Prof Nazrul Islam, virologist and member, Technical Committee on Covid-19
Now we have to go back to the basics: social distancing must be followed; one cannot move without a mask; and one must wash hands repeatedly. We have to think that we are dealing with the pandemic as if from the very beginning.
We must remember that one year has passed since the beginning of the pandemic which has reduced people’s sensitivity to some extent. At present, we just cannot afford to close down all daily activities and sit at home, even if we want to. There is the issue of livelihood here.
We have shut down our inter-district communication, but for the livelihood of the people, city buses and shopping malls have to be kept open.
Considering the present situation, this decision cannot be termed bad. But, now there is no way to ignore the hygiene rules anymore.
I think that to bring the situation under control, it is necessary to deploy the army to make the people comply with the hygiene rules. As a result of rigorous mandatory practice, people will then become accustomed to it. Once upon a time, everyone used to ride motorbikes without a helmet; but now everyone abides by the rule as the traffic authorities have been strict about it.
For the health guidelines, you have to do the same. The army must be kept on the streets for at least three weeks to ensure hygiene everywhere. Besides, local people’s representatives should come forward to cooperate with the law enforcers in ensuring the implementation of the health guidelines. In order to stem the spread of infection, there is no alternative now to abiding by the hygiene rules by every citizen of the country.
Three weeks ago I came to know that there are ICUs in 28 districts while the remaining 36 districts have none. But in June last year, the prime minister instructed the health ministry to address the need. Now patients from districts without ICU are rushing to Dhaka for treatment, which is not only time-consuming but also contributing to the alarmingly increasing death toll.
Another thing is that the government, at the beginning of the pandemic last year, initiated a project to set up central oxygen facilities in 79 hospitals and clinics. But only 29 of them have been set up while the remaining 50 are yet to be completed.
Why did this happen? We must get the answer.
If the project could have been fully implemented, there would be fewer problems. But now, first of all, we have to take a concerted effort to manage the crisis.
A problem has arisen about importing vaccines from India. But the government is not sitting idle. Initiatives are being taken to bring vaccines from other sources. This is a good step. The issue needs to be addressed more quickly.
The people of our country already dislike vaccines. I remember giving the smallpox vaccine. Once I went to Tangail to administer vaccines. Hearing the news of our arrival, people of the village climbed on trees. It happened in around 1968-69.
I have the experience of giving polio vaccines also. People do not want to get vaccinated easily. Although people are more educated nowadays, many superstitions are still in place. So, the media has to be careful in giving information about this.
It is not totally right that the Oxford vaccine is not working against the South African variant, because it did not work in 10% cases only. But the vaccine is still more than 80% effective. People should be encouraged to get vaccinated.
The government needs to be more cautious about adopting the strategy. Before enforcing the lockdown, the media raises a hue and cry over the imminent restrictions which ultimately triggers people’s anger, increasing the possibility of increased infection.
The lack of coordination between different government agencies and departments, which was evident in last week’s Covid management policies, ultimately contributes to further deterioration of the situation. This incoherence can be noticed in almost all government decisions taken to tackle the pandemic.
It is clear that it happens as a result of not paying attention. This cannot happen if everyone works with due sincerity and attention. But now there is not much to do. Even if we cannot but let everything continue as usual, no compromise can be made in the case of following hygiene rules.
I would say it has now become essential to strictly enforce mask-wearing for at least three weeks in all city corporations and municipalities. Otherwise, I fear, the situation will get out of control and no matter how much we try, nothing could be done then. If wearing masks can be ensured fully, there would be no big problem to carry on all other daily and social activities.
In this case, if we carry on daily activities maintaining social distance, it might take a little more time, but would ensure safety also.
The country will be saved from a major large-scale damage. So, now there is only one thing – do all the work, but wear the mask.
One thing we have to keep in mind is that the people should be encouraged to maintain the health guidelines, they even should be forced to do so, but in no way they should be punished.
Now there is only one thing to say: do everything as usual, but wear the mask.
Prof Nazrul Islam spoke to TBS’ Faijullah Wasif over the phone