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Will easing restrictions put lives at risk?

  • Published at 11:36 pm September 1st, 2020
Bus Public transport
File photo: Passengers, some without masks, crowd on a bus in Dhaka BanglaTribune

None of the 6 WHO guidelines to ease Covid-19 restrictions has been met in Bangladesh, according to a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee for Covid-19

The government on Monday eased restrictions on public movement and other activities, much to the surprise of health experts.

The Covid-19 test positivity rate has been on a downward trend of late, but health experts maintain that this does not paint the real picture of the situation as not enough tests are being conducted. Furthermore, the infection rate has not come down enough to warrant the easing of restrictions, and there may be a spike again after the restrictions are lifted.

The overall death toll from Covid-19 in Bangladesh rose to 4,316 with 35 more deaths on Monday while the number of confirmed cases rose to 314,000 with 1,950 more people testing positive for the novel coronavirus. 

Health experts find the death toll particularly concerning, as 1,170 people died from Covid-19 in August alone.

WHO: Restrictions should be eased gradually, with caution

On April 13, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a set of six guidelines that countries should consider before easing restrictions.

First, countries must ensure that disease transmission is under control. Second, health systems must be able to detect, test, isolate and treat every case, as well as trace every contact. Third, they must ensure that outbreak risk is minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes, schools and workplaces.

Fourth, preventive measures need to be put in place in vulnerable areas. Fifth, importation risks need to be minimized and, sixth, communities need to be educated and made aware of the requirements to live in the “new normal.”

Virologist Dr Nazrul Islam, member of the National Technical Advisory Committee for Covid-19 and former VC of BSMMU, said none of the WHO recommendations have been met in Bangladesh.

 “The disease transmission rate should be under 5%, but till now the daily positive cases rate is still 15.97% and on Monday it was around 17%. So, it can be said that the time for lifting restrictions has not yet arrived,” he said. 

No social distancing is maintained, while many passengers are without masks as they hurry to get on a passenger bus in Farmgate, Dhaka on Tuesday, September 1, 2020 | Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune“The number of tests remains a concern in the country, and the DGHS has failed to ensure a system to detect, test, isolate and trace all the infected in the country. The zoning attempts failed miserably in the country and the DGHS was forced to change their data collection process after the incident,” he added. 

The virologist further said the health system was yet to be developed enough to ensure essential services for all. 

People remain unaware about maintaining safety measures properly and the situation on public transport has been the worst, Dr Nazrul added. 

According to the virologist, the government has been forced to take the decision to lift restrictions well before completing its preparations. 

“Now they have to calculate if the risk they have taken leads to more benefit than damage. If it does not, a new decision will have to be taken,” he said. 

Also Read - Ban on public movement lifted while Covid-19 infections rise

“The irony is that the precondition for the decision [to ease restrictions] is that everyone obeys health safety guidelines, but the mass people largely do not obey the rules and break safety rules spontaneously,” Dr Nazrul added. 

“None of the workplaces have been equipped with proper preventive gear and social distancing on public transport is almost impossible if they operate at full capacity. Before issuing such a notice, the government should implement a monitoring system to ensure that everyone obeys the rules properly. Otherwise, easing restrictions will have a grave impact on the country and only make the situation worse,” the virologist further said.

Departments will take measures in their own jurisdictions

When asked about the criteria taken into consideration before the latest circular on movement restrictions was issued, Cabinet Division Additional Secretary (district and field admin wing) SK Rafiqul Islam PPA said the ministries, departments and directorates concerned have now been instructed to take any necessary measures that fall under their jurisdiction to ensure public health safety.

“Every unit will now decide what it needs to do to ensure the wearing of masks, maintaining social distancing and how to address other public health issues within its jurisdiction,” he said.

Regarding movement after 10pm and businesses reverting to their original timings, he said there was no longer a bar, though going outdoors for non-essential tasks was still not recommended.

Also Read - The paradox of Covid-19 in Bangladesh

When asked if the authorities concerned were informed beforehand to take measures as restrictions would be lifted, he said the circular was only a general notice to inform all to take action.

He also said the Road Transport and Highways Division had already contacted them before taking its own decision on the matter. 

Regarding people’s awareness of maintaining health safety measures, he said a meeting was held with every district deputy commissioner before the issuing of the circular; and the DCs had been ordered to conduct strict mobile courts to ensure that health guidelines were being followed.

“The deputy commissioners were also asked to work closely with the local media so that information on fining people for breaching guidelines was circulated and citizens remained aware of the facts,” he added.

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