The lifting of the shutdown at a time when Covid-19 infection and death rates are at their peak is a decision made by the government with no regard to science and the dangerous consequences certain to arise from the decision, health and development experts said yesterday.
At a virtual discussion organised by Citizens' Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, they emphasized an extension of the shutdown for two more weeks and a strict enforcement of it this time to slow the virus transmission.
A lack of coordination among the health ministry, the health directorate and district-level health offices has persisted, thwarting various moves to tackle the pandemic. The government should engage with people and gain their trust through a transparent channel of communication in the fight against Covid-19.
The novel coronavirus has led to a major economic upheaval, but access to healthcare and public safety should be prioritised, said Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue and convenor of the Citizens' Platform.
"The decision to lift the lockdown now is self-destructive," said Dr MH Choudhury (Lelin), chairman of Health and Hope.
The shutdown should be withdrawn on the basis of an epidemiological projection model. A roadmap will be sketched out based on the model to ensure healthcare to the number of people likely to get infected.
And when the infection rate reaches its peak as per the roadmap and comes back down, restrictions on movements will be removed in phases, said Lenin, who noted that such realities have so far been totally absent in the present circumstances.
The country should be divided in red, green and yellow zones depending on the severity of infections, according to the experts.
On the risks of a spread of the infection in impoverished settlements, Dr Morsheda Banu, who works with Brac on maternal and child healthcare, said poor people living in slums had a tendency of hiding symptoms because of fears of job losses or income losses if they revealed the truth. In consequence, they contribute to a further spread of the disease.
Citing the findings of surveys conducted by Brac, she said 80 percent of garment workers suffer from anaemia due to malnutrition. Struck by income loss, they are having even less food during this pandemic, which will make them more vulnerable to the disease, with the result that their immune system will be compromised.
"They need to be assured of healthcare, food and income," Morsheda said, in order to break the cycle of transmission in areas like slums.
For the poor, pharmacies and medicine stores are the places to go to seek a remedy to health issues. The drug stores, without any preparedness to tackle the expected crowds of people, may thus become sources of a further spread of infection. The health directorate's health guidelines do not have any advice to prevent such a situation.
All healthcare centres – beginning with community clinics – should be strengthened to ensure healthcare, said lawmaker Aroma Dutta, who is also a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the social welfare ministry.
Basic safety tools like masks and sanitizers should be made available to all, she added.
Healthcare providers at community clinics should engage with local people to help them understand the urgency of abiding by safety rules. Moreover, the number of PCR tests should be increased and rapid test methods should be introduced to complement the diagnosis procedure.
The experts also emphasised the need to focus on waste management, research and extraction of analytical data that can improve the efficacy of preventive interventions.