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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: The coronavirus conundrum

Should we really be taking any chances?

Update : 13 Aug 2020, 09:23 PM

I was watching CNN the other day. The anchors were discussing the distressingly high rates of people testing positive for infection by the coronavirus in American states like Florida and Mississippi. The rates, if I’m not wrong, were 18% and 21% of those tested respectively. The word they used to describe the situation was “staggering.”

There seems to be some confusion regarding just how bad the Covid-19 infection situation in Bangladesh is. We should, of course, be looking at trends in the numbers and not having knee-jerk reactions on the basis of the data of a day or two.

Yes, the rate of people testing positive reached 32% of those tested in early August on a relatively small sample of tests and that should be of some concern. But of greater concern should be the fact that our overall positive rate since this whole thing started has now reached 20.42% of those tested. And of even more concern should be the data that the rate has not been below the 23% to 25% range in the recent past.

Some people apparently think the recent data may be overstating the reality since the sample of tests is relatively low, and it’s only the people with symptoms who get themselves tested anyway. I think this is flawed reasoning, and I’ll tell you why.

Yes, it is possibly only the people with relatively serious symptoms who are getting tested. Which in turn means there are many more people with milder symptoms who are not getting tested. In fact, there are lots of reasons for people not to get themselves tested for the virus in our country, regardless of the seriousness of their symptoms.

There is the fear of being stigmatized in the eyes of their community, the expense of the test, the sheer difficulty of accessing a testing facility, and the widespread lack of faith in the veracity of the test results.

I know for a fact that there are many people who think that, even if they were not corona-positive before, they may be infected by the virus through exposure to others who are, if they go to get themselves tested at a public facility.

I know people in my own extended family and circle of friends who have all the tell-tale signs of Covid-19 infection, are taking the appropriate medication for it, but have not gotten themselves tested.

The second reason is much more obvious, yet most of us don’t think of it. It is this: Current research indicates that anywhere from 25% to 80% of people infected by the virus are asymptomatic. That is, they are unaware that they have it, but are perfectly capable of passing it on to you.

As a matter of fact, the current rise of infections in many US states is thought to be caused primarily by these asymptomatic transmitters. 

You don’t have to take my word for any of this. Just Google it for yourself.

So you see, it doesn’t matter if the current infection rate data tells us it’s one in every three people you meet who may potentially be infected by the virus, as the data from early August seems to imply. One in four, as indicated by the recent test positivity rates; or one in five, as indicated by the overall rate.

If you take into account all the asymptomatic people who are possibly out there, any infection rate we are talking about is quite probably considerably understated.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t leave your house under any circumstances in the current situation. Although I’ve worked primarily from home these past four months, I’ve also visited my workplace many times.

But the only places other than my office I’ve gone to during this period are a mosque and a burial ground, when a beloved elder relative passed away. 

And to visit another much-loved relative whose husband, who was the pillar around which she had constructed her life, had also passed away, having tested positive for coronavirus.

Let’s not be frivolous. Let’s take a bit more responsibility for our actions. We’ve held out so far; surely we can be patient for a while longer?

Chances are, if you’re below a certain age and don’t suffer from co-morbidities like heart disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, etc, you’ll come out of your post-Eid chill-out sessions in cafes or restaurants, or that car ride with your besties at Hatirjheel or Patenga just fine. 

But your older relatives living in the same house as you, not as fit and full of vigour as you are, may not be so lucky. 

Should you really be taking that chance?

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury has spent most of his career as a banker and is now running a food and beverage company.

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