As we praise the government’s decision to curtail its most prestigious show, we should also be critical about the apparent downplaying of the virus risk prior to the first detection
A few hours after the news broke that Bangladesh had confirmed first three cases of the novel coronavirus, the government swiftly announced to curtail the grand inaugural ceremony of Mujib Year – the birth centenary celebration of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The government wisely understood that assembling tens of thousands of people amid growing fears of coronavirus would not serve its political interest or help the nation fight the Wuhan virus, especially when the people are panicked at the first detection.
As we praise the government's decision to curtail its most prestigious show, we should also be critical about the apparent downplaying of the virus risk prior to the first detection.
As the world was gripped by fear of coronavirus, many governments took precautions to prevent potential outbreak, but Bangladesh played it relaxed.
The government was at ease when six out of seven thermal scanners placed at the airports did not work. Eventually, these machines failed to detect a single case of coronavirus in Bangladesh.
Similarly, the first three cases of Bangladesh were not detected at the airport, rather the Italy returnees voluntarily handed themselves over to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), when they feared for their lives.
The picture of our preparation to prevent the Wuhan virus can also be understood by the government's advice to all Bangladeshis returning from China, Italy, South Korea, Singapore, Iran and Thailand to be "self-quarantined" for 14 days – not a joke at all.
The current state of preparedness by the government to fight this potentially life-threatening virus would have been somewhat reasonable if coronavirus was not on global headlines for over two months, had not infected over a hundred thousand people and killed over 3,500 worldwide.
This dismal state probably would have been acceptable to us, if Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming's open criticism about our unpreparedness to fight the virus did not reach the masses.
On March 4, the Chinese ambassador said that our measures were unsatisfactory and termed the process as "unscientific."
"Bangladesh must prepare to prevent a possible coronavirus outbreak," Ambassador Li Jiming said last week, urging all to stay alert as the country is in high risk of the virus outbreak.
On March 9, Qatar banned all arrivals from Bangladesh and 13 other countries amid coronavirus fears.
The Dhaka Stock Exchange index DSEX lost 205 points in two and a half hours yesterday, a day after the news of three coronavirus cases in Bangladesh broke out on March 8. In addition, investors lost Tk17,000cr on the first day after the Wuhan virus was detected in the country.
Coronavirus has found its route to Bangladesh to expose our unpreparedness. That is because, within hours of the first detections, our economy has tumbled with panic and our limitations to fight back a potential outbreak has been uncovered.
The IEDCR Director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora announced the first three cases and said "there is no reason to worry. We are working in an organised way and will certainly be able to prevent the virus' spread".
Her request to "not worry" seems to have failed as hygiene products like facemasks, hand sanitizer and handwash have been stocked out from the shops within hours of the announcement.
Therefore, we cannot predict what trends of the spread of coronavirus we may witness here in Bangladesh.
Unlike Wuhan, where the coronavirus epidemic broke out two months after its first death by Covid-19, Iran and Italy were hit by the outbreak much faster.
Iran has been in denial.
The country's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harichi, who looked visibly unwell and feverish, told reporters on February 25 that the condition in Iran was "almost stable".
But Tehran did not take time to freak out as Iraj himself was found infected with the virus and within days around 6,000 infections were reported alongside 150 deaths.
Normalisation of scary situation or denial of the existence of coronavirus neither helped Iran nor China.
When Dr Li Wenliang – the first whistleblower – tried to alert the people against the potential outbreak in December last year, Chinese authorities asked him to stop. The doctor died on February 7, after contacting the virus.
China suffered the consequences with more than 3,000 deaths and around a hundred thousand infections.
From this we can analyse how denial and normalisation resulted in disaster for China and Iran.
Some countries in the developed world have adopted strong measures to address the crisis instead of normalising them. Consequently, they have so far been capable of dragging Covid-19 under control.
In Bangladesh, however, the situation is complicated.
While, government apparently took a relaxed approach to the precautionary measures, some religious clerics have been spreading superstitious information such as "coronavirus do not infect Muslims." They are spreading anti-chinese sentiment and spreading misinformation about coronavirus among the common people – which in the long run can be potentially deadly.
It should be borne in mind that as long as we fail to call the spade a spade, and fight the coronavirus with all we have, no one will bell the cat for us.
Coronavirus is a global epidemic. To fight this vigorously, we need to admit the loopholes in our preparations and endeavours as one united nation with courage and integrity.