Our medical infrastructure is certainly not equipped to deal with a pandemic at any scale. In truth our hospital and medical facilities were not even adequate for the pre-pandemic medical requirements
The morning newspapers on March 15th bore the following jarring headline: "142 Italy returnees allowed to go home after day-long mismanagement".
They were held in quarantine for only a day after they arrived, and eventually released at night as they had resorted to making a ruckus and "chanting slogans denouncing the authorities".
It seems that in the face of their vicious verbal tirade, authorities decided to simply allow all 142 to leave the quarantine facility and return homes, without any tests or collecting any blood samples.
While this piece of news might be worth a light chuckle by the sheer force of its ludicrousness, a moment's introspection should leave one horrified at the gross public health mishap that was casually allowed to transpire here.
In all ways, this piece of news embodies the state of affairs with regards to our coronavirus response, and the chronic complacency that has come to characteristically define our state instruments, dangerously so in a time of crisis.
The world is grappling to understand the true scale of the pandemic. Whole countries are under lockdowns, with thousands of fatalities across the world, and rates of infections climbing exponentially.
The crisis is truly a global one and it is foolish to think that any country will be spared from it. However, the problem is further aggravated by the fact that governments around the world have taken more than a moment to awaken to the situation, losing precious weeks while the virus spread vigorously.
Meanwhile, our government also appears to be shell-shocked at the moment, in the face of the disaster that is looming on the horizon.
The quiet panic that arises within the national psyche is being complacently kept at bay, through potent denial, ignorance and all-too-familiar political theatrics. It would appear that the best idea that our authorities have had so far is to simply look the other way.
What this means also is that the reality on the ground is hardly reflected in the official figures. The claim that only eight people are infected in the country, is most likely a highly underreported number. The true infection rate is likely to be much higher.
There are less than 2000 testing kits in the entire country, which are only being used to test people who show symptoms and have had direct contacts with a returnee from abroad. This policy betrays a very naive assumption regarding the time of entry of the virus in the country. It also means, newer clusters of the virus are continuing to grow undetected.
Furthermore, the phone hotline for people to call for testing, setup by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, is apparently "rarely answered" according to sources on the ground.
Meanwhile, doctors are reportedly receiving patients with symptoms, but are not able to test them as they do not have the kits. And so, patients who are potential viral vectors, are being sent back to their homes and exposing their communities.
In an extreme example of the chaos that is beginning within our medical system already, a young woman recently died from gastronomical problems because doctors were too scared to go near her, as they thought she had coronavirus. It would seem that the cracks in the system have already begun to appear.
It is time to face the fact, that developing countries like Bangladesh are at much higher risk of total collapse in the face of this pandemic.
For Bangladesh, two obvious factors play into this assessment. Firstly, our medical infrastructure is certainly not equipped to deal with a pandemic at any scale. In truth our hospitals and medical facilities were not even adequate for the pre-pandemic medical requirements.
If we add to that the pressures of a full blown pandemic, the situation gets far worse than anyone can quite imagine at the moment.
Italy, a developed nation with a considerably robust medical system, is currently collapsing under the pressure of ever increasing infections and hospital admittance. In a truly apocalyptic state of affairs, faced with lack of resources, hospitals are having to decide to let certain patients die over others.
A similar situation for Bangladesh, or any other developing country, will be multiplied many times given the lack of medical resources.
Secondly, our population density, being one of the highest in the world, plays a major factor in the spread of the virus. While research is still ongoing on the dynamics, some estimates show that the rate of spread from one infected person to another (the R0 value) stands at 2.5, which means on average an infected person will likely infect 2.5 others.
This is however a global average. This number varies based on demographic factors of the target population, and a reasoned scientific conjecture would reveal that population density will certainly be a key determinant.
As such, one can expect that the rate of spread in a high density country like Bangladesh could be much faster than in other parts in the world.
It is time to make reasoned, rational decisions. There is a persistent myth amongst many Bangladeshis, that we are somehow immune to many diseases and illnesses, with magically resilient immune systems thanks to poor health standards in our country.
The 142 returnees who forced their way out of quarantine, could have been acting from buying into this particular myth. While we all might take pride in holding down street food in Bangkok or Beijing, let us be clear that this apparent resilience is not based on any objective scientific evidence.
Therefore, we can hope that it might have some validity (that maybe people in developing countries do have higher immunities to the coronavirus) it is still highly unlikely to be the case. As such, acting from this unverified presumption would be utterly disastrous.
There is no alternative to taking precautionary measures, as the most dangerous element in the mix is simply complacency.
It is the inertia to gain awareness and to take responsible action that will certainly be the biggest killers in the end. The incident at the airport is a public example of this, but we all might be guilty of taking irresponsible actions in our private lives as well.
Ignoring the recommendation for social distancing in this time of crisis, to continue on with our social activities and norms, is an irresponsible action. Taking lightly the importance of washing hands frequently and cleanliness in general, is an irresponsible action.
And returning from a highly infected country, refusing government quarantine, going back home and exposing families and entire communities to possible infections, is a highly irresponsible action.
Meanwhile, it might also be time for the government to admit the potential scale of the crisis in Bangladesh, and seek out assistance ahead of time, while we brace for the fallout.
It is natural, when faced with circumstances that are truly monumental, for the body and mind to shut down and retreat into existential stagnation. The shell shock is a well-documented phenomenon among human beings when faced with adversity. This may be what is happening in most developing countries right now, faced with seemingly impossible odds and a certain plunge into imminent chaos.
Yet, there is no justification to give up. It is of supreme importance for us now to snap out of it.
Yes, a nation of 170 million, packed into a small piece of land is at higher risk than others. Yes, our healthcare system is ill-prepared for what is coming. Regardless, let us confront the uncomfortable truth that it will be a very difficult road ahead, but still move forward with conviction and heads high in the face of adversity.
We know what needs to be done and we should know that we can do it.