In Bangladesh, the ongoing lockdown to control the pandemic has been extended until May 30.
Although the lockdown could not be fully implemented due to lack of monitoring by the authorities and cooperation from the public, the restrictive measures still helped to curb the infection.
However, due to the influx of homebound people on Eid and the entry of the dangerous Indian variant in Bangladesh, the infection rate may likely increase soon.
Therefore, a planned and gradual relaxation of restrictive measures is required after the lockdown is lifted.
If all the restrictions are relaxed at the same time, it may likely result in a sudden rise in infection.
The speed and nature of the infection should be closely monitored and a well-planned, step-wise relaxation should be adopted at the end of the lockdown.
But considering the socio-economic situation in Bangladesh, it is challenging to impose a lockdown for a long time.
After lifting the lockdown, some restrictions must be maintained to control the infection.
An important part of the phased approach would be to ban public gatherings for a long time.
Many countries around the world have been able to control the infection by banning public gatherings after lifting the lockdown.
In some countries, including India, the infection rate has increased as public gathering was not restricted.
In Bangladesh, a sudden rise of infection was observed during April due to a large number of gatherings, social events, and various recreational activities.
Studies conducted in different countries have shown that public gathering is the major source of infection.
So, all social events, community centres, political rallies, and public gatherings should be prohibited until the infection is brought under control.
Tourist centres should be kept closed and all recreational activities should be banned after the lockdown is lifted.
Educational institutions should be closed and online-based education activities should be encouraged until a large section of the population is vaccinated.
All types of public gatherings should be banned, but limited economic activities can be carried out in accordance with safety guidelines.
All offices and factories could be operated under 50% occupancies and in shifts to limit the presence of employees at a given time.
The operation hours of shops, markets, and shopping malls can be extended to reduce crowds. Online delivery and virtual meetings should be encouraged.
Most countries in the world including the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada have adopted a phased approach with step-wise relaxation once the lockdown has been lifted.
Based on lessons learned from other countries, the following step-by-step control measures can be proposed for Bangladesh:
Phase 1 (Restrict – 5-10% case positivity rate)
Allow outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people and indoor gatherings of up to 50 people, allow businesses and commercial activities to operate with safety measures in place.
Phase 2 (Control – 60% occupancy of the dedicated ICU units and 10-20% case positivity rate)
Prohibit all types of public gatherings, social and recreational activities; restrict inter-district movement; allow businesses to operate under restrictions; impose regional restrictions based on level of infection at the local level.
Phase 3 (Lockdown – 80% occupancy of the dedicated ICU units and more than 20% case positivity rate with an upward pattern)
Impose national lockdown for at least three weeks with a complete ban on non-essential travel, business, and public gatherings.
Relaxing all the restrictive measures at the same time can result in an upsurge of infection and likely lead the country towards another lockdown, which can be crippling for the economy.
That is why the most practical way is to adopt a step-wise relaxation of restrictive measures, aim to vaccinate the majority of the population and ban all kinds of public gathering until the infection is brought under control.
Dr Shahriar Rozen is a public health professional and policy analyst currently working in Canada
Dr Nazif Mahbub is currently working as a research and policy analyst at the Centre for Research, Innovation and Development Action (CRIDA), Canada
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.