Even if a vaccine is developed soon, it won’t be available till next year
These are trying times, testing our resolve to the hilt.
The fear of the unknown is no longer a challenge so much so that grieving for lost ones takes place indoors. Where it is possible to observe the final rites, fear comes in the way of the most humane of acts.
Helpless and overburdened health workers live day to day in exhaustion and tears. This is the retribution of nature, a question asked, a lock to which man has yet to find the key. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a proponent to the belief that creativity couldn’t thrive on an empty stomach, in spite of the numerous examples of poets and writers who withered away early due to want.
People assured of, or having the wherewithal, have largely heeded the advice of the governments the world over to stay at home. For those who work day after day to ensure square meals for their families, and those without work, have been driven by the pangs of hunger and the desperation of their families in violating lockdown rules and social distancing.
Sub-continental governments are struggling to ensure announced relief and support reaches them. The cold truth is that reaching everyone is next to impossible. Our government has taken a distinctly different approach by providing food and cash for the ultra vulnerable, and stimulus packages for businesses.
And for the middle class who can’t line up for the dole out of sheer embarrassment, measures have been put in place for discrete support.
Extricating from the debate of the country’s preparedness (or not), the concern is focused on the duration of the lockdown and the scenario after the virus is either controlled or goes away. The economic predictions are dire. Global growth will shrink by 3% and Continental Europe, the UK, and the US, the engines of world consumption, will bear the brunt of recession not seen since the Second World War.
Developing countries, even the hitherto growth engines, will face a situation that will require them and their people to reinvent themselves. Some talk about a new world order with the United Nations almost bankrupt, and the WHO likely to face funding withdrawal from the US.
Bangladesh faces a major dilemma. With the garments sector reeling from order cancellations and subsequent closures, the double whammy of a workforce out of work and a sharp decline in exports could head to a situation of social unrest.
Whether the government can ensure a prolonged period of support for them in addition to the loan announced for the sector against low interest for payment of wages remains to be seen. Maintaining or extending the “holidays” comes with a risk.
Factories are closing due to slumping sales and distribution issues. Few companies apparently, have the ability to pay their workers during a long closure. The availability of daily consumables will decline. Stocks of basic food in terms of rice and pulses are sufficient, but perishable products such as vegetables will be in short supply after a while.
Lifting the lockdown may allow daily labourers to seek work, but if the wheels of business don’t turn, they might be in for a shock. Businesses are complaining of a shortage of raw material imported from abroad.
Medicines that come from overseas are already fast running out of stock. And the overriding threat of a faster spread of the virus hangs ominously. The WHO has warned against lifting lockdowns too soon. Politicians have a different view, given the state of the economy as well as pressure from big business.
The truth of the matter is that if a vaccine is developed, it won’t be available for use till next year. In the meantime, all that governments can do is slow the spread through lockdowns and social distancing.
That too is being done to reduce pressure on hospital systems. Hard decisions have been and are being taken about prioritizing patients that receive intensive care. While it defies humanity, it also defines it.
Today must be sacrificed for tomorrow.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.