• Monday, May 17, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:20 am

OP-ED: Our Covid management and messaging

  • Published at 01:38 am April 17th, 2021
Md Ali Akbar
Photo: MEHEDI HASAN

To handle the current crisis, we must learn from past mistakes


Despite a scary surge in Covid infections and fatality rate, the common people seem least bothered about the looming health care crisis. We, surprisingly, are quite nonchalant about the consequences about contracting the virus, and we care more about our daily life and income. 

As if nothing has happened. No matter what the government or the experts say, our priority is to go out, work, and feed our families. We forget Covid health advisories while doing so. 

The government had enforced a few restrictions from April 5 that ended on April 13. The shops were, sort of, closed for four days and then they opened up on the fifth day because the shop owners had protested. 

As soon the government allowed the shops to reopen, there were unnatural crowds of shoppers in Dhaka’s New Market, Gausia, Chandni Chawk, Malibagh, Mouchak, Shantinagar, and other areas. The people’s unwillingness to follow the health advisories was really funny. The government also had to allow public transport. 

The authorities had already planned for a stricter lockdown in the wake of Pohela Boishakh. The month of Ramadan also began on the same day. There would be an iftar crowd. The announcement came on April 12. 

Yes, that was a great decision to restrict festival-loving people into their homes. They stayed at home. It has worked on the day of Pohela Boishakh. A public holiday. Easier to manage. 

Many had left Dhaka in herds when they heard “kothor lockdown” was to be enforced. Last year, it was “shadharon chhuti” (general holiday) and with the recent surge in Covid, the term to communicate restrictions has become “lockdown.” 

It was reminiscent of March 2020. 

We announced a general holiday in late-March in 2020. Stopped all transport on long routes. We extended the general holidays till May 30 and advised the masses to celebrate Eid from where they were stationed.

 The administration came down on the street to prevent people from travelling to their villages. It couldn’t stop them. The administration stopped commuting ferries. 

It still couldn’t prevent the masses from going to the villages. The ferries were opened for the people to go home. 

After that, Covid infections went up. 

This time also, it wasn’t any different. We can’t really blame the people this time for their desperate moves. Their experience last year wasn’t so good. The three-month lockdown in 2020 had created many problems in their lives, and their priority had become to keep their flow of income going. 

At the same time, the people also realized that the authorities also lack understanding about the entire situation. There were many loopholes in the entire management. 

This year, with the spread of new virus strains, we could have immediately foreseen that a second wave would come. However, somehow, we couldn’t. It looked like no one, among the officials, was looking at the board and strategizing on what to do. It seems we haven’t applied our learning from last year in this year’s plans. 

We had to consume too many messages this year. We understand that the situation was changing every day and we needed to update our plans. First, we had a set of directions for nine days of soft lockdown. Then came another set of directions. In one direction, the financial institutions were told to remain shut during the strict lockdown. When the communication went out, we immediately realized that it wasn’t a good decision. Then we brought changes in the directions a few more times. 

We also introduced something called “movement pass.” However, unfortunately, the law enforcers weren’t properly briefed about the professionals who were exempted in the directions. Many professionals, including the media men and physicians, were harassed while going to work. 

The platform for acquiring a pass didn’t work; there were reportedly 160 million hits on the website, and most people couldn’t get through. 

Many citizens didn’t actually have any proper work outside their residences, but they went out. As if the empty road during the lockdown was a picnic spot and they had to come out to have fun. This was so irresponsible of them. 

Recently, we saw a senior health official rebuking the media and some experts who have been (as he said) improperly criticizing the government initiatives. He sounded very rude on live TV. He claimed that the media and the experts didn’t know anything. 

OK. It may be true, but wasn’t it his responsibility to educate the media and other experts or analysts? At the same time, isn’t it also the responsibility of our health office to make the masses aware about the dangers of Covid? 

Last year, there were many health advisories and those worked. Our messaging did inspire the people, to some extent, to take care of themselves. 

If we really want to imbue the sense of self-care, we need to work very closely with the media. And if we want to manage the whole episode skillfully, we need to engage the persons who have knowledge on management. 

The chief executive of the country looks quite calm during this crisis and she knows what to do. She is also motivating others on this. 

However, quite unfortunately, the “others” seems to be failing to decode her guidance and implement those in real life. 

Those who work make mistakes; those who don’t work don’t make any mistake. We all make mistakes and there’s always a room to learn from the past mistakes and go forward. Let’s not forget this aspect of life. 

The persons who are in charge cannot afford to be agitated. They also cannot afford to display that they’re stressed out. All we need to do is to draw up the situation on a board, do a thorough analysis, and act accordingly. 

Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His works can be found on ekramkabir.com.

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