Defeating Coronavirus: United we stand, divided we fall
According to Worldometer, Corona virus globally has affected 434,854 people, 19,607 people have died and 111,856 people have recovered after being infected by this virus (Latest update till 25 March 2020, 12.00 p.m. Bangladesh time). In Bangladesh, there have been total 39 cases of corona virus, and out of these 39 cases, 5 deaths occurred, 7 people recovered (Source: Worldometer, last accessed on March 25, 2020, 12 pm. Bangladesh time)
The global coronavirus pandemic has begun to leave an impact on life of people of Bangladesh, despite being proactively responded by the Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina since beginning. On March 9, two days after Bangladesh confirmed its first coronavirus case; Health Minister Zahid Maleque claimed that the government is completely prepared to tackle the situation. The minister also said that the authorities had received 500 test kits from the Chinese government, adding, “There is a stock of 2,000 test kits in Bangladesh and the process to import more is underway.”
While we very much proactively highlight the failure of our government in every issue that we encounter, we must not forget that in any case overcoming a battle happens only when we look into a situation with a positive attitude. We and the Government have to fight back collectively to overcome this situation. Our government has taken various steps in defeating this deadly virus, some of which are discussed below:
i. Developing a National Action Plan (NAP)
The government has presented a National Action Plan to tackle Corona virus. Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad, Director of MIS-Health, DGHS outlined a four-level emergency plan, including testing, quarantining of suspected cases and locking down areas with a high number of patients.
ii. Leave and Cancellation of leave
As a preventive measure against spread of the coronavirus, Government has announced a leave for the period between 26 March to 4 April. Moreover, the Government has closed down all educational institutions. On the other hand, to ensure health security of the country, it has cancelled the leave of all doctors, healthcare providers and government employees until further notice to deal with the coronavirus situation.
iii. District administration instructed to provide food and financial assistance to poor people
Due to the implementation of coronavirus programs, the district administration has been directed to provide food and financial assistance to the poor people in order to address the problem of income and food resources for these people. District administrators are instructed coordinate the matter with the Disaster Management Ministry.
iv. PM directed BMA to prepare list of 500 doctors
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already directed the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) to keep a list of five hundred doctors. These doctors can be used in various ways to combat coronavirus.
v. Arrangement of accommodation and livelihood in Bhasanchar
Government has arranged for accommodation and livelihood of 1 lac people in Bhasanchar. Poor people can take these facilities from the fund allocated for this purpose by the government. District administration has been instructed to take necessary measures in this regard.
vi. Facilitating production of low-cost coronavirus (Covid-19) testing kit
The Government of Bangladesh has approved the production of a locally developed low-cost coronavirus (Covid-19) testing kit to tackle the pandemic. Public health organisation Gono Shasthaya Kendra that runs hospitals and medical research work in the country developed the kit, which requires some chemical reagents that need to be imported. The Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) granted the approval to import raw materials.
vii. Flight bans
Immediately after the characterization of the coronavirus as a “global pandemic” by the WHO (World Health Organization), the Bangladeshi government imposed ban on flights to prevent entry into Bangladesh from the European countries except England with effect from 16th March 2020. With the increase in number of COVID-19 patients, Bangladesh has imposed full ban on flights to and from any country.
Up until such a restriction, people who came from abroad were fully screened and had to fulfill several formalities. The airport authority put people on the mandatory quarantine who have been found to have COVID-19 symptoms. Besides, the government urged people to go under home quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
However, unpleasant incidents occurred as after airlines were banned to bring people from Europe specially Italy, without prior notice, one airline of a friendly country where thousands of Bangladeshi work as expatriate workers, it brought 142 passengers mostly from Italy, the epicenter of Coronavirus. Since they are Bangladeshi national, therefore, they were allowed entry on one condition that they must observe 14 days quarantine. When these passengers were asked to go to a quarantine center, they did not like it. Instead they started arguing that they must not be subjected to medical checkups and quarantine. These passengers soon departed the venue forcibly even broke the collapsible gates and started mingling with local people. Non – Bangladeshi passengers were not allowed to enter.
viii. Ban on social gatherings
The government has imposed a restriction on all kinds of political, social, cultural and religious gatherings in an effort to contain the further spread of the coronavirus in the country.
In an effort to prevent coronavirus from spreading, the local administration of the government has already identified several vulnerable areas of the country and locked down. The government first locked down Shibchar municipality and three unions of Shibchar upazila. The areas are targeted based on the record that most of the COVID-19 patients came from those areas. Moreover, a large number of policemen have been deployed in these areas for the monitoring purpose.
x. Deployment of Army to set up temporary Health Care center and assisting administration to create awareness on social distancing
The government has assigned the army with the responsibility to prepare Tongi Ijtema ground to set up a temporary health care center for treating COVID-19 patients.
Army shall assist administration at divisional and district level to create awareness on social distancing, which is a pre-requisite in preventing spread of corona virus.
xi. Restriction on people with fever, cough and influenza to work and use public transport
People with fever, cough and influenza have been advised to avoid public transport. Even transport workers having such symptoms have been advised to abstain from work.
xii. Allowing late payment of electricity, gas bills
As a preventive measure against the spread of corona virus, the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources directed people not to gather at the banks to pay gas bills. In its circular, the Ministry instructed to pay gas bills (February to May) in June without incurring any extra charges.
xiii. No import duties on 12 items needed during corona virus outbreak
The National Board of Revenue (NBR) has removed all forms of import duties and taxes from 12 items, including personal protective equipment (PPE).
xiv. Arrangement of Hand washing zones and corona awareness events
The government authorities have set up hand washing zones in different points of the country. Notably, corona awareness events were held at 25 points in the Dhaka city to encourage people to wear face masks, maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina urged celebrities and imams to get engaged in campaign for building awareness about coronavirus.
xv. Contribution to SAARC Fund
For greater interest, Bangladesh has decided to contribute 1.5 million US dollar to proposed SAARC’s health hazard prevention fund. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed the creation of special voluntary fund to fight corona virus while the SAARC leaders met together at a virtual summit through video conferencing on combating coronavirus on 15th March 2020.
xvi. MOFA’s contributions
a) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has already set up a coordination cell, to provide guidance to Missions abroad. The cell has been regularly collecting information from Bangladesh Missions abroad, and has been disseminating that information to the concerned Ministries and Agencies;
b) MOFA is also coordinating with foreign Embassies in Dhaka, UN Offices and other International Organisations in Bangladesh, and briefing them about steps taken by Government of Bangladesh to address the challenge of COVID-19;
c) MOFA, along with relevant Ministries, have been working with friendly countries – China, Japan & India to get COVID-19 related support like PPE, testing kits, other relevant materials etc.;
d) MOFA is constantly issuing travel advisories for foreign countries/nationals in coordination with concerned Ministries and Authorities.
e) Through the National Task Force (NTF), MOFA is working to ensure that the Rohingya camps are safe from COVID-19. A meeting of NTF took place on 22nd March 2020, chaired by the Foreign Secretary. It was decided in the meeting of NTF that there would be more active medical support and interventions in the Rohingya camps. It had also been decided that Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) would increase its activities in the camps to help with the medical support. On the issue of upgrading the cellphone network from 2G to 3G in the camps, it had been discussed at the NTF and decision in this regard would be taken soon.
f) Foreign Secretary of MOFA held a meeting with Ambassadors/High Commissioner of West European countries in Dhaka on 22nd March 2020 at 1800 hrs at State Guest House Padma. Ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland; High Commissioner of UK; and Ambassador and Head of EU Delegation of Dhaka attended the meeting. Foreign Secretary briefed the Ambassadors about the preparations by the Government of Bangladesh, and also assured them of assistance, if they require any.
g) MOFA also sent a note verbale to all Missions in Dhaka in the evening of 23rd March 2020, informing them about the decisions to be enforced from 26 March to 3 April 2020, of the Government of Bangladesh that were announced in the same afternoon.
h) On 24 March, Dr. Khalilur Rahman, Additional Foreign Secretary and co-ordinator of Covid-19 cell at MoFA briefed the OECD and ASEAN ambassadors about the arrangement of testing and hospitalization, if at all needed for the diplomats posted in Dhaka.
i) The Bangladesh Embassies abroad, under direct guidance of MOFA, are keeping contact with Bangladesh diaspora abroad. Bangladesh community members abroad are being discouraged to travel back to Bangladesh at this moment.
j) Bangladeshis staying abroad are needed to follow the local rules and regulations to keep themselves and others safe.
k) MOFA and Ministry of Health together are identifying Testing Centre of COVID-19 and the hospitals where the Dhaka based Diplomats can be treated in case they become infected.
l) MOFA is coordinating with Ministry of Health about SAARC COVID-19 funds.
xvii. Taking assistance from China
Bangladesh government is ready to take assistance from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Bangladesh, who has made the announcement on their official Facebook page to assist Bangladesh in fighting the outbreak of novel coronavirus in the country. On March 17, the Chinese embassy informed relevant ministries of the Bangladesh government about the Chinese government’s decision to donate emergency anti-epidemic medical supplies, including a large number of test kits to Bangladesh.
In conclusion, I would say; we must not forget that blaming someone has never helped to resolve any crisis. We are into a crisis and we must cooperate with each other to defeat this epidemic. We need our government’s support in a greater scale for our daily labors. We need to educate ourselves and people around us to save the nation from this Covid-19. We should do our best individually and collectively to tackle this situation whole heartedly. Every individual has a responsibility and let’s act together being united in this global emergency.