolated those people for two weeks in some isolation centres. But we miscalculated it.
It seemed that we were sleeping and weren’t bothered about it. We thought Covid-19 wouldn’t come to Bangladesh.
However, we woke up from our slumber in the second half of March. By that time it was too late. We’re still implementing the shutdown and trying to keep people away from one another in phases.
Our message to the masses wasn’t proper. Those who decided to communicate the “holiday” couldn’t coin the message properly in order to keep people at home and prevent movement. The message implied that it was a holiday just like an Eid holiday, and the people went to their villages from across the country.
Our markets are still open, and many branches of the banks are still in operation. We do understand the need for that. These are some essential needs. But it’s also true that the virus is spreading from those spots.
Now that the virus is here and is threatening us with our lives, we may think of declaring a war-like situation. This is not just for the government to fight, but each and every citizen has to take part in this war. The government’s responsibility is to make the citizens understand that this is nothing less than a war. If we make one mistake in this war, we may have to pay an enormous price for that.
Our doctors, nurses, law enforcers, members of the armed forces, the media-men, the banking professionals, the workers in garment factories, the deliverymen, the slum dwellers -- all are at risk of exposure now. Dhaka North and South City Corporations have more than 3,000 slums crammed with over 6% of the city’s population.
In this war, we must analyze the nitty-gritty and draw a map.
Tougher times are coming. How long will this continue? How long will this virus stay after whatever disaster it leaves behind? When will we open up our factories? When will we allow public transport to operate?
When will we allow the people to move again? How are we going to deal with the corrupt people who are looting the relief that is meant for the poor?
For a country like Bangladesh with very weak governance mechanism, winning this war may be unimaginable. But we have to try. We must fight it. Together.
The government has many responsibilities, but at the same time, it should also shoulder the responsibility of making the masses believe that it is a war against our own selves. The people need to believe it.
Now that we know how to prepare for the war, let’s fight it.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller. His other works can be found on erkamkabir.com.