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OP-ED: The days after

  • Published at 08:35 pm May 28th, 2020

For the foreseeable future, it will be two steps forward and one step back

At some point in time, Bangladesh will have to take a call on progressing beyond today. 

As heart-wrenching as it may be, the country has to tear itself away from the body-bag procession and more becoming sick to arrive at a balance between lives and livelihood. Necessity overweighs the daunting and the quixotic to the extent of leaving economists and health experts in some state of frustration. 

Steps will be tentative and require adjustments of corrections. Battling the unknown with no idea of what to expect are doubts that cannot come in the way. There will be an inevitable price to pay in terms of human lives and debt.

For countries such as Bangladesh and India, a restart will in some ways be easier than others. Faithful observation of lockdowns has prepared citizens of some nations for a continuation of that which they have endured over the past months. 

Imposition of restrictions is easier in manageable populations, though public-serving businesses such as hotels and eateries will disagree on matters such as proportion of capacity that must be given up. The aviation industry is on its knees in crippling debt and losses, and hasn’t taken kindly to the prospect of unviable operations at half or two thirds capacity. 

Business offices will have to get used to wider spacing, balanced with a continuation of working from home. Attitudes towards travel and movement have changed, as the dangers sink in so much that few are willing to hazard a guess as to when life will truly regain momentum.

A combination of factors ranging from chopping and changing decisions to outright flouting of directives has left Bangladesh in a precarious situation. In a situation of falling revenues, the country does not have the wherewithal to continue pumping money into the system whether through food aid or stimulus. 

Once the public holiday is officially lifted, people will pour out of their homes, and judging from what happened at the outset and during the Eid, not much joy will emanate from the prospect of social distancing. There are obvious ways of approaching the new reality, but it will require difficult and draconian decisions. Implementation is another major factor in the wake of the lack of, and inability to, follow basic social rules. 

Informal markets, be it at village haat or bazars, wholesale markets, shops and shopping malls crowded close to each other, are not conducive to social distancing. We aren’t famous for public hygiene either. 

Everything points to exposing the populace to greater risk of infection, an ominous thought given that no one really knows when and if the ferocity of the virus will survive, or where its mutations will end. 

Opinion is divided over whether or not people will change attitudes and customs from the traditional handshake and hug to responsible hygiene, especially in public utilities. There will be concerns where such utilities do not exist. 

There’s little doubt that many businesses and vocations will close down, giving way to those who adapt. The prospect of travel between countries where different and at times conflicting restrictions apply isn’t too bright. 

Travellers to Spain after July face the prospect of being quarantined on return home with implications for business travellers and overall family life. It’s so mind-boggling that the only way out is to stumble forward and hope that nature gives us a reprieve. 

Education, too, will suffer. Bangladesh’s villages and upazilas just aren’t equipped to resume education with the restrictions required. This in turn will put children and youngsters at risk. With dropout levels already of concern, the pandemic may cause enough consternation among parents so as to make the situation worse. 

There are no ready-made solutions. For the foreseeable future, it will be two steps forward and one step back.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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