The reopening of shops and shopping malls ahead of Eid will surely help the stalled wheel of economy move again, but health experts warned that it will also lead to a stark rise in coronavirus cases, putting a serious strain on the country's already overburdened healthcare system.
They said many Covid-19 patients who remain undetected due to the poor testing capacity in the country will work as 'super spreaders' of the virus with their free movement, frustrating the government's fight against the deadly virus.
Even, Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Tuesday said it can be presumed that the infection rate will go up to some extent with the reopening of garment factories, shops and markets. "We'll have to keep it under control as much as possible."
On Monday, the government decided to allow the reopening of shopping malls and other businesses from May 10 on a limited scale considering the month of Ramadan and the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr, the biggest festival of Muslims.
Though the government has imposed some conditions --maintaining social distance, cleaning hands with sanitiser while entering malls and shops, following the guideline of Health and Family Welfare Ministry and regularly, disinfecting incoming transports to the markets--health experts think it is unlikely to be implemented unless law enforces, including army, keep a sharp eye on the markets.
They suggested people, especially those have comorbidities, choosing online for their eid shopping instead of visiting the shops and shopping malls amid the risk of the infection of the virus.
There is also a light of hope that many people have taken to Facebook opposing the business reopening move and promising that they will not go to shopping malls risking their lives while the authorities of two largest shipping malls, Bashundhara City and Jamuna Future Park, decided not to reopen their markets.
Talking to UNB, Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS said it is a wrong decision to reopen businesses when the coronavirus cases are sharply rising. "We're going to reopen shopping malls at a time when community transmission is going on in a full swing and most of the infected people remained undetected for lack of adequate testing capacity. We're doing it when people will indulge in a shopping spree before eid. So, the consequences will be dire."
Even though the shutdown could not be enforced properly, he said it helped immensely slow down the corona infection. "As we reopened RMG factories and restaurants for selling iftar, the shutdown has become slack and people have started roaming here and there. If we reopen the shopping malls, we won't have any control over public movement and thus we'll lose control on the coronavirus situation."
As a large number of corona-infected people are asymptomatic, he said they will freely move everywhere and transmit the virus like wildfire.
The health expert feared that if the infected people crowd the markets and work as salesmen/saleswomen at the shops they will become 'super spreaders' of the virus transmission as people who will come close to them or touch the products only to get infected.
He suggested ramping up the testing capacity, forcing the shops owners and market authorities to ensure all the safety measures to keep the virus transmission limited.
"I still suggest the government to keep the shutdown enforced until May is over. We advise people to depend on online shopping and avoid going to malls, especially those with underlying health condition," he observed.
Dr Abu Jamil Faisel, one of the members of the eight-member expert group formed by the Health Ministry to assess the corona situation, said the government has taken the decision to reopen the shops and markets considering economic interests, but there is a risk of aggravating the coronavirus situation.
"The government has already given some guidelines about ensuring the health security and prevent the virus transmission. If we can properly and religiously maintain those, the shopping malls reopening will have little impact on the coronavirus situation," he said.
The experts suggested focusing on ensuring the cent percent use of masks by shoppers and sellers, social distancing, frequent hand washing with soap and water. "No one should allow any market without mask."
He said law enforcers must strongly monitor the markets and conduct mobile courts to ensure the safe eid shopping by maintaining all the guidelines of the government. "If army personnel are given the responsibility to implement the guidelines at the markets, I think it'll work better."
Prof Dr Mohammed Atiqur Rahman, treasurer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) and a medicine specialist, said prevention is the only option to control the corona since there is no vaccine and medicine to get rid of it. "We won't be able to contain the virus, if we lift the shutdown and don't maintain social distancing and health hygiene."
He said the government has taken the decision with a good intention of resuming economic activities, but it is fact that the coronavirus and the number of infected people is now increasing at a geometric rate.
"The government has given some direction about maintain health security of the shopper and prevent transmission of the virus. We can check the outbreak of the virus a bit by strictly following those. So, all the buyers, sellers and the market authorities must play a responsible role by abiding by the directives in preventing the virus."
Prof Dr Harun-or-Rashid, head of medicine department at Dhaka Community Medical College & Hospital (DCMCH), it seems the government is easing the shutdown by accepting herd immunity concept.
Herd immunity allows a majority of the population to gain resistance to the virus by becoming infected and then recovering. "It's an approach to depend on destiny for the life and death of people. Once a large proportion of the population gets infected (more than 50 percent), then this would protect the rest from infection."
Dr Harun said the government should also keep hospitals ready to deal with the situation as the cases will continue to grow in the coming weeks with the relaxation of the shutdown.