As Bangladesh unlocks, experts emphasise health rules, vaccination

As Bangladesh emerges from an 18-day “strict” lockdown, experts have reconciled with the fact that livelihoods must be saved in pandemic, but they emphasised enforcement of health rules and vaccination to save lives.

Published : 10 August 2021, 09:59 PM
Updated : 10 August 2021, 10:00 PM

“It’s not possible for the government to keep the country locked down forever,” said Professor Dr Mohammad Shahidullah, president of the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19.

Public health expert Dr Mushtuq Husain said the government had to allow the reopening because Bangladesh, not being a welfare state, does not have the economic structure to support people sufficiently in a crisis such as this.    

“It’s impossible for (the poor) to comply with the lockdown. They don’t have enough food for a week, although our country is self-sufficient in food,” Mushtuq, who is also a leftist leader, said, pointing out the inequality in the country.

Cars line up under Mohakhali flyover on the last day of the post-Eid lockdown designed to stem the soaring rate of coronavirus infections and fatalities on Tuesday, Aug 10, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

On the final day of the lockdown on Tuesday, Bangladesh reported 264 new deaths from COVID-19, raising the toll past 23,000 and matching a previous daily record. More than 11,000 new cases were recorded in this period.

There will almost be no restrictions from Wednesday, much like a nine-day break in the lockdown in July for Eid-ul-Azha that presumably drove the number of coronavirus cases and deaths even after the government had reimposed the curbs.  

“The health rules were followed to some extent in the lockdown. But we all will go out of home now. So we must emphasise wearing masks and keeping physical distancing,” said Dr Shahidullah.

BGB personnel check a vehicle at a checkpoint at Ekuria on the Dhaka-Mawa Expressway on Friday, Jul 23, 2021, the first day of the 'strictest' lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

He believes the authorities should now focus on making people follow the health rules, be it at shops, on the streets or in transports. The authorities can do it because they do not need to concentrate on the lockdown now, according to him.

Raising awareness, making tests easier to access, and speeding up the vaccination drive are the key to reducing the risks of infections, he said.

“Many patients have been detected by increasing the number of tests. They would have roamed free had they not tested.”

Dr Mushtuq thinks infections will drop in the last week of August as a result of the lockdown. The effects of the reopening will be visible after another two weeks.

“We must wear masks as much as possible, and monitor the places of gathering, especially bus and train stations. Otherwise, infections cannot be brought down,” he said.

Scores of people arrive at Dhaka’s Sarkari Karmachari Hospital for COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday, Aug 10, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Mushtuq, who advises the government’s disease control agency IEDCR, said local public representatives can conduct campaigns at vaccination centres to raise awareness.

Dr ABM Abdullah, a former dean of the medicine faculty at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, thinks lockdowns are not an effective measure for Bangladesh now as the number of cases has not dropped despite the restrictions.

“Instead, the authorities should get people to strictly follow the health rules,” he said.

“People must keep in mind that complying with the health rules and getting vaccinated are key to protect themselves from the coronavirus. These will be more useful than lockdown if followed properly.”