On 1 February 2020, as I was following the eruption of coronavirus in Wuhan since January, I alerted my school friends thought I was crazy and was creating unnecessary panic. Like many heads of state around the world, my friends also didn’t see this coming. In fact, nothing like this happened before – not even a hundred years ago during the time of Spanish Flu.
However, on the other hand, when we saw how the Chinese government was at war for tackling Covid-19 pandemic, we could have done our own assessment. When we watched how our expatriate workers were returning from Europe and the Middle East and the Covid-19 situation in those countries, we could have done our own assessment that our human resources would lose their jobs.
Imagine Covid-19 hasn’t hit Bangladesh at all. We would still be severely impacted as far as our economy is concerned. Our exports would suffer as well as our remittance inflow. Now that the virus has hit our country, we have a healthcare war to encounter.
When the first Covid-19 case was found on 8 March, we were still nonchalant about the disease. We went on to continue our business-as-usual life and activities. At the end of February, it was pretty clear what the virus was doing in many countries of the world. Like in many countries, we also didn’t have the foresight to realize that it was coming and coming in a big way if we didn’t prepare ourselves.
How would we prepare ourselves? We didn’t know anything. True that no one had any prior knowledge what this virus can do. We understand that. We are a small country with a teeming population. One in four persons is poor in this country which is about four crore below the poverty line. We understood they would lose their daily income of there was a total shutdown.
So, we started shutting down everything in phases. The first point that we had missed is the entry of expatriates through the ports and airports without any test. We didn’t have any test kit. We could at least isolate those people for two weeks in some isolation centres. We miscalculated it.
It seemed that we were sleeping and weren’t bothered about it. We thought Covid-19 wouldn’t come to Bangladesh However, we woke up from our slumber in the second half of March. That was too late for us. We’re still implementing the shutdown and trying to keep people away from one another in phases.
Our messaging to the masses wasn’t proper. Those who decided to communicate the “holiday” couldn’t coin the message in order to keep people at home and prevent the movement. The message implied that it was a holiday just like an Eid holiday and the people went to their villages from across the country. Our markets are still open and many branches of the banks are still in operation. We do understand the need for that. These are some essential needs. But it’s also true that the virus is spreading from those spots.
Now that the virus here and is threatening us with our lives, we may think of declaring a war situation. This was is not just for the government to fight, but each and every citizen has to take part in this war. The government’s responsibility is to make the citizens understand that this is nothing less than a war. If we make one mistake in this war, we may have to pay an enormous price for that.
Our doctors, nurses, law enforcers, members of the armed forces, the mediamen, the banking professionals, the workers in garment factories, the deliverymen, the slum dwellers – all are at risk of exposure now. Dhaka north and south city corporations have more than 3,000 slums crammed with over 6 per cent of the city’s population.
In this war, we must analyze the nitty-gritties and draw a map.
Tougher time is coming. How long will this continue? How long this virus will stay after whatever disaster it leaves behind? When will we open up our factories? When will we allow the public transports to operate? When will we allow the people to move again? How are we going to contain the corrupt people who are looting the relief that are meant for the poor?
For a country like Bangladesh with very weak governance mechanism, winning this war may be unimaginable. But we have to try. We must fight it. Together.
The government has many responsibilities, but at the same time, it should also shoulder the responsibility of making the masses believe that it is a war against all our own selves. The people need to believe it.
Now that we know how to prepare for the war, let’s fight it.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.