Battling coronavirus Tolarbagh style: A firsthand account
The lockdown has made us realize that we are at a war with an invisible enemy. In a war, there is no room for sadness, no room for blame games, all we have to do is fight
Time has come to a standstill. In a moment, life has changed into something we have never witnessed before, so suddenly and terribly. When I heard about news of a highly contagious virus wreaking havoc in China in early tomid January, never did I imagine that we would be grappling with the same virus in my area, North Tolarbagh, just months later. Even after the first few cases nobody imagined that we would evolve into the first "cluster zone" of coronavirus contagion in Bangladesh and will not be able to leave home for months.
After two casualties in 24 hours, Dhaka 14 MP Aslamul Haque, declared restriction of any movement on 22nd March. This meant we could not go out of our house without a valid reason. Although it wasn't formally referred to as a "lockdown", the idea was the same.
The first case was discovered on 21 March, which led to a death. Within the next 24 hours another case was discovered, which led to the same fate as the first. The buildings of these two cases were put under strict isolation.
Tolarbag comprises of two parts – North Tolarbag and Tolarbag. North Tolarbag was a hot spot with 19 cases and 2 deaths.
Since the lockdown, the area was sealed off, with only provision to access the main road in case of emergencies like food/medical supplies & ambulances.
The house owner association, with the assistance of law enforcement agencies, administration and local men from ruling party played an active role in enforcing the lockdown.
Only grocery stores and pharmacies were allowed to remain open till 2:00PM. Sirens and loudspeakers blared announcements all day, prompting everyone to stay home.
Every building initiated their own efforts in containing any contagion, by installing hand-wash basins and restricting access of domestic helps.
Local grocery stores and home delivery services were a saving grace in these trying times. E-cash services also proved to be a lifesaver, eliminating the need for contact during payments.
We maintained strict protocol while receiving any parcels. Delivery men would put parcels outside our main gate, and we would it collect it after a few hours as the virus cannot survive in open air for less than six hours. After taking the packages we used to clean the bags with disinfector-mixed water.
Fully equipped DNCC workers used to spray disinfectors once every two days, now reduced to twice a week as cases have reduced, which is set to continue until the crisis is over. The air is rife with the acrid smell of disinfectors, which can be smelled even after a day of the spraying.
Some ruling party men played a role in awareness generation and even delivered grocery items to doorsteps. Food ration from the government was also distributed several times by the local MP's men and the house owner associations.
Coronavirus once again dug its claws on North Tolarbag after another patient was identified on the 14th day and 12 more on the first week of April. The number jumped to 19 from 6.
Following this, the lockdown was further tightened with people even frightened to open their windows or go to their rooftops.
The steps taken by the authorities were satisfactory. IEDCR collected several samples from each and every house by identifying people with minimum symptoms. I was also asked if I showed any symptoms since I lived within 50 feet of an infected building.
Friday prayers were also halted to stop the spread.
We all had the same mundane routine every day – waking up in the morning, maintaining all hygiene and safety protocols, surviving and hoping for a better tomorrow.
Fortunately, Tolarbag reported no further deaths after the 2nd May and the rest have recovered. North Tolarbag reported no more case over the next 40 days.
Tolarbag recovered. The media already described North Tolarbag as the "Tolarbar model".
After almost 40 days later, covid-19 appeared in North Tolarbag once again on 19 May. The good thing is, this time it was not community transmitted.
The two new cases were from the same family. Both of them were frontline workers, which explains their contamination.
The lockdown has made us realize that we are at a war with an invisible enemy. In a war, there is no room for sadness, no room for blame games, all we have to do is fight.
In the face of adversity, I also met some heroes. Heroes that do not need to wear capes. Heroes that are too grand to fit inside a comic book.
The IEDCR representative who collected around 300 samples, the DNCC sanitation workers, the utility workers, the grocery deliveryman, the ruling party men - all these people were heroes responding to their call of duty.
During this time, I saw body bags that you were not allowed to touch, witnessed my neighbors or acquaintances leave home for hospital.
The best moment was watching the previously infected return home after beating coronavirus.
Although a few new cases have just been found, hopefully they were not a community transmission from inside. We can say the community transmission has turned to zero for more than a month now.
But it's too early to say we have won. But we hope we will. After all hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.
One day, the day will come when newspapers will publish on their front page "No covid-19 reported in last 24 hours". I am counting on that just like everyone else.