Any crisis is a litmus test for a leadership's ability to handle it and keep its impact on people as minimal as possible. The Covid-19 pandemic is such a global crisis which put the leaderships across the world to test, forcing countries to take unprecedented measures to protect life and economy.
Bangladesh did not stay idle, too. The government responded immediately with whatever resources were available to save life and livelihoods, much in line with global strategies to fight a human crisis of such a scale seen once in a century.
The order the Bangladesh prime minister issued was short. In fact, it had two words – stay home – as she could fathom the gravity of an upcoming pandemic.
Her decision, roughly 15 days after the Covid-19 was detected in the country last year – later would draw appreciation as a life-saving measure from both home and abroad.
But when the premier made the decision, there was not much of a room to choose either life or livelihood. She boldly picked life, brushing off the growing criticism that her decision could greatly affect the livelihood.
As the country emerged from a 66-day shutdown last year, the PM wisely pumped in money to the economy that sustained the pandemic brunt by announcing a series of stimulus. At the same time, she chipped in with her effects to keep the ailing medical system running and to accommodate the building up pressure stemming from the virus infection.
Her prudent, judicious and bold leadership in crisis have met with Commonwealth recognition, comparing her with prime ministers of New Zealand and Barbados.
Local public health experts too have appreciated the measures of the prime minister such as imposing a prompt stay-at-home-order, ramping up Covid testing capacity, dedicating hospitals for virus treatment, rapid health personnel recruitment to tackle mounting health challenges and rolling out the vaccines even before many developed nations.
They attributed the low Covid-19 fatalities in Bangladesh to the prudent steps.
After Covid-19 emerged in China in 2019, the PM in a proactive step directed passenger screening at all the land, sea and airports. She ordered dedicating some of the existing medical facilities for Covid patients in advance. Under her leadership, 10,000 doctors and 20,000 nurses and medical technicians were appointed in just one year.
The number of Covid testing facilities was increased to 815 from just 1.
"Before the infections, many said the roads in the country would be littered with corpses, and there would be no beds vacant at hospitals. But that did not happen," said Dr Abdul Aziz, member of the Standing Committee on Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
"Bangladesh did not have to face any major pandemic catastrophe thanks to the leadership of the prime minister," he told The Business Standard.
The country reported the maiden Covid-19 cases on 8 March last year. The caseload is roughly 15.50 lakh till date as 15.10 lakh people recovered from the virus caused respiratory infection. Bangladesh lost 27,393 lives to the virus.
"The premier has been providing us with directives ranging from airport screening to field hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic," said Health Minister ZahidMaleque.
The minister said the remarkable role the PM played during the pandemic was the vaccination collection.
"We were told to bring the vaccines from wherever we can, whatever the prices are," noted the health minister.
Bangladesh paid India's Serum Institute 50% in advance for a bulk-buy deal to secure the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab even before the vaccine got World Health Organization (WHO) approval. With the Serum supplies, the country rolled out its mass vaccination programme in February this year even before many of the neighbours. Around 2.41 crore people in Bangladesh have received the first dose of the coronavirus shots till date as 1.60 crore people have fully immunised so far.
The government aims at vaccinating 80% of the population as soon as possible.
The health minister said the premier is aware of all the pandemic management and vaccination details.
"There was a worldwide high-flow nasal cannula shortage at the beginning of the pandemic. Then the prime minister told the foreign minister to collect high-flow nasal cannula," said ZahidMaleque.
He said the ministers used to brief the PM daily while the infection curve was upward.
"She would listen carefully and give us directives. We just tried to implement those properly," he added.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also reiterated her call to global leaders to declare Covid-19 vaccines as a "global public good" and allow developing countries and LDCs that have the capacity to produce vaccines.
At the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations, the Prime Minister said the availability and affordability of vaccines must be ensured.
"At the UN assembly last year, I called for the Covid-19 vaccine to be considered a global good. Although many world leaders agreed on this issue, there were not any responses later. On the contrary, we have witnessed a rise in vaccine inequality between rich and poor nations."
"This inequality needs to be addressed immediately. Sustainable recovery is never possible without millions of people being unvaccinated. We also cannot be completely safe," she told the session this year.
The PM also said the pandemic situation in Bangladesh is under control because of the strong grassroots healthcare system.
"The prime minister has been trying to deal with the pandemic scientifically," said Professor Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist and also a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
Prof Nazrul said proper implementation of the PM's directive can help Bangladesh perform better in pandemic management.
The virologist said the prime minister had given directives to set up intensive care units (ICUs) in district hospitals in June last year.
"But many districts still do not have ICUs. Besides, producing vaccines locally is yet to make any headway though the PM emphasised it multiple times," he noted.
Prof Nazrul said the PM took up many praiseworthy decisions, but they need urgent implementation.