As the government has relaxed the shutdown from May 31, ignoring the advice of the expert committees formed to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, the country may now experience an explosion of new infections. According to the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, countries that lifted the lockdown before experiencing a reduction in the infection rate, experienced a rise in new infections. The committee has warned that easing the shutdown before strictly implementing the rules and requirements of preventing transmission will increase the number of positive patients and create pressure on our healthcare system. Another expert committee formed by the government has suggested that the government should lift the lockdown in phases. Unfortunately, such advice seems to have not been considered before reopening.
Needless to say, for a country like Bangladesh with a large number of its population living below the poverty line, it is not easy to prolong the shutdown according to the health directives. But the risk to peoples' lives by relaxing the shutdown cannot be ignored. The government could at least have developed a mechanism to oversee that health safety measures and social distancing rules are maintained everywhere—in shopping malls, bazars, roads, public transport and in offices and factories. Although the government has directed the public to follow a set of health safety guidelines, we wonder how it will ensure that people are actually abiding by these rules. Clearly, law enforcers alone cannot make sure that people are wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing in this over-crowded city if there is not enough awareness among people. We have seen how the law enforcers struggled to disperse crowds before Eid and when thousands of garment workers and residents of Dhaka left the city after a general holiday was declared in March.
What will happen when all modes of public transport resumes their operations on the city streets and office-goers crowd into the buses? Although buses have been instructed to operate at half their passenger capacity, who will make sure that the drivers and helpers follow the directives? Also, how the offices will ensure physical distancing of their employees in their limited office spaces remains a big question.
Since the government has relaxed the shutdown without achieving the six criteria outlined by the WHO, it is hard not to feel worried. We are especially fearful of how the crisis resulting from new infections will be tackled as we do not have enough hospital beds and ventilators that most likely will be needed.