The county was still going through the toughest time in terms of the Covid-19 infection. On 28 July, the business leaders sat with the cabinet secretary and finally convinced him to open the export-oriented industries, mainly the RMG factories across the country.
Tens of thousands of people from across the country rushed to the city and its neighbouring industrial districts including Gazipur and Narayanganj, many without wearing masks and flouting health guidelines. The ferries on the Shimulia Ferry Ghat were seen full to the brim with people, virtually all were garment workers.
Miles after miles, these garment workers began to come in hordes, on foot. We have seen on television with our cruel eyes how they came.
Finally, the government was compelled to open public transport to ease the garment workers' agonising toil. The workers kept coming to save their jobs amid the pandemic.
When the infection rate keeps increasing, there is no alternative but to, effectively, put in place the public health restrictions. Now, the Covid-19 infection rate is the highest ever in the country. The positivity rate is 30 % and the daily death toll is more than 200-mark.
In this kind of situation, the people who should come forward, for the helpless people, instead take the opportunity from the government. Different quarters take the opportunity. Those who are not facing problems take the opportunity, individually as well as collectively.
The businessmen took the unjust opportunity and created pressure to open the readymade garment factories amid the raging coronavirus infection.
The government is in a delicate situation due to the surging infection of the Covid-19. The poor are starving and there is a chance that, after some time, these people may come out on the streets to stage demonstrations. These poor people are unorganised and the government has to give in to the people. There might be trouble.
If any quarters like the business group become uncooperative with the government, then it becomes tough for the government to run the country smoothly. In this situation, the government needs to balance the public as well as the influential quarters. The government takes these situations into consideration.
The opening of the garment factories, as well as the public transport, will harm the overall result of the public health and social measures ("lockdown"). The more the movement, the risk of the infection will be higher. The more the infection will be, the more the number of deaths will be. The more the infection will be, there will be newer variants.
India allowed Kumbh Mela, election, farmers demonstrations. The mutated virus turned into a variant because of the high infection transmission in India. If we have to see such a variant, we will not be able to detect the variant easily because we do not have the resources for genome sequencing in sufficient numbers. But we have scientists and laboratories to do it.
The government will have to take into consideration the risk-benefit ratio. If the benefit is more than the risk, then the government should allow them, like keeping the hospitals open, media outlets open and other necessary sectors open.
I don't know whether the benefit is more than the risk in the case of the RMG sector. The only way to get rid of the infection is to stay at home and to make sure the PHSM is implemented correctly.
We will have to bring every single Covid-19 infection under management. One is medical management and the other is public health management.
Under the medical management, the Covid-19 infected person can be advised by telemedicine and they can also take medication from the local authority. They can identify health danger signs and take the appropriate measure as per telemedicine advice. If someone's condition gets very serious, the patient can be taken to the hospital without delay.
Another is supportive isolation, without creating fear and social stigma among the infected persons. We need to engage the community.
These two measures will help us immensely. On one hand, the patients will come to know whether their condition is worsening or not and the number of deaths will decrease. On the other hand, if we can ensure a patient's isolation effectively, the number of infections will come down.
Vaccination and tribulations
Bangladesh has a good capacity for vaccination management. The vaccine is going to be implemented by EPI from next week who have an excellent track record at vaccination. I believe that the vaccination will be managed well. The Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) has its own Standard Operation Procedure and its health workers know how to involve the community in providing vaccination. If the manpower is increased, it can be doubled.
Our challenge is the uninterrupted supply of the vaccine. The situation is not that good globally. However, the situation has slightly improved. The vaccine producing countries are trying to be diplomatic and have a commercial advantage.
The distribution of vaccines is uneven. As a result, it will be tough to reach the WHO target of 10 % vaccination by September, 40 % at the end of the year and 70 % of the population by the middle of the next year. The vaccine coverage is more than 70 % in some countries, whereas it is around 2 % in many countries.
If the vaccine coverage is not even, the situation will create a new problem. In the places where there will not be enough vaccination coverage, the new variants will develop. It will be dangerous.
The US and Europe thought they would not have to wear masks after vaccination. However, they are now saying that they will have to wear masks because of the ravaging Delta variant. If we provide vaccines to people equitably around the world, we will be able to stop the development of new variants.
As this is not going to happen right now, we have to manage vaccines and vaccinate people immediately. We have to vaccinate the frontline workers and then the senior members of the community. If we can do it, the number of deaths will come down. We should not vaccinate randomly to bring down the number of deaths.
We are getting vaccines through the Covax at a very cheap price. The price has been fixed on the income per capita of a country. The country whose per capita income is higher will have to pay more money. For example, India will have to pay more than what we are spending. Burundi in Africa will spend less than us to buy vaccines through Covax.
Now we are getting the vaccines, some as gifts and others by purchasing. But I am not satisfied with the supply, because we need to vaccinate one crore people every month. We have around one crore of vaccines, which is allocated for one month. Some of them are in the pipeline.
The main obstacle is that we have become a victim of diplomacy and commercialism. The vaccine producing countries should allow production of vaccines in different countries.
Only AstraZeneca is producing their vaccine in Europe, India, South Korea and Japan and Australia. No other vaccine producers are producing beyond their own factories. WHO is asking these companies to allow them to produce vaccines in other countries too. This way, the production will be higher.
The companies can help produce the Covid-19 vaccine by sharing technical know-how, exporting raw materials as well as semi-processed materials. In effect, many countries around the world can start to produce the vaccine. But the companies are saying that they will produce and supply the vaccine on their own. This will take a long time. It may be that Bangladesh will have to wait for two years to get the required quantity of vaccine.
The more the delay, the more variants will emerge.
Dr M Mushtuq Husain is an adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR)