Experts have advised people to avoid all sorts of foods with trans fats to stay healthy during their confinement to home amid the nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the transmission of coronavirus.
Foods containing excessive trans fats are unhealthy which causes various diseases, especially heart diseases, they said, adding that intake of such foods now will increase the risk as people are now out of physical activities due to the shutdown.
The experts also urged the government to put emphasis on raising awareness among people in this regard and called upon Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) to promulgate regulations to limit trans fats in foods as soon as possible, even within this difficult Covid-19 crisis, since it will help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) patients from developing severe illness during the pandemic.
The health experts and other stakeholders concerned called upon the country’s big companies not to use trans fats more than 2 percent in foodstuffs.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patients with heart diseases are more likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19 infection than those without that underlying conditions.
Around 277,000 people die each year in Bangladesh due to coronary heart diseases.
In Bangladesh, about 8,000 people die every year due to intake of high levels of trans fats, according to a research.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh still lags far behind in limiting the level of trans fats with no policy in place to regulate those in foods and minimise the death count, according to PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress).
WHO has set a global target of eliminating industrially produced trans-fatty acids from food supply chain by 2023. About 30 countries, including India, Thailand, Iran, Austria, Norway, South Africa and Brazil, have already taken steps to determine the maximum limit of trans fats in foods while another 24 countries are in the process to lower the limit to 2 percent.
But Bangladesh is still far away from implementing the REPLACE action package announced by WHO in 2018 despite the target to eliminate trans fats by 2023.
Talking to UNB, Assistant Director of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) Enamul Hoque said industrially-produced trans fats, known as dalda or bonospoti ghee in local markets, are silent toxic killers.
A high-level of trans fats in foods increases the bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduces the good cholesterol (HDL) in the human body, he said.
“Intake of excessive levels of trans fats can cause plaque in blood vessels, disrupting the flow of blood, leading to early heart attack and resulting in premature deaths. Trans fats can often be found in processed foods, fast food, snacks, fried food items, biscuits, cookies, margarine and others. People usually take trans-fat items more during Ramadan,” he added.
Enamul Hoque as people are now staying at home with limited physical activities, they should avoid such foods to stay healthy. “The food habit has changed due to the month-long holiday aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus. People are staying at home. So, awareness is very important now,” he said.
He said they are working for formulating a policy and raising awareness among people.
“As Bangladeshi people are not aware of foods with trans fats, a policy is a must to this end. Companies have to be forced to implement rules of using highest 2 percent trans fats in foodstuffs,” he added.
The BSTI official also added that Denmark completely banned trans fats due to the health risk. Although the USA does not fix any certain lever, they prioritise the demand of consumers.
BFSA Member Monjur Morshed Ahmed said their institution started preparing a policy in January last to bring the limit of trans fats in foods within the 2 percent limit.
“To find a way out for lowering the trans-fat level in edible oils and other food products, authorities have already formed a 10-member technical committee. The committee has held two meetings with experts, stakeholders and consumers,” he said.
As owners have started reopening some of their RMG factories amid the growing coronavirus cases, health experts said such a ‘premature’ step may trigger a deadly outbreak of the virus.
They want the government to strictly keep the shutdown in force at least until the Eid-ul-Fitr instead of allowing reopening any factory or market as the community transmission of Covid-19 has started taking a new turn with growing asymptomatic cases in the country.
Economists think that it is too early to ease the shutdown and allow businesses to reopen, even on a limited scale, as no sign is there that the virus is slowing down.
They also said it will not be wise to compromise with lives and health risks for the cause of livelihoods and the economy.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s private sector adviser Salman F Rahman said on Saturday said the country’s export-oriented factories must be reopened slowly by maintaining necessary health protocol to save the economy.
“We’ve to take a decision. We’ve Sweden model in front of us, they did not enforce lockdown. In China’s Wuhan, a second wave of infection is taking place. Germany and France are still suffering, new infections and deaths are happening, but still they are opening up their factories,” he said at a discussion organised by FBCCI on Saturday.
Contacted, Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Prof Kanak Kanti Barua said, “I personally think it’s not justified to allow reopening factories when the community transmission is taking a bad shape.”
“We still couldn’t enforce the lockdown properly and force people maintain the social distancing. People are still roaming around and flocking markets. Under such a situation, if we reopen factories, we’ve to pay a heavy price,” he warned.
The BSMMU VC said Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur are the hotspots for the coronavirus where most factories are located. “If we allow workers from these areas working at the factories, the virus will spread badly. An infected worker can transmit the virus among all other fellow workers if they work together.”
“The hidden cases are also growing. Even, our many doctors and nurses are getting infected despite remaining alert and wearing masks and PPEs. So, if we allow our workers to work at factories, we’ll invite a great danger for the country. The way the corona cases are growing we’re worried about the tackling the situation,” Kanak said.
He said though the factory owners are saying they will ensure the security of their workers and follow necessary health protocol, they will not be able to do so.
Principal of Dhaka Medical College Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad said the entire nation will be at risk if the factories are now reopened as there here is no sign that the coronavirus situation has improved.
He said businessmen are talking about Sweden model but the perspectives of the two countries are not the same. “People in Sweden abide by law, maintain social distancing, lead a much better life, and their healthcare facilities are much more updated than ours.”
Khan continued, “But our workers here stay at congested rooms with other family members. They’re less conscious about health hygiene and safety. When they’ll work together, they are unlikely to maintain social distancing. There’s a huge difference between the culture and behaviour of the people of the two countries. So, I think Sweden model won’t here. We need our local mechanism.”
Besides, he said, now many people are hiding their symptoms while many corona-infected patients are asymptomatic. “Under such circumstances, we can’t support reopening factories or easing the shutdown. We rather advocate for strict enforcement of the shutdown and social distancing rulea.”
The DMCH Principal said they are also concerned about economic stalemate and sufferings of people who lost their means of earnings due to the shutdown. “But we can’t push people towards death or danger to protect the economy. Why’re we becoming so desperate to resume economic activities putting people’s lives at risk when the Prime Minister has announced different incentive packages for them? It’s illogical and unjustified.”
Former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said it is alarming that many RMG factories have been reopened when the coronavirus cases are still showing an upward turn. “I think it’s a premature decision.”
He said the education and culture of workers and the environment of RMG factories suggest it is not possible to ensure health safety or physical distancing there. “If proper health protection of workers can’t be ensured, then we’ll fall in a serious trouble. So, I think we should take more time to reopen factories.”
He said the economy is under a serious strain due to the shutdown, but there is no chance to compromise with people’s lives to save the economy. “Our GDP growth will fall if we continue the shutdown for one more month. But people’s lives and health security are more important than the GDP growth. We shouldn’t comprise lives for livelihoods.”
Mirza Azizul said the government can allow reopening of factories in phases only when the coronavirus pandemic shows a declining trend.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said it will not be a wise decision to reopen any kind of factories without the green signal from the country’s health experts. “Some countries are easing lockdown only when the virus transmission is falling. So, we shouldn’t slack the shutdown until the situation improves, no matter what.”
He said once the virus infection subsides, the government first work out health protection mechanism and fix which factories should reopen first based on priority and importance and the opinion of health experts.
Asked how much time the businessmen and the country can afford to such economic standoff, Mustafiz said it is a global problem and every country is suffering, and all have to accept its consequences. “It’s a conflict between the lives and livelihoods and we should give importance to lives. Without lives, what is the value of livelihoods?” he observed.
BGMEA president Rubana Huq said global buyers have cancelled more than $3 billion of orders and now it was crucial to reopen the factories in a limited way. “We’re maintaining strict health protocols. We also urged the BSMMU VC to give us an expert to follow up with us.”
Formal discussions on the proposed budget for 2020-21 fiscal year will kick off on May 5 through a meeting to prepare a fiscal policy for the country that will help the stagnant economy caused by the COVID-19 to return to its previous shape.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will preside over the meeting which will take place at her official residence Ganobhaban at 11am, according to sources at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Ministries concerned, advisers and government officials will attend the meeting to formulate the budget for the next fiscal year.
This year, the budget formulation will be a tough one as the entire world is facing a serious setback from the coronavirus which was first reported in Chinese city of Wuhan.
Bangladesh has been under a lockdown since March 26 to control the spread of deadly virus bringing the economic activities to a hold.
According to sources, the government is likely to go for a 'recovery plan' in the next budget (2020-19) which will put emphasis on health, agriculture and mega projects.
It has already announced several stimulus packages worth Tk 95,619 crore, which is 3.3 percent of the GDP, for various sectors in small, medium and big industries, and agriculture.
This will be a pressure on the economy to arrange this huge money although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mentioned that if necessary, the funds will be transferred from the ongoing various mega development projects.
The government will procure a total of 21 lakh metric tons of foodgrains this season across the country, which is much higher than the previous season. Of the amount, the government will purchase 8 lakh metric tons of paddy, 10 lakh metric tons of rice, 2.20 lakh metric tons of atap (sunned) rice and 80,000 metric tons of wheat.
A number of officials at the Finance Ministry and National Board of Revenue (NBR) said the arrangement and allocation of money this time will be very tough as the economy is passing through a rough time.
They said the revenue collection is totally stalled as the economic activities of the country are more or less halted.
Different international organisations have already estimated that the GDP this year will be 2-3 percent where it was 8.15 percent last year.
However, from the government side, it was said that the GDP will be more than 6 percent.
They said the good news in this crisis moment is that the country has a very good Boro yield.
"If we can harvest and preserve this crop properly, it’ll be a great sigh of relief for the whole nation that at least the country won’t fall in the food crisis in the coming days," a senior official at the Finance Ministry said.
Quoting international agencies, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina several times hinted that the world might face a famine in the coming days as coronavirus will create a food recession apart from an economic recession.
Continuation of the current economic stagnation during the government-declared shutdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus will result in a grim economic outlook for Bangladesh, economists warn.
"There’ll be a big blow to the economy," former caretaker government adviser and visiting Professor at BRAC University Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said.
He said international organisations have already projected low growth for Bangladesh at 2-3 percent, which was 8.15 percent in the previous year. Growth will depend on the continuation of the present situation. "If it continues then there will be a negative growth," he said.
Dr Islam said when the situation improves the government’s main task would be restoring the supply chain, improving export activities through import of raw materials and capital machineries, noting that otherwise it would be tough to recover the export markets.
He said remittance inflow would drop due to coronavirus pandemic and to improve the situation, the government should give highest efforts to export manpower to the importing countries through diplomatic efforts.
He also said that there is weakness in the infrastructural structures in the country where the transportation and port management system has collapsed. These should be restored immediately.
Talking about the budgetary measurers after COVID-19, the economist said allocation for the social safety net has to be increased as a huge number of people lost their income and jobs.
He mentioned that a large number of people are engaged in informal economy and relief programmes have to be strengthened for them.
The government has many initiatives and attention should be given to ensure that these are administered properly, he said.
Distinguished fellow of Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Prof Dr Mustafizur Rahman said the country is facing a tri-dimensional calamity – health, economic and humanitarian – and attention needs to be paid to all three sectors.
He said allocation for health sector in the country is the lowest, only 0.9 percent.
"The average allocation in the worldwide is 3-4 percent. We didn’t invest properly in our health sector. We have to give priority to our health sector so that we can take the necessary steps for health security," he said.
He said that the government should allocate appropriate fund for the health sector in the next budget. On the other hand, safety gadgets for doctors have to be distributed right now.
For the economy, the CPD distinguished fellow said the economy was going through a tough time. He said the government has taken some measurers and these should be bolstered so that the country could enter recovery mood very quickly.
"Otherwise, it’d be difficult to revive the economy. The government should widen the expansion of monetary policy along with investment," he said.
On the humanitarian purpose, Dr Mustafizur said the safety net programmes should be widened and strengthened.
For ensuring food security, he emphasised on boro harvesting properly saying that this season is very crucial for country in terms of ensuring food security.
"So far the situation of food security is good, but it will depend on the boro crops. The government has announced its target to procure 17 lakh boro crops already and for that the government should prepare well," he said.
He said that if the Tax-GDP ratio of the country, which is below 10 percent, was like Nepal (18 percent) or India (17 percent), then it would be easier for the government to provide money more easily.
He said the government should start the recovery process as soon as possible and take actions against tax evaders and loan defaulters alongside ensuring good governance.
"If we can do that, then we’ll be able to improve our capability against facing calamity like this one," he said, adding that the government should mobilise foreign aid to face the aftermath of COVID-19.
Responding to a query, he said the impact of COVID-19 on the economy could be measured on its longevity.
"If we could start our activities in full swing in May, then we could tackle the situation although the growth would have been lower than the previous year," he said.
But if the lockdown continues till June, then the projection of the international agencies like World Bank will be true.
Dhaka University Professor of Development Studies, Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir said the economy had been weak even before coronavirus struck.
He said poverty reduction was slowing down, unemployment was high and export earnings were shrinking.
"There was a blow to the economy before COVID-19 struck Bangladesh. Now, the hit is much bigger as production is stopped. Considering the two blows, the magnitude will be very much high," he said.
Titumir said the government has to formulate its plan for three years and make budgets for the next fiscals according to that. He suggested to look into the matter of creating a life cycle based social security system for people who are lagging behind, overhaul the health sector, provide stimulus not loan to agricultural sector, step into multiplier effect programmes, and increase mission oriented capital facility.
Regarding the funding, he said the so called five percent budget deficit will not work here, rather he suggested increasing it to 10 percent, saying that consumption spending has to be increased.
Dr Titumir put emphasis on maintaining foreign trade, not give any chance of currency fluctuation and negotiate bilateral partners for debt relief and long term loans at low interest rates.
South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) Executive Director Dr Selim Raihan said that it is obvious that there will be a big blow to the economy as all economic activities are halted due to the lockdown.
"Export and remittance already faced serious setback and the coming days are not that much promising," he said. "There will be a huge negative impact [on the economy].”
Dr Raihan put emphasis on recovery plan from the government.
"It should include the fiscal measures, monetary policy and social protection in a way to stimulate private investment."
He mentioned that the Prime Minister already announced various stimulus packages where many of these matters were included.
"The success of these packages depends on financing, distribution and monitoring of the money. This should be reflected in next two or three budgets," he said.
He also said the country needs a big uplift to tackle post crisis situation and it also needs expansion of social safety net coverage.
"Bringing private sector in the investment will be a big challenge with reestablishment of supply chain," he said.
Dr Raihan said priority should be given to boosting trade and addressing the inclining poverty rate.
Though 4,998 people tested positive for coronavirus from March 8 to April 25, only 113 of them or 2.26 percent recovered during the period, showing one of the lowest recovery rates in the world.
Health experts have attributed this to a lengthy recovery period of the disease, lower follow-up tests, weakened immune system of elderly and other people with underlying health conditions and mismanagement in treatment.
Talking to UNB, IEDCR director Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Vice-Chancellor Prof Kanak Kanti Barua and Dhaka Medical College Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad said there is nothing to be worried over the slow recovery rate as the Covid-19 spreads like wildfire, but patients take much time to recover fully.
They also said there is no precise time during which a coronavirus patient recovers as it could take two to six weeks depending on the severity of symptoms, age and other medical conditions of the patient.
According to the experts, Bangladesh is in a better position in Covid-19 management compared to many other countries as most patients here have mild symptoms.
According to worldometer, the global recovery rate was nearly 28.53 percent as of April 25 while it was 7.89 percent in Singapore, 22.04 percent in Indian, 11.73 percent in the USA, 42.77 percent in Spain, 32.31 percent in Italy, 27.62 percent in France,70.65 percent in Germany and 93.4 percent in China.
Prof Flora said the lengthy recovery period is the main reason behind the poor recovery rate of coronavirus in Bangladesh.
“Those who get infected with the virus need a long time for recovery. Even after being tested negative, they might show symptoms. When we get a patient’s two consecutive test results negative after two weeks or more, we add him or her to the recovery list.” she said.
Flora said there is a positive side that most coronavirus-infected patients in Bangladesh have mild symptoms and they get rid of cough, fever, body pain and breathing problems within a week. “But it needs much time to make full recovery.”
She said usually people having mild corona symptoms need two to four weeks while people having severe symptoms need maximum six weeks to fully recover. “The recovery of people who have pre-existing health problems and comorbidities and weakened immune system can take longer time even having mild symptoms.”
Flora said corona patients who are staying at home-quarantine should strictly maintain self-isolation, health hygiene and the advice of physicians.
Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Prof Kanak Kanti Barua said many factors like, age, pre-existing health problems, comorbidities, follow-up testing and proper care involved with the recovery of the coronavirus patients.
He said the young people who have strong immune system can recover verily quickly, even by 14 days, but the elderly people having multiple complications can take longer time.
The BSMMU VC said many patients can feel better after five-seven days. “But recovering from the coronavirus is more complicated than simply feeling better.”
He suggested all not to be worried over the longer period of recovery from the virus. “Only take antihistamine like paracetamol for the recovery. Don’t take any painkiller as it will invite a danger.”
He also suggested people having the corona symptoms to take hot water and vitamin enriched foods, fruits and vegetables. “This kind of people must remain isolated from others and stay at home all the time.”
Principal of Dhaka Medical College Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad said the recovery rate is low as it is a time-consuming process while a small number of people were infected with the virus at the early stage.
“The number of people infected with the virus increased significantly in the country over the last two weeks. A Covid-19 patient needs to remain in quarantine for nearly two weeks and then get tested twice to check whether she/he recovered from the virus. The recovery rate will increase with the passage of time,” he observed.
Khan also said he is in doubt about the timely follow-up tests of the infected people. “We’re now mainly giving focus on identifying the new patients through expanding testing facilities. But follow-up tests should be conducted from time to time.”
“Symptoms can disappear after one week. Still, there may be small amounts of the virus in a patient’s system. So, all the Covid-19 patients should stay isolated until their two negative test reports in a row are found,” he observed.
Khan said nearly 85 percent corona-infected people are staying at their houses as they have very mild symptoms and they will recover very soon. “Even after the recovery, patient must have limited mobility, and should stay in a separate room for a few days.”