Sales of disinfectants, soaps and hand sanitisers shot up as soon as the pandemic hit. But there are worrying signs we are returning to our old ways
Ferdousi Rahman, a homemaker and a mother of three, always made her children's hygiene her utmost priority. Her obsession with hygiene increased manifold when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Bangladesh back in March this year.
Since then, Ferdousi has made sure her children remain as free from germs and bacteria as possible, and this includes making sure they shower every day, twice sometimes, wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizers whenever they are in contact with external elements.
Besides, she has also doubled down on purchasing cleaning supplies for her home. Starting from stocking up on disinfectants and floor cleaners, she has also purchased cleaning agents for fruits and vegetables.
"My house is swept twice daily with Savlon liquid, finished off with the floor cleaner. This keeps my house free from germs and bacteria buildup," Ferdousi said.
She also washes her clothes with Savlon and rigorously cleans her husband's clothes as he has to leave the house to attend office.
As soon as Rezaul Rahman, Ferdousi's husband, returns home from his office, he makes sure to jump in the shower immediately after washing his hands, feet and face. This is a habit he developed after Covid-19 arrived in Bangladesh.
Masks and hand gloves have become a part of Rezaul's everyday wear since then - which he discards in the trashcan outside their door before entering their house.
Like Ferdousi and Rezaul, many households in the country have radically transformed their hygiene practices, and this being reflected in the surge in sales – and consequently prices - of cleaning products in the country.
"People are more concerned now. The sales of Savlon soaps have increased greatly and people have understood the difference between good and bad products," said Syed Alamgir, the managing director of ACI Consumer Brands.
"The sales of soaps have increased by 200 to 300 percent. We were one of the few ones manufacturing hand sanitizers but now the market is brimming with similar products."
Even last year, the demand for hand sanitizers was almost inexistent. This year, however, the sales curve has shot up and the figures are developing very well, Alamgir said, adding that Savlon soaps have established a command over the market with its increasing sales.
The Lifebuoy refill hand wash (170ml is currently being sold at Tk60 instead of Tk55.
The year-to-date growth in sales of CleanAva, a natural wash for fruits and vegetables made using plant sources, grew by a massive 389%, according to Shafiqul Islam, the General Manager of Purnava.
But will most people carry forward with these hygiene practices post-Covid? Alamgir opined that most people will go back to the pre-Covid days once the pandemic is over.
This statement, however, cannot be discredited. After six months of the pandemic wreaking havoc in the country, many have already gotten rid of the face masks and basic hygiene practices. Walking on the street, we can see that many are going about their days without masks, sharing a cigarette, sipping a cup of tea from the roadside tea stalls where care for hygiene is practically nonexistent.
However, even many tea stall vendors insist on handwashing before customers sit down for a cigarette or a cup of tea. This practice, irrespective of other practices disappearing, has continues.
To guage whether people are actually washing their hands more often we reached out to WASA to see if the consumption of water in the city has increased.
Taqsem A Khan, the Managing Director of Dhaka WASA, told The Business Standard, "The usage of water both increased and decreased at the same time. As many people left Dhaka during the initial lockdown days, the total water consumption did not change much."
The general demand for water changes depending on the season, although the minimum consumption is 210 crore litre while the maximum stands at 240 crore litre. In Dhaka, with its population of two crores, a single person consumes 120 litres of water per day on average.
"The consumption figures now stand at 250 to 260 crore litre," he informed, adding that handwashing practices caused a moderate increase.
Covid-19 may have instilled some important hygiene practices in people but will they continue with these practices even after the pandemic is over? Responding to this, ABM Abdullah, the Prime minister's personal physician, said, "People have definitely become more hygiene conscious. It may not be true for everyone, but most are more aware now. Handwashing, wearing masks and social distancing have become common practices for a large group of the population."
He added that people's food habits have also seen a drastic change as they tend to eat more fruits and vegetables now and make sure they wash the food thoroughly before eating.
"This development, compared to pre-Covid days, is applaudable and we can expect more if these practices are continued as it's a tough task to change lifelong habits in a matter of months. Hand sanitizers have also become a popular hygiene product among the masses."
Abdullah opines that people have to be reminded again and again about the importance of maintaining hygiene even when the pandemic is over.
"The media needs to push these agendas and people also need to be educated about the importance of maintaining hygiene codes," he said.
As people's lives are getting more intertwined with the prevailing pandemic situation, the "new normal" is not so new anymore. Masks, hand gloves and social distancing practices are slowly becoming a thing of the past.
"I have spoken to many people in Bangladesh who act as if coronavirus does not exist anymore," said Syed Ridwan Kabir, an undergrad student in the Department of Environmental Science at Carleton University in Canada's Ottawa, who has returned home because of the pandemic.
"I have started getting out of home regularly since last month and every time I go out, I see so many people without any regard for public health safety. Wearing the mask is the bare minimum precaution you can take, but people refuse to even do that," he told the correspondent with a sigh.
With Covid-19 becoming half a year old in Bangladesh, consciousness about public health safety has also started to weaken. Public transports packed with passengers leave little to no room for social distancing, donning masks has been taken for granted.
With winter approaching, health experts are fearing increased cases of Covid-19. It's about time we return to the initial days when Covid-19 struck fear in our hearts and made us adopt healthy hygiene practices.