A common man’s worry

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What is Bangladesh’s strategy to fight Covid-19?

Experts are thinking, informing, and cautioning the citizens about the medical, public health, and management parts of Covid-19 repeatedly and from various angles. Economists are busy predicting the macro and micro effects of this unprecedented phenomenon. 

Politicians are doing some rights, some wrongs, and finding each other’s follies. Public bodies and institutions responsible for dealing with the situation are startled by the sheer scale of the pandemic and are unsure of how to go about it — but they are doing something nonetheless. 

International communities and agencies are as astonished with rapid developments as the national ones. Backbiting and mud-slugging are on and the incumbent American president is at the center of these useless acts as always. 

Regardless of the extensive public health and economic impact analyses and warnings, common men’s core worries persist. How long will it take to invent an effective vaccine or curative medicine including the clinical trials, commercial production, and distribution across the globe? 

The common timeline for the end state of this chain action is one to one and a half years or more. What to do till then? The ongoing comprehensive lockdown to prevent the spread is not economically sustainable, either for the developed or the developing. 

Even this lockdown isn’t really a total one. The mass supply chain of the essentials is up and functioning and a huge number of people are still working. But more importantly, who will feed the poor in the long run if the lockdown carries on, and how? 

Most governments in the developing world don’t have the capacity or the mechanism. Even the USA is already thinking of gradually opening up the lockdown due to economic reasons. 

The Chinese claims of stopping the spread is mysterious and fishy. In Europe and the USA, people are dying en masse and there is no end in sight. So, what can the government and people do between now and such a time when they get medicine or a vaccine? 

If lockdown eventually means mass starvation and death — it will be unsustainable after some time. Harsh enforcement could result in social and political unrest. But, should people come out to resume normal life and the allow the virus to spread?

It looks more and more like a forced herd immunity strategy in the offing. The human cost of the herd immunity approach could be very high. The Spanish Flu in 1918 took away close to 50 million lives when the world’s population was several times smaller than now. 

And, there is this cultural and educational thing. Many people just can’t realize the danger and stop gatherings and congregations despite the declared peril of such acts. The virus is spreading silently in many societies. 

Bangladesh is one such country which is also a hugely crowded one to make things worse. Lack of testing doesn’t mean lesser infections. The medical infrastructures in the developing world are highly unprepared for this highly fatal pandemic. 

There are hardly any preexisting isolation wards in medical establishments. There is huge pressure on the production of medical supplies related to the disease and the same is the case with the distribution chains. 

No big number of equipment and accessories can be assembled or manufactured at such short notice and that too in a pandemic situation when the working condition for the workers has to be made safe as well. 

There is also the question of additional raw materials. The economic danger is real too, both at macro and household levels. If the discontinuation of most of the economic activities goes on for long, employers won’t be able to pay the employees. There could be mass layoffs. 

How will all these low-earning families with minimal or no savings survive? Even if the government steps in, how long can it support these massive numbers of households? 

And, if the economic activities cease for long, how can the government earn revenue to fund all these social security measures? There is a vicious circle. In the long term, gradual and partial to substantial lifting of the lockdown seems to be the only way out. 

Educating the masses to maintain many of the lockdown practices like distancing, use of basic protectives, hygiene manners, breaking the chain of touches, etc, as much possible will be the big challenge. 

There has to be a whole lifestyle approach to counter the spread. Life will not be as it was any time soon. People must learn to bear with that until effective remedies are found and deployed. 

The whole of society — the government plus the state officials and the common people — will have to stand united to fight a collective battle of survival against the Covid-19 virus. There is simply no other easy piecemeal way. 

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to Dhaka Tribune.