• Monday, Jul 13, 2020
  • Last Update : 11:53 pm

Meanderings of the mind

  • Published at 06:22 pm April 23rd, 2020
Coronavirus_Opu
Photo: MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

We’ve seen epidemics before, but Covid-19 is a brand new type of challenge

Locked down, living alone in Banani, and not being a health professional, it is difficult to know what to add to the conversations that are taking place about the coronavirus.

All over the “locked down” world we are seeing significant and positive changes to the environment. Smog disappearing here, the quality of river water there. 

Some of the “before and after” photos we are seeing are amazing. The roads in Banani are both quiet and clean! 

As someone somewhat prone to bronchial pneumonia infections, I am very glad that the atmospheric pollution in Dhaka has improved considerably, although it seldom comes down to the “healthy” level. This is difficult to understand. 

It is interesting and encouraging to see the actions taken by people in the area. While entering a local mini-supermarket, you tread on a spongy mass in a metal tray to disinfect your shoes, and then use hand sanitizer before entering the shop. 

In the medicine shop next door, they have a flexi glass barrier to separate the customers from the shop staff.

Reflecting on these “prevention” actions including physical distancing of being at least six feet away from others, one needs to understand that the majority of Dhaka’s population is not able to adopt this physical distancing, and so the potential for a serious outbreak of the coronavirus disease is serious.

Another observation is that the residents of the areas of Baridhara, Gulshan, Banani, and other adjoining areas are not really observing the lockdown, nor are the authorities properly checking them. Many cars are seen driving all over the place (usually with only one passenger) and yet, in other parts of Dhaka, the police and army appear to be very strict indeed about finding out why each person is out on the streets.

Sitting alone at home, it is easy to become depressed when one realizes that we are in a cyclone month (a cyclone on April 29, 1991 killed about 200,000 people) and that the monsoon months might make everything more difficult, particularly the distribution of food relief supplies to the poorest and those without work.

I have personally had a connection with different kinds of epidemics over many years. In the UK, the animal Foot and Mouth epidemic of 1967 and the human tragedy of the cholera epidemic in the Bangladeshi refugee camps in India in 1971. In the 1970s, while working for Oxfam, I was connected to a program of TB eradication in the hills of eastern Nepal, and later in 1974, the last stages of smallpox eradication in India and Bangladesh. 

However, this Covid-19, which is brand new, is far more difficult and dangerous to deal with, and will continue to be so until cures and vaccines are discovered and produced in huge quantities. 

Some readers may ask: “Why is he writing about the coronavirus, what does he know?” The answer is -- not much, except that my son, a doctor in the UK, and on the Covid-19 front line, and my daughter-in-law, have both been infected, fortunately mildly. So I follow all the news and opinions very closely.

Yesterday, the phone rang, and I was asked why I am not going in one of the chartered flights to UK to be near to the National Health Service. I said that if I went there, I would just be a burden to my sister or my son, and I can manage very well in Bangladesh.

Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971, and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.

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