Life or livelihood? That is the question facing millions and millions of people around the world today in an entirely unprecedented scenario for the modern, globalized world. But are the two truly mutually exclusive in the time of Covid 19? Or, can an accommodation be made to keep the search for livelihood as safe as possible from the point of view of health. Luckily, perhaps due to divine grace, Bangladesh has so far seen figures of infection and mortality which are far lower than might have been expected.
As economies across the globe continue to face the brunt of COVID 19, the question regarding when and how countries resume economic activities is generating much debate everywhere. With almost half of the world’s population currently in confinement or under reduced mobility, and economic activities at a virtual standstill, reopening is indeed a critical issue to ponder upon where the livelihood of millions is under threat. Responses by countries have had few things in common, but much divergence is also inevitable as reopening decisions are very much determined by the stage of the pandemic in each country. Given that the extent of the problem is asymmetrically distributed across regions and countries, the responses of governments vary significantly.
European countries such Italy, Spain, and Germany that have seen the curve flatten, with a lowering of the number of new cases and deaths, have embraced limited opening of businesses and activities for the general public. The United Kingdom (UK), on the other hand, continues to maintain lockdown out of an abundance of caution despite recent decreases in the number of new cases and deaths. To many, the British position appears to be appropriate. Hastening to a full re-opening of the economy before the curve has truly flattened or enough evidence regarding the spread and possible containment of the virus is established could lead to a resurgence in cases and spread with possibly devastating consequences. There are examples of countries such as Singapore which did well initially and remained without any lockdown, only to find cases soaring by 50 times within four weeks since mid March, requiring a late but strict lockdown.
There is little doubt that such wide-ranging restrictions are hard to bear, but both science and wisdom suggest that they not be lifted prematurely, at least not without a strategy which takes into account public health science and data, emergency management tools, and a structured, safe-guards based approach to any opening up of the economy.
The Bangladesh Context
Bangladesh, having been under a form of partial lockdown for over four weeks to save lives, is taking heavy economic losses of about Taka 33 billion a day to GDP, and with more than 10 million marginalized families missing out on the daily-waged income they rely on. Business membership organizations with considerable clout such as the ones representing the garments and textile sectors have successfully pursued the policy makers to allow re-opening of factories.
The Government, having been left with difficult choice of weighing lives against livelihoods, has finally decided to allow gradual opening, a decision which, according to many experts, may have come ahead of time or without adequate preparations.
Under the current arrangements, companies operating in pharmaceutical and export sectors have been allowed limited operation from 26 April, although they had had a similar dispensation from the beginning, following Covid related health and safety requirements. Partial banking services had been operating and have now been asked to expand further; and goods-transport have also been given a go-ahead.
However, since factories have opened up fully in several sectors without paying much attention to the “gradual” part of the decision, the ancillary economic activities such as food shops and accommodation in those areas have also opened up. Additionally, a limited opening for iftar has been permitted.
There are concerns though, that the limits will be observed more in being breached than followed. A large proportion of the general population, having complied with the lockdown orders, are somewhat unhappy at the current dispensation.
How Are Other Countries Responding
There is little doubt that countries, developing and industrial economies alike, cannot afford to remain under complete lockdown for an indefinite, and unknown period of time. Return to normalcy is not plausible until some sort of vaccine is found, and it makes sense to get back to restoration, gradually.
But one would have to also note that countries and regions with significant ongoing virus transmission should expect that restarting economic activity will only lead to more transmission. Hence, countries which have allowed some form of resumption of work and business operations, have done so following a systematic approach that builds on science, data, risk categorization of businesses, geography, and segment of population.
These economies have put in place clear, structured Lockdown Exit Strategies which provide the outline for gradual opening of the economy starting with essential and low-risk parts of the economic activities.
The Strategies are also flexible to allow for modifications in light of newly available information, and must be targeted for granular level localities.
Countries which have now laid out clear, timebound exit plans to withdraw gradually include nations which have been severely hit by the pandemic such as the USA, Spain, and Italy to the ones who have contained it really well such as Australia, New Zealand and the Czech Republic. India laid out a plan to start from April 20 the process of restoring livelihoods by permitting economic activity in key sectors, such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, packaging, exports, e-commerce, construction and self-contained industrial clusters. South Korea has shown that strong intervention and effective planning can keep the virus in check and help resumption of economic activity. Federal countries and unitary nations have different political and constitutional requirements which also need to be accommodated.
Building an Effective, Clear Exit Strategy
An intrinsic feature of the approach adopted by these countries is a structured, and phased exit plan which, most importantly, remains informed by science and data.
Evaluating a country’s readiness to restart activities will essentially depend on the health system’s level of strength combined with an assessment of the intensity of virus transmission. Thus, effective exit strategies build on
• An increased capacity to test
• Contact tracing lifted to a mass level to find and isolate all of the contacts of a known source of infection
• Dissemination/disclosure of adequate information regarding cases and mortalities on a regular basis
• Strengthened local response capabilities – essentially the ability to effectively lock down hotspots where outbreaks occur.
Reflecting upon best and safe practices identified so far from around the globe, it is critical that Bangladesh ensures holistic planning and solutions which are implemented towards control of the spread of the pandemic while the policy makers strive towards effective lifting of the lockdown. Planning and solutions must clearly outline :
1. Criteria: conditions based on health and medical data that sectors and localities should satisfy before initiating phased opening.
2. Preparedness : what the country and local administration should do to meet challenges in the coming days, including potential of resurgence of the virus.
3. Guidelines: Responsibilities of individuals and employers and relevant government agencies especially in the locality during all phases, and in each specific phase of the opening.
While it is understood that this is an unprecedented situation in modern times, where no country has managed to find a fool-proof method of either preventing, containing or curing the disease, key considerations Bangladesh must bear in mind while developing a Lockdown Exit Strategy includes i) geographical vulnerabilities managed at the local level, ii) timebound phasing based on the capacity of the central and local administration, iii) scenario planning with regard to the strength and other particular characteristics of each part of the society and economy, and iv) specific impact on the vulnerable parts of the society.
Finally, the strategy must be pragmatic and robust enough to respond to clear objectives such prioritizing the health and safety of all stakeholders, especially workers and others in vulnerable positions; ensuring healthcare management, putting in place the necessary governance measures for effective planning, implementation, and monitoring; generating livelihood, ensuring mobility, and, in a slightly longer term, enabling a robust recovery of economy .
All this can be done with the judicious use of expert advice, particularly in the spheres of public health management, medical service management, social behavioral science, and economics.
Effective coordination, an important but often missing feature in the way Bangladesh handles crises, will be critical to attain success, and can be significantly strengthened by putting in place an institutional coordination mechanism.
Such a platform, ideally headed by an empowered, competent, high-level policy-maker, will be key to bring the relevant stakeholders together for appropriate decision and regular monitoring.
There will have to be behavioral changes which will last beyond the immediate contagion, general health and safety protocols to be observed by all at home and in public places, and specifically designed protocols for different industries. These will have to be incorporated into daily behavior.
Let’s Wrestle The Enemy to Floor Before Taking Victory Laps
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson of UK said upon his return to work this week, ‘ do not let go as you begin to wrestle the enemy to floor’. Bangladesh must not let down the guard without an evidence-based assessment to determine the time to re-open its economy fully, and it must take a systematic, science and data driven phased approach before easing restrictions even more. Having avoided wide-spread outbreak in the initial few weeks through judicious policy decisions, we as a nation must avoid resurgence resulting from pre-mature opening which will lead to a collapse of the already struggling health system, and a second wave of lockdown which will have the potential to grievously harm the society in the long term. Restriction must be eased out in a manner that can help get maximum economic gain with minimum loss of lives through the pandemic, and at the appropriate time.
We believe, therefore, that life and livelihood are not an either/or choice. Both can be safeguarded through pragmatic yet cautious and courageous policies. We have the advantage yet of relatively low infection and mortality numbers, which we do not want to squander. Our policymakers may take advantage of the experiences of many of the countries which are several weeks ahead of us, set up committees of experts in public health management and economic recovery management, designing interventions and actions suited to our specific circumstances, thereby charting the shortest course to a viable and safe re-opening and recovery.
Jointly written by Asif Ibrahim, Chairman, Chittagong Stock Exchange; Nihad Kabir, Barrister, President MCCI, Dhaka; Abul Kasem Khan, Chairman, Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD); Syed Nasim Manzur, Leather Footwear and Good Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Dr. M. Masrur Reaz, Chairman, Policy Exchange
With current Covid-19 pandemic flaring up across 210 countries in the world, millions of poor people are already affected and more so in the developing world.
Covid-19 by now, is no longer about health but became a social issue particularly for the low-income people and people living in vulnerable life condition in the developing countries. In the context of Covid-19 pandemic, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) may have increased risk for exposure, complications, and death because of a number of factors.
First, they are disproportionately represented among older populations and at increased risk of pandemic. More than 46% of the world’s population of 60-plus age have disabilities. Secondly, children and adults with disabilities may have underlying health conditions that increase their risk of serious complications from COVID-19. Thirdly, people with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the world’s people living in poverty.
Impacts of COVID-19 are likely to even worsen the situation of the people in lower socio-economic groups.
People with disabilities in the developing countries are most vulnerable due to spread of the invisible ‘killer’ called novel coronavirus. Disability (12 types) causes marginalization and deprivation of a human and hinders living a life in dignity. In Bangladesh, as per Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016, nearly 6.94% population of Bangladesh are PWDs. All these people face multiple layers of deprivation at this period particularly in job opportunity and secured income.
Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013 fortunately prompted a positive change in social attitude coupled with policy support. Consequently, skilled People with disabilities could secure jobs in Ready-Made Garments, Banking, Social Services, Small Business andother sectors. On the contrary, several studies conducted to assess the situation of employment of PWDs in Bangladesh and factors influencing them show that people with disabilities are at a greater disadvantage, experiencing significant difficulties at this time of COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine, health facilities and transport established as part of the COVID-19 response may fail to cater to the requirements of children and adults living with disabilities.
People have already started experiencing fragile conditions. With lockdown all over the country and shrinking economic activities; fear of hunger and frustration among low-income people is boiling. While normal people are capable of having access into local philanthropy support, people with disabilities cannot readily access into those nor do they have the physical capability to compete for cash or kind support.
Media reports claim that RMG sector has lost supply order of apparels worth 3 billion US dollars. Brunt of this economic turmoil is inevitably going to push the low-income quintal of the labor force towards negative coping strategies e.g. going without food, selling household goods for purchasing foods and essentials. The wrath of the economic boil down however, would be extreme on the people with disabilities as they have no option but to depend on others for their survival.
Disability focused organizations including mainstream voluntary social organizations working to promote, protect and assist in upholding rights of the PWDs in Bangladesh have come together to join hands with the government for the prevention and protection of the people with disabilitiesfrom COVID-19. Some activities being undertaken by local and national organizations include health literacy and door to door counselling, foods and hygiene packets distribution, collaboration and coordination etc.
The Government of Bangladesh has taken all measures within its capacity to save the population from this pandemic. The National Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19 is a laudable guiding document. Feeding 5 million people with food support including support for PWDs is another pro-poor step. Economic stimulus package for the RMG workers will reduce suffering of the extreme and low-income people of the country.
However, there are areas where we can collectively contribute to fill in the gaps. Bangladesh Television broadcasts its news bulletins in sign language to reach out to the hearing impaired. All the private television channels should broadcast their news bulletins with sign language interpretation upholding the spirit of ‘leaving no one behind.’
Engagement of disability focused organisations in the preparedness and response plans (focusing the needs of different types of disabilities) including implementation process is necessary to fulfill the objectives of the National Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19.
Participation of the disability focused organisations and voluntary social organizations at the local level in designing and delivering of prevention and response plans and decision-making will ensure social equity. Women suffer the most in any disaster. Similarly, women with disabilities are likely to have been more vulnerable during this lockdown situation. Therefore, special attention needs to be given to protect and safeguard the women with disabilities at all levels.
Quota for cash or food support for people with disabilities is highly recommended as it will ensure rights and entitlements for them amongst those competing to have access into public or private resources. Door-step delivery should be ensured for free or at affordable rates.
Coordination and Cooperation between and among disability focused organisations and voluntary social organizations is desired to avoid any overlap or duplication of limited resources. Access to aid and devices for persons with disabilities during the lockdown should be made available. Support services, personal assistance, physical and communication accessibility must be ensured by public and private service providers for those persons with disabilities affected.
Provisions should be made for those people with disabilities who do not have disability certificates that they can avail uninterrupted government services. There should be separate rehabilitation and quarantine centers for people with disabilities. Trained and qualified health professionals should be engaged to deal with people with disabilities when quarantined.
And finally, we must keep in mind that people with disabilities in need of health services due to COVID-19 must not be deprioritized on the ground of their disability.
(The views and opinions expressed herein are of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of UNB. Amrita Rejina Rozario, is the Country Director of Sightsavers Bangladesh Country Office. She can be reached at email@example.com)
Only by coming together will the world be able to face down the COVID-19 pandemic and its shattering consequences. At an emergency virtual meeting last Thursday, G20 leaders took steps in the right direction. But we are still far away from having a coordinated, articulated global response that meets the unprecedented magnitude of what we are facing.
Far from flattening the curve of infection, we are still well behind it. The disease initially took 67 days to infect 100,000 people; soon, 100,000 people and more will be infected daily. Without concerted and courageous action, the number of new cases will almost certainly escalate into the millions, pushing health systems to the breaking point, economies into a nosedive and people into despair, with the poorest hit hardest.
We must prepare for the worst and do everything to avoid it. Here is a three-point call to action -- based on science, solidarity and smart policies -- for doing just that.
First, suppress transmission of the coronavirus.
That requires aggressive and early testing and contact tracing, complemented by quarantines, treatment, and measures to keep first responders safe, combined with measures to restrict movement and contact. Such steps, despite the disruptions they cause, must be sustained until therapies and a vaccine emerge.
Crucially, this robust and cooperative effort should be guided by the World Health Organization, a member of the United Nations family; countries acting on their own – as they must for their people – will not get the job done for all.
Second, tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis.
The virus is spreading like wildfire, and is likely to move swiftly into the Global South, where health systems face constraints, people are more vulnerable, and millions live in densely populated slums or crowded settlements for refugees and internally displaced persons. Fuelled by such conditions, the virus could devastate the developing world and then re-emerge where it was previously suppressed. In our interconnected world, we are only as strong as the weakest health systems.
Clearly, we must fight the virus for all of humanity, with a focus on people, especially the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups.
The United Nations has just issued reports documenting how the viral contagion has become an economic contagion, and setting out the financing needed to address the shocks. The International Monetary Fund has declared that we have entered a recession as bad as or worse than in 2009.
We need a comprehensive multilateral response amounting to a double-digit percentage of global Gross Domestic Product.
Developed countries can do it by themselves, and some are indeed doing it. But we must massively increase the resources available to the developing world by expanding the capacity of the IMF, namely through the issuance of special drawing rights, and of the other international financial institutions so that they can rapidly inject resources into the countries that need them. I know this is difficult as nations find themselves increasing domestic spending by record amounts. But that spending will be in vain if we don’t control the virus.
Coordinated swaps among central banks can also bring liquidity to emerging economies. Debt alleviation must also be a priority – including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020.
Third, recover better.
We simply cannot return to where we were before COVID-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis. The pandemic has reminded us, in the starkest way possible, of the price we pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protections and public services. It has underscored and exacerbated inequalities, above all gender inequity, laying bare the way in which the formal economy has been sustained on the back of invisible and unpaid care labour. It has highlighted ongoing human rights challenges, including stigma and violence against women.
Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and other global challenges. The recovery must lead to a different economy. Our roadmap remains the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.
The United Nations system is fully mobilized: supporting country responses, placing our supply chains at the world’s disposal, and advocating for a global cease-fire.
Ending the pandemic everywhere is both a moral imperative and a matter of enlightened self-interest. At this unusual moment, we cannot resort to the usual tools. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. We face a colossal test which demands decisive, coordinated and innovative action from all, for all.
(António Guterres is Secretary-General of the United Nations)
Thousands of Bangladeshis living in London have been passing days amid deep uncertainty due to the current situation caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.
The crisis also triggered panic buying of essentials and their abnormal price hike by some unscrupulous traders of the Bangladesh community, said Yunus Ali Sheikh, a Bangladeshi-origin British citizen, while narrating the condition of Bangladeshis in London amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
Yunus, also a former UNB journalist, said the main concern is now personal safety and the possibility of being unemployed as there are huge Bangladeshis in the UK who are doing contractual jobs, and they are going to be the worst sufferers.
“They won’t get money if there’s no work. And if there’s no money, they won’t get food. This is the main concern among the people who work on contractual basis,” Yunus observed.
“But”, he said, “There’re social safety net facilities…unemployed and small-income group get state benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance, income tax credit etc. But these benefits are meant for only British citizens and there’re huge Bangladeshi origin migrated people who are not citizens yet. They work mainly in restaurants, fried chicken shops, and are in zero-hour contracts.”
Besides, Yunus said, the people of the Bangladesh community, who account for about 451,529, have stockpiled essential commodities from different stores being panicked of a possible lockdown.
“I came to know one Bangladeshi man has procured 42 sacks of rice weighing 20 kg each! Taking advantage of the situation, some Bangladeshi shop owners have hiked the prices of commodities. Earlier, the price of 20kg rice was 25 pounds which has been increased to 35-40 pounds abruptly.”
Besides, the price of a chicken has been raised to 20 pounds from 3.5 pounds.
“This tendency is mostly seen among Bangali shop owners,” said Yunus adding that making money in all situations is their common tendency.
But the scenario is different in the stores owned by the British, he said mentioning that they are offering various facilities to buyers so that the people of all ages can buy products at their convenient time.
Talking about religious gatherings, he said there was no Jum’a prayer in mosques in London as part of safety measures.
Asked whether the Bangladeshi High Commission there contacted them amid the crisis, he said there was an invitation from the embassy on the occasion of Mujib Year. However, later the programme was postponed.
On March 23, the British government restricted the movement of people to curb the spread of coronavirus as fears grew that people were not sufficiently respecting guidance on social distancing.
According to worldometer, the UK has so far reported 11,658 coronavirus cases and 578deaths linked to the virus.
I want to draw everyone's attention to time. It is running out fast.
With every passing moment, we are losing the opportunity we still have.
If we can comprehend the severity of the massive Corona war, we had better prepare ourselves appropriately. As our everyday life goes on today, it is very clear that we have not been able to present the picture of what is about to happen to the entire nation almost overnight. If we could enable people to comprehend the reality, we could motivate them to prepare for it right now. If they knew that their lives are in mortal danger, they would get ready to give out everything to fight for their lives. No sacrifice would seem to be too big. We must get everyone ready to fight for every single life. Together we can win. There is no scope for surrender. Surrender would mean enormous suffering and a huge number of deaths. That would be totally unacceptable. We must get ready to protect every single person. We must get ready with the best organizational and management preparations that we have, in every corner of this country.
It is stunning to see the victory march of the pandemic from one corner of the world to the entire world at lightning speed. China reported an unknown disease to the Beijing office of the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019. Today is March 22, 2020. This reporting was done only 82 days ago. In these 82 days, the virus has ravaged the whole world. Already in many countries army and para-military have been called in to cope with the unexpected situation. It has paralyzed country after country before in what seems like a blink of an eye. It forced people in city after city to take shelter in their homes, isolating themselves from their work, from their near and dear ones, for an unknown number of days.
Many governments who could afford it, sanctioned trillions of dollars to cope with the unexpected human disaster. Heads of all levels of governments are constantly on television and all other media outlets explaining to aggrieved citizens each step they are taking, and seeking their support in this dire emergency. All political parties in the parliaments are unanimously passing laws to combat the situation, making sure that the people have trust in them and remain calm, disciplined, and law-abiding. More than one country and many regional governments, city governments declared state of emergency to allow governments to apply all possible powers to fight the enemy. All around the world people are watching the Coronavirus’ scoreboard with utmost anxiety to see what is happening to whom. They are shocked by the soaring number of deaths every day. They feel relieved to see that in some countries the number of new cases has remained zero over some days.
It all happened in 82 days. It turned a ‘normal’ everyday world into a world which makes all of us feel like we are in a Hollywood horror movie. Nobody is excused.
We Are Lucky
We are lucky that we are not in the list of countries which have gone through this experience already. At least not yet. But we see the ominous signs of it quietly emerging in our country. We must thank our stars that we got 82 days to monitor all these countries where Corona devastation played out step by step, and how each country is struggling with their ingenuity, science, management skill, and determination to fight it out. We got 82 days to learn and prepare. That is our biggest advantage in this war against this deadly disease.
Now we cannot say we did not know it was coming, we did not know how to handle it; or that we did not know what works. If we have not learnt from the experiences of others we can blame only our disinterest. If we have kept our heads buried in the sand all these 82 days, then nobody can help us.
Corona Has no Mercy
Everyone wants to know how many people are infected by Coronavirus once it gets into a country or region. I give here two estimates on the high side, given by two leaders. One is Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. She was very candid and bold. Before the German people had a chance to get used to the horror of Coronavirus, she went ahead to address the nation, to tell them what is coming. She told them that 60 to 70 percent of the population of Germany would be infected.
A very recent estimate that I want to present comes from the Governor of California in his speech on March 20, 2020. He informed the people of his state that the number of infected persons in California could reach 25 million in the next couple of months. That is, 56 percent of population in his state, in 2 months. The first person with infection in California was identified on January 22, 2020 exactly two months ago. That means, in just four months the number of infected persons would jump from a single person to 25 million. What a lightning speed! Corona has no mercy.
Southeast Asian Experience
A few countries have been able to combat Corona most successfully, among all countries around the world. These are all from Southeast Asia. China, where it all began, has emerged from this pandemic with great success. Reports on new cases have stopped coming for many days now. They accomplished it in 82 days!
Other countries which contained Corona successfully are: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. All these successful countries followed one common strategy uncompromisingly. This uncompromising strategy was: identify the infected. Completely isolate him or her. Spare others from being infected. The virus will not spread if the infection stops. If we allow one person to infect others, then the number of infected will increase very quickly. Statistically speaking, if one person infects 2.5 people every 5 days, then he alone will infect 406 people in 7 days.
All these successful countries mobilized all their might to identify the infected, and kept them away from others. As a result, the bulk of the people in their countries were not affected. Today Coronavirus affliction has stopped in these countries. What great success stories.
The countries which failed to adopt this strategy are suffering endlessly. They are: Italy, US, UK, Spain, and Switzerland. Their situation is now out of their control. Total number of deaths in Italy has already surpassed the total number of deaths in China, a country with several times more population than Italy.
Which Way Will Bangladesh Go?
Which Way Will Bangladesh Go? The decision is ours to make. We have already missed great opportunities. But better late than never. We have to mobilize all the capacities of the nation to identify and isolate those who are infected. Even if we cannot be perfect, we can still save many lives. While each life is important, in Bangladesh many lives mean truly a great many lives. We have to devote fully to contain this infection. We do not have to wait to have perfect estimate of the percentage of population that will be infected, because all of us know any percentage of Bangladesh population is an unacceptably large number. Go ahead, try it out in your mind.
Is the Corona Flood Coming to Bangladesh?
Yes, it is almost at our doorstep. There is no example in the world where there were only a few infected persons one day, and somehow we never heard of more people getting infected in the following days. The global experience is it starts as a few drops, then if you let it proceed, it becomes a tsunami in weeks.
How do we hold back the Tsunami? Successful countries showed the way. Their formula is test, test, test. Isolate, isolate, isolate. Identify, isolate. Identify, isolate. Identify, isolate. Never stop doing it. WHO has been repeating the same formula globally umpteen times every day.
This formula reminds us of the old folklore of how the shoe was invented. In order to keep his feet free from dust, a king ordered his subjects to sweep the whole country. A tired subject frustratingly suggested to the King why does he not just cover his feet and keep it free from dust. The King liked the idea and got it done. The concept of the shoe was born.
Why not run after every person who is infected. Why don’t we go to the source of the infection. Keep them away from the masses of people. In the beginning, infected people are only a few. The task becomes very simple. They are the ones who will infect millions if they are not identified and isolated. We missed that chance at our airports when infected people started arriving from infected countries. Now they are scattered everywhere and remain untested. The demon of Corona is out of the bottle. Putting it back into bottle is our task. It is a big task now.
Obviously we are already late. But that does not mean we should give up. Giving up means committing mass suicide. We can still do our best to slow down the infection rate and slow down the death rate. We must commit everything we have as a nation to make that happen.
Unfortunately we do not have enough kits to identify the infected. We can start with what we have. Identifying even one person is important. If we can keep him in isolation we protect thousands in coming weeks. Let us not ignore one individual. We must use the kits now. Tomorrow its contribution to the fight will decrease sharply. Let us mobilize the international community to get more kits. People will be eager to know how many people are identified each day. People need to be informed to get them engaged.
Everybody knows how to prevent Corona, thanks to the communication technology. But we are not showing sufficient urgency. We know what it is, but we are not applying our knowledge. We are saying that physical distance is the only way to save oneself and to save others from this virus. But we do not mind holding a conference to announce these instructions, killing the very essence of the announcement. There is no consistency between what we are saying and what we are doing. Coronavirus is still just a subject of conversation, of news articles, and of TV talk shows. We are watching these, and reading these as if we watch and read news from distant countries. We do not feel It is happening in my family, in my house. I still cannot feel the shock of knowing that very soon, within weeks, I may be the cause of death of my family members. Or that one of them may be the cause of my death. The realization still does not come to us that protecting them from the virus ultimately protects me.
A lot of advice is being given out every day as a matter of routine work. People do not feel any sense of concerns behind those words. Even the people who give the advice not only publicly violate those advice but also publicize them without any feeling of guilt. Time of advising is long over. Now we are at the stage when we should be fighting the enemy the hardest. It is the time to build the resolve of the nation to stand up with all its might to confront possibly the greatest danger in the history of the world.
At this moment of the greatest crisis of the nation we do not see any round-the-clock work without any sleep, and without any food, to build the dam to protect everything we possess from the global Tsunami which we all see coming. One sees only a total lack of urgency and concern everywhere.
I am absolutely intrigued by one question: Are we really so unconcerned about saving our family members, relatives, our friends, and even ourselves, that we show no interest in stopping it? Or we are just in a dreamworld where we think this nightmare cannot be true, or do we think it is a part of fake news campaign.
The Students and The Youth
Always my hope is in the youth of this country. This is the time for them to stand up and save our families, and our country. I appeal to the youth to come forward on their own and build their initiatives as they feel appropriate. Today’s youth are super human beings. You are equipped with such technologies that the world has not seen before. Each one of you has unlimited convening power. You can bring the whole world together. Mobilize the youth of Bangladesh, mobilize the youth of the whole world. Save the world. Save Bangladesh. Save the humanity. Build the world the way you want. Be conscious about the unlimited power you possess. This is the time to use it. If you don’t use it NOW, it will never be used. Organize yourselves to save your para (neighbourhood), your village, your upojela, your district. And in the process, save the whole country. You already know what to do. Go ahead and do it. These are your families you will be saving. Your parents. Your friends, Your relatives. You will never get a better chance to show your worth than now. In the process you find out how creative you are. How smart you are. Collectively build your own organizations, make your own plans, assign responsibilities among yourselves. In every home you already have your representatives, the youth and students of all ages, in the family, create a series of networks with them to fight this Tsunami. Make sure you keep your family inside home. Do not let them be exposed to outside contact. Find food for them. Share food with the neighbors who do not have access to food. Entertain them so that they are not bored sitting home day after day. Make them have fun too during these gloomy days. If you put your mind into it, you’ll be amazed how much you can do. You have so many volunteers in each home, from 5 year olds to 80 year olds. Your capacity is limitless.
If you live in the city, make a network in your street, in your block, in your neighborhood. Connect with each other.
Social Distancing With Strong Social Mobilization
Youth always came forward to save people in all disasters of Bangladesh. You know the history of youth in this country. You take this history to its peak, by defeating the world’s most dangerous and invisible enemy, Corona. This is your day. Grab it. You provide leadership to the youth of the whole world, who are also struggling with the same enemy. You will be a unique force in this fight. Do not pass it up.
This applies to all youth, whether at home or abroad. Everybody can join a local initiative at village level or street level. Those who are located in other countries can organize themselves to provide ideas, supplies, and support. Publicize who is engaged with whom. Involve your Bangladeshi and foreign friends, businesses, institutions to join the fight for your village. This will bring you close to the people you always wanted to be helpful to.
So far we have been talking non-stop about social distancing, and how important it is for fighting Corona virus. We are fully behind it. But we want to put equal emphasis on social mobilization. It is our fellow-feeling which will make us survive. There is no strategy for survival of an individual without survival of the all. The key is social distancing on strong foundation of social mobilization. We must make sure that daily-income-earners do not have to leave home to earn a living. Social mobilization must find ways how ‘surplus’ families can take care of ‘deficit’ families. If anybody has to go out for living, it would not be safe for people who live inside home.
The educational institutions have been closed. It was a decision well taken. Students will get the chance to mobilize their families, friends, and neighbourhoods. Junior students can join hands with senior students and other youth to carry out their surveillance and actions to save their own families first, then families next door, ultimately the whole neighborhood. The focus will be to ensure that the virus cannot sneak in. There must be special attention to the old, sick, pregnant mothers, physically and mentally disabled people and the poor.
Through social media, students may share all the information, problems they are facing, and their experiences. This is happening already. They will exchange advice and encouragement among themselves within the country and beyond.
For this purpose, the students with the youth, NGOs, social and business institutions may be able to come forward together or as individual entities. Already BUET students have been applauded by the nation for their contribution to make hand washing popular and easy.
Set Up Free Zones and Keep Them Free
From all considerations there is no doubt that we are about face a national calamity. It will be at the scale which will have the potential of destroying the basic fabric of most of our lives. Even if Coronavirus does not turn out to be the greatest of disasters, we still have to prepare for the worst. We cannot afford the luxury of remaining unprepared. We have to get prepared. While preparing, we must prepare for the worst.
During an invasion by a foreign power it is usual for the resistance forces to set up “liberated areas” or “Free Zones” which are not controlled by the invading army. This gives the population tremendous moral boost. During the invasion of Corona we can set up similar Free Zones, like corona free-villages, upojelas, or cities. We commit all our strength to keep them free. We apply the same technique that countries apply – not allow our enemy to enter our free zones. We strictly practice the formula — test, test, and test, and keep us safe, while continue to work on freeing the occupied territories. Local people have to do it. That is why the social mobilization becomes the most important strategy. The fighters who could keep an area free throughout the invasion period will be remembered in history.
Microcredit Borrowers Are a Disciplined Community
NGOs have microcredit programs in every village of the country.
The microcredit borrowers are a well-trained and disciplined community. They have rich experience of fighting disasters as a community. Without their disaster fighting skill microcredit programs could not have survived through major floods and other local disasters. They may be immediately mobilized to get ready to fight the biggest disaster ever. NGOs can come up with new disaster manuals and protocols for them to prepare them about the do’s and don’ts, how to withstand this disaster with discipline and courage. How they can act together even without weekly meetings. How to join forces with others to protect the families and the village. Luckily their financial and organizational strength will be tremendously helpful. They can be the examples in the village to encourage others to stay home continuously and be social leaders to take care of the old and the vulnerable of the entire village.
There are many government, private and social institutions in the country. They have many field staff in the villages and cities. All organizations can mobilize their employees to fight this disaster. Every organization, public or private, must quickly prepare their calamity fighting strategy and train their employees to take responsibility of the assigned villages, or own village, or city or neighborhood. They must know what is their responsibility, who do they report to. Who do they get the help from.
Unanswered Questions Must Have Answers Soon
Along the way we must find answers to many questions:
What will happen to those who live hand to mouth during the disaster?
How will the common people of the country survive?
After the disaster what kind of life will be waiting for the people after going through this experience. Where will they start?
Economic structure of the world may collapse. How does it start functioning again?
How long would it take to get the economy of the world and Bangladesh back in gear?
What would the post Corona world be like? Most likely that the world will have a new birth. The new-born world may not look like the world that we know now. It is strange to think that we will be facing an unfamiliar world within about a year — global framework will change, people will change, institutions will change, most importantly, the thinking of the world will be changed.
The demon of Corona is out of the bottle. Will this monster eat up the whole world? Can the world put the monster completely back in the bottle again? What kind of world will it leave for us?
What kind of Bangladesh will it leave behind for us?