Measures that can save lives and livelihoods
- Ensuring govt support to working-class people during lockdown
- Continuing economic activities by maintaining virus safety
- Reducing prices of lifesaving drugs
- Bringing all people to the mass inoculation campaign regardless of their occupations
- Deploying armed forces to compel people to wear face masks, maintain social distancing
- Setting up field hospitals for those who do not have isolation facilities at home
- Locking down areas with higher infection rates
Health experts and economists have called for more public engagements in the ongoing battle against Covid-19 so that people comply with the health safety guidelines.
At two separate virtual programmes just ahead of a complete lockdown from Wednesday, economists and health experts said only a stay-at-home order cannot beat Covid-19 as its success depends on how well communities are engaged in other preventive measures.
The experts also shed light on the government's support to the working class during the lockdown by continuing safe economic activities maintaining virus safety, reducing prices of lifesaving drugs and bringing all people to the mass inoculation campaign regardless of their occupations.
"Although community involvement is very important in tackling any pandemic, Bangladesh is yet to address it," Dr Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury told a programme titled "How will we tackle the second wave of the pandemic?" organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
Dr Mushtaque, the convener of the Bangladesh Health Watch, also suggested stringent enforcement of the stay-at-home order.
But he believes a blanket lockdown for developing countries like Bangladesh is difficult and so advocated for selective lockdown in areas with higher infection rates.
He also recommended eliminating vaccine discrimination and too much dependency on a single source for Covid-19 vaccine.
CPD Research Director Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem suggested deployment of the armed forces to force people to wear face masks and maintain social distancing.
He said, "Executive officials could be temporarily tasked with magistracy power so that they can fine or shutter any institution or factory if the entities fuel up infection risks or violate health guidelines."
Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said Bangladesh will purchase three crore more vaccine doses and the country would get Covid-19 shots from COVAX too.
"Once we can ensure sufficient vaccine supply, people of all professions and classes will be immunised," he noted.
Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, lawmaker and former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), said Bangladesh should achieve the capacity to manufacturer vaccine on its own.
He also urged the authorities to engage the people in the fight against the pandemic.
Speaking at the webinar, Faruque Hassan, president-elect of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and managing director of Giant Group, said they want and will have the preparation to pay regular salaries and Eid bonus to apparel workers.
"For this, we want the factories up and running during the lockdown," he added.
Citing examples of production continuation during lockdown in India and other countries, the BGMEA president-elect said they are firmly committed to complying with the virus safety measures for the sake of their businesses.
"The BGMEA has 10 monitoring teams to enforce health guidelines at production units. Besides, buyers' representatives visit the factories regularly. We are obliged to comply with the health safety in our own interest," he told the webinar.
IEDCR Adviser Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain advocated for field hospitals for those who do not have isolation facilities at home.
Dr AM Shamim, managing director of Labaid Group, said Covid-19 treatment costs at private hospitals spike due to the price of Tocilizumab and Remdesivir. "If the government subsidies or reduces the costs of these two injections, the cost of treatment in private hospitals will also be reduced."
Md Helal Uddin, president of the National Association of Shop Owners, told the programme that lockdown in Ramadan will immensely hurt the economy since transactions in the month of fasting account for 80% of the total annual transactions.
He also proposed imposing virus curbs, excluding in Ramadan.
In the summary of the discussion, CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said there are proposals for cash aid for the poor to ward off the lockdown-led shocks on their livelihoods.
She reminded that 50 lakh families were announced to get Tk2,500 each, but the aid did not reach all of them.
Thrust on planning for necessary steps after lockdown
"From lessons we learned and evidence we collected, it is clear that if the government supports vulnerable communities during the lockdown. If communities participate in Covid-19 preventive measures, it will be possible to rein in the pandemic," Professor Dr Liaquat Ali, honorary adviser at Pothikrit Institute of Health Studies, said at another virtual discussion organised by the Bangladesh Health Watch.
The main purpose of a lockdown is to buy time for our frontline workers and healthcare providers. They have been burnt out, overwhelmed and overworked. And this lockdown can serve the purpose of giving them a breather. The other purpose of a lockdown is to decrease the load of Covid-19 patients, he said.
More importantly, the health ministry and other authorities concerned need to use the lessons they have learned to envision a plan like what steps should be taken after the lockdown, Dr Liaquat pointed out.
Dr AM Zakir Hussain, a member of the Working Group of Bangladesh Health Watch, was the keynote speaker at the webinar titled "The Second Wave and Covid-19 management". A number of public health experts and doctors came together in the webinar, which was convened by Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Vice-Chairperson of Brac and founder of Bangladesh Health Watch.
Regarding lockdown efficacy, Dr Mushtaq Hussain, adviser to the IEDCR (Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research) said the impact of the lockdown can be gauged after two weeks in curbing infections and three weeks in the case of the death rate.
"If we stay home for two straight weeks, which will come with a lot of compromises, the infection rate will substantially decline," he said, adding, "I am hopeful that by next Monday, the pandemic will slow down to some extent. Infections will then begin to decline gradually."
Dr. Zakir said there is a lack of communication strategy of the government in terms of Covid-19 management.
"It had taken three months before we were informed about the South African and UK variants in the country," said Dr Zakir.
It is also important that communication strategies are based on target communities. Not everyone thinks the same way and that needs to be taken into account, Dr Zakir added.
"We do have a communication strategy set up for coronavirus," said Dr Hussain. "It is called 'Bangladesh preparedness and response plan' for the coronavirus disease."
Five-point action plan for smart lockdown
At a virtual briefing organised by Healthy Bangladesh, a civic group, yesterday, Hossain Zillur Rahman, former adviser to a caretaker government suggested enforcing a "smart lockdown", classifying hotspots of infections to tackle the second wave as well as save both lives and livelihoods.
To this end, he outlined a five-point action plan. He proposed considering metropolitan Dhaka as the epicentre of the second wave with around 50% of infections, followed by Chattogram city and high transmission-prone urban areas for imposing varying degrees of restrictions.
He also suggested necessary measures to continue the ongoing inoculation drive.
He emphasised following the work for home procedure as much as possible in public and private offices, allowing shopping for a limited time on a daily basis and banning recreational gatherings.
The restrictions will have serious economic impacts, particularly on low-income people and the informal sector. So, it is necessary to increase the distribution of essential commodities by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) and take a programme to provide the city poor with emergency support through the disaster management and relief ministry.
Zillur Rahman recommended disseminating a government message for engaging all people in fighting the pandemic.
The biggest shortcoming in tackling the Covid-19 crisis in 2020 was a credible government-private joint team at the national level. He thinks that such an initiative is necessary to deal with the second wave.
It is urgent to expand Covid hospital services, he commented.
The action plan suggested that the government acquire treatment facilities of 2,000-3,000 beds of private hospitals for at least three months in transmission-prone areas including megacities.