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What’s the right time to lift the lockdown?

  • Published at 09:15 am July 12th, 2021
Lockdown Day 3
Army troops and members of police are seen at a check-point at Dhaka’s Panthapath on Saturday, July 3, 2021 Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Researchers say a two-week waiting period after the infection-recovery crossover allows a safe reopening

Putting a country under lockdown has a high cost on its economy. Particularly, a nationwide shutdown put livelihoods of the poor and the pandemic-induced new poor into jeopardy. But when it’s a choice between saving lives from Covid-19 and saving the livelihoods, nations after nations have gone for the first option, at least, for a limited time as an immediate measure to save the lives of millions.

Now that Bangladesh is at the end of the second week of a lockdown and the coronavirus infections still to be tamed, the most crucial question is – what is the right time to lift the lockdown? When is it safe to reopen?

It’s an essential question in this age of ongoing pandemic – and one looming large on many minds across the country, more so, as Muslims’ second most religious festivity -- Eid-ul-Azha -- is just a little over a week away.

However, prematurely lifting the lockdown, reopening the economy and relaxing curbs can potentially do more harm than good – increasing the probability of an immediate third peak of disease resurgence – resulting in a larger outbreak, worsening public health conditions, and a need for another abrupt lockdown.

Can this study give us a guide?

People need an open economy — and jobs — to put food on their tables. But they also need safety and health to survive.

Seasonal fruit sellers, workers and buyers are seen outside without masks, defying the Covid-19 health safety rules amid a lockdown on a Dhaka street on Sunday, July 4, 2021 | Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

There has not been any consensus on how to decide a timeframe for the economy to reopen during this crisis, partly due to our inexperience in dealing with such a pandemic of this scale. 

Also Read - Covid 19: Hospitals to run out of beds in a week if infection rate continues to rise

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a yardstick of a 5% infection rate for such reopening but again ground reality in Bangladesh is now far from that stage, with a cumulative infection rate of 14.64% and daily infection rate hitting 29.67% on Sunday.

At such a trying time when everyone is looking for an answer on when is the right time to reopen the economy, a group of Bangladeshi researchers have come up with a formula after studying the success and failures of 24 economies, in terms of the effectiveness of their lockdown durations, in recent months.

The study, published recently in Nature Scientific Reports, tried to answer this question using data from some of the countries (24 to be precise) that imposed lockdowns during the first wave of the Covid-19 surge. It finds that a two-week waiting period after the infection-recovery crossover allows a safe reopening. 

The research team members are Abu S Shonchoy from the Department of Economics, Khandker S Ishtiaq of the Institute of Environment, and Nasar U Ahmed from the Department of Epidemiology, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work –  all from the Florida International University in Miami, USA; and Sajedul Talukder from Department of Computer Science, School of Computing, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA; and Rajiv Chowdhury from the Centre for Non-Communicable Disease Research (CNCR), Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Infection-recovery crossover

The researchers defined a country as “successful” if following the lifting of the lockdown, the observed daily recovery estimates remained higher than the daily new cases for a continuous period of 30 days.

Dhaka wears a deserted look with almost no traffic during a Covid-19 lockdown | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka TribuneThey found 16 countries, out of the 24 they studied, as successful while the remaining eight unsuccessful. They didn’t, however, studied the last year’s Covid-19-induced prolonged general holidays in Bangladesh.

Infection-recovery crossover is the time when the rate of recovery touches and overtakes the rate of daily new infections.

The 16 “successful” countries are Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, Austria, Spain, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Turkey, Croatia, Mali, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Hungary and the “unsuccessful” countries are Romania, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Colombia, Poland, Ghana, and Ukraine. 

The researchers found that all 16 “successful” countries, except for two, waited for nearly two weeks and five weeks after their respective infection-recovery crossover for lifting the lockdowns.

But, in the cases of unsuccessful ones, there was not much of any waiting period after such crossover.

How far is Bangladesh from the crossover?

It is evident from Bangladesh’s recent Covid-19 figures that the country is now far from getting to the crossover point.

Also Rad - Stuck in limbo, transport workers hit hard by the lockdown

But experts note that, if enforced strictly, another week of lockdown might see the two lines (infection rate and recovery rate) getting closer. In that case, we might have to “sacrifice” a little in celebration of the coming Eid, when Muslims sacrifice animals as part of the Islamic religious rites.

Some recent records show the number of people recovered from the disease was higher (2,108) comparing to new infections (1,637) on June 12. But later last month recovery rate could no longer match the new surge in infections. 

Some 4,550 recoveries recorded against 8,822 new cases on June 30, the last day before Bangladesh entered the lockdown phase. Here we show a few records of infection-recovery of some random dates since July 1 lockdown enforcement.

This clearly indicates it will definitely be going to take some more time before we get a crossover phase.

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