Bangladeshis are still in various moods as far as the epidemic goes but the colours are getting darker. There is still some denial that it will ever happen on a large scale as feared by others whether due to natural or divine reasons. But slowly as infection and deaths mount, it's panic which has overtaken the urban crowd.
There is a fear that it may be too late to avoid a large scale disaster given that none knows how many lives may be lost while destroying many times more. Sadly, Bangladesh did get more time than Europe and the US but that door of opportunity was not used. Given the resources that we have to manage rather than prevent a large scale outbreak, life is morphing into a dreadful waiting room time.
Footloose on "lockdown"
The time was there and so were opportunities which if taken advantage of, things would look much better now. In one critical aspect, the Government had the chance but lost it was in ordering a national lockdown. Why it hesitated to do so remains mysterious. The current rulers don't need approval ratings so why this hesitancy is very unclear. And it is this critical aspect that matters the most that didn't matter enough. That price will sadly have to be paid though one hopes as small as possible.
The lockdown was from the start quite weak and most didn't bother. The current ruler ship doesn't manage situations using niceties but a firm hand. Yet it seemed curiously shy about imposing it, about how far it should go in insisting on the lockdown.
People as expected didn't bother to listen and as they read official sentiments well, they didn't see serious and firm intent. So it was flouted. And a largely overwhelming percentage of whatever community infection that is taking place is largely because there was not enough of a proper lockdown. In pockets yes, but overall not so.
A major source of infection were religious gatherings and yet they were considered too sensitive to touch. It seems that the authorities were hesitant fearing a religious backlash. Both regular mosque gatherings and mazar urs were prime grounds of spreading. To this was added the tabligh gatherings and in each case there have been deadly contacts and lives have been lost already.
Whether it was the principal source of spread is not important but it was an obvious one, indeed across all three countries of the Subcontinent. It could have been stopped but it wasn't. Individuals can only fall sick and die but governments need to ensure that it doesn't happen or lessened. These were doable but weren't done. Once it was done, there was no opposition from the religious groups.
The BGMEA mess
The BGMEA mess is probably the worst possible example of lack of coordination among the layers of the ruling class. The gross disregard for workers safety without understanding how it would impact on the life of everyone was unusual even for Bangladesh. Factories were announced open for work till that decision was reversed. Possibly the largest cabal of moneyed people in this town, BGMEA has the most clout and regularly gets its way in most matters. They will continue to do so in future given the trend towards Big Business meshing with politics in this country.
However, it was the Government's responsibility to ensure safety of the workers and the rest of the people. It was obvious that the authorities had not been assertive or clear enough about such directions. The sight of thousands returning to work and then having to return home was probably symbolic of private sector's economic governance.
What is clear is that our businesses are far more adept at profiteering than management. Hence, it was the Government's responsibility to send specific messages but there was hesitation and taking advantage of that the mess occurred. This is not an image any government managing an epidemic would want to project.
But these problems are not isolated and lie in each other's arms. Dr. Imran Matin of BRAC University's Institute of Governance and Development ( BIGD) says, " There are underlying critical structural problems of rights and social justice. We need to get a bit surgical here and disentangle the problem to learn and hopefully improve. This latest mess is purely due to lack of coordination and leadership. A total implementation failure of not working out any implementation details of big announcements. Let's get into small nitty gritty of what, who, when and how. Let's get into the plumbing."
A cruel April
The PM said on 7th April that infection rates would massively climb in April and asked everyone to be prepared. She was addressing district level officials. That a spike would occur was given but the whole point was in keeping it under control and reducing loss from the beginning. Even as we stare at mass deaths and debility, let's hope that we shall be able to handle it.
Even now, a massive national lockdown firmly imposed is the answer to keep the numbers down. The rest of our medical and public health capacities may be inadequate when the storm hits us.
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