I returned from Nilphamari on Sunday night, wrapping up an official visit to the Uttara Export Promotion Zone (EPZ) where hundreds of Chinese people work. During the long train journey, I came to know that two expatriates from Italy and a woman had tested positive for coronavirus in Dhaka.
On Monday morning, my parents from another northern district called to warn me about the spread of coronavirus. They were worried.
"The EPZ-based Chinese people had already stayed in quarantine for 14 days as part of precautionary measures against the virus. Moreover, there is strict screening at every entrance of the EPZ factories," I said to assure them.
My parents said their neighbours had become panicky and were rushing to stock hand sanitisers, handwash, and, of course, facemasks.
It is obvious that prices of products that are in great demand will go up. Presumably, people across the country are getting into a panic and I am no exception.
There are reasons to be so because a significant part of the country's 16 crore people are not conscious about personal hygiene.
However, there are gaps in public understanding of how the coronavirus effects have emerged. On one side, there are government spokespersons and physicians suggesting that people not get panicky. They are saying that the condition is under control and the government is prepared to combat the spread of the virus.
On the other side, people entertain oversimplified gossip like "cotton masks are more effective than synthetic ones" or "Covid-19 cannot grow where the temperature is up to 23 degrees Celsius" or "there is little to do when a virus spreads through air and water".
The coronavirus, which started spreading since last December from a wild animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, killed at least 3,882 people and infected at least 111,401 globally until Monday.
Although China has recently seen a decline in the number of new cases, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Singapore and Japan have appeared to be the new hotspots of the virus.
Apart from the three cases in Bangladesh, seven Bangladeshi expatriates were earlier identified with the coronavirus – five in Singapore, one each in Italy and the United Arab Emirates.
Three of the five infected in Singapore have already been released from hospital.
Currently, 23 Bangladeshis remain in quarantine in Delhi after their evacuation from China. Bangladesh also brought back 312 of its nationals from Wuhan and released them in good health after a 14-day quarantine in Ashkona Haji Camp.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) under the health ministry is now advising all people coming from abroad to stay in home quarantine and contact the institute immediately if they have symptoms like fever, cough, sneezing and breathing problems.
IEDCR Director Professor Meerjady Sabrina Flora has advised people to stay home and not to be in crowded places.
She has requested people to maintain personal hygiene, including washing hands with soap and covering the face while coughing and sneezing.
"Wearing surgical masks is not necessary for all. Only those suffering from cold should wear masks," Flora said.
She said most coronavirus cases are mild. "There is no reason to panic. Mild coronavirus cases do not even require hospitalisation."
"Though the virus can be deadly, most of those infected — nearly 80 percent of the total number globally— are mild and have been cured. Those who have died of the virus have predominantly been suffering from other ailments," said Flora.
According to her, temperature variations do not contribute to the spread of coronavirus. However, the virus cannot survive if the temperature rises to 70 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, Professor Khan Abul Kalam Azad, principal of Dhaka Medical College, has advised people not to go to kitchen markets or public places unless necessary. He has also advised parents not to send their ailing children to school.
Azad, however, said that people suffering from fever, cough, sneezing and breathing problems should see a doctor as early as possible.
The Director General of the health directorate, Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad said elderly people's coronavirus mortality rate is higher compared to youngsters.
"Bangladesh will be benefited due to demographic dividend, meaning that the ratio of young people is higher than that of aged people," Azad explained.
So, we should maintain good hygiene and not panic.