Nature will take its course but there are lessons to be learned from the pandemic
Statistically, a pandemic occurs once every hundred years. Thus, a living being surviving now has a low probability of experiencing another one, until – and unless – a second wave of this virus follows shortly. Our experience, correctly recorded, can help others in the future.
If droplets through mouth-eye-nose and our own hands are the only means of spreading the virus, why are there personal protective equipment (PPE) suits? Was the announcement of the first cases of Covid-19 late or on time? Are the figures about the amount of infected people true? Have there been insufficient tests when leaders were flexing about adequate capacity? Home remedy or hospitalisation? What and when is the peak? When will we flatten the curve and turn down?
All these are certainly "storms in a teacup" for the middle-class over phone and video conferences. Meanwhile, the poor are concerned about their day-to-day living and the rich are looking for opportunities to acquire more – with a few exceptional donors. Nature will take its course!
The novel coronavirus has reminded us of the necessity to remain clean and maintain our hygiene. Social distancing and lockdowns are now known terms and people are compelled to practice them with ample opportunity, and to enjoy quality family time. Though mosques and religious congregations are not open to all – i.e. limited to 12 khadems – the novel coronavirus has uplifted us to remain religious and ethical, instead of running after acquiring an asset for life but saving it for after our demise. I wish the realisation would persist!
Corona-phobia, or, wakefulness
Citizens, seeing the inconsistencies of big boys like the US cancelling its WHO subscription or pointing at China – saying the virus is lab-grown instead of natural virus, etc. – certainly are confused.
When China could stop the virus spreading in its next big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, how did it spread to 200 countries – including seemingly unstoppably in Italy, France, UK, and US? If Germany could resist the death rate, if Senegal could get the virus under control after its recent epidemic experience, if Korea could control the virus with big-data use – through access control and payment system tracking – if Vietnam could compel all foreign visiting passengers with quarantine centres next to airport, one must accept the reality.
The novel coronavirus does not check if you are: a royal heir, the prime minister of a developed country, the health minister of a successful system, rich or poor, celebrity or common man or anything whatsoever! Would any of the 220 thousand people, as of April 2020, who have died been one's next kin - it is certainly scary, otherwise, maybe it is just numbers! If one of 3.15 million, so far, test positive, are quarantined, are waiting to get worse in a hospital ICU on a ventilator anytime, they would feel how helpless it could be without any remedy!
We are seeing that close relatives have been barred from seeing the deceased and saying their final goodbyes. In some cases, neighbours are objecting to victims being laid to rest at the local graveyard and PPE-clad personnel are completing the formalities at the shortest, regardless how important one may be. The only realisation ought to be that "from Almighty we came and to Almighty we return" and ought to be alone after an ethical short stay on this planet!
Whenever there is a disaster or calamity, a lot of volunteers come to help in their way – sometimes with a good heart to donate and other times with the evil intention of exploiting opportunity! The good intention doesn't pay a good outcome – for example, one donates a rickshaw-puller more than 10 kilogrammes of rice, but the rickshaw puller needs to send money to his family back at the ancestral home – he will sell the ration at a half-price and send the money.
Distribution of donations and contributions does not have an established reliable channel to reach the needy – and these donors are yet to believe in the local government management to reach to the target group!
I wish our NID database could play a role and the concept of a peoples' army or volunteers to work in the mainstream would happen one day, soon – it is a call for immediate action to start.
Economy and priority to support
We are watching a demonstration by trade bodies to justify the support required from the government to face Covid-19 caused losses. After our independence, when the government was busy with the priorities of reconstruction, NGOs came in and established themselves as a parallel development partner. Like ethical Muktijoddhas did during the postwar situation, it is time for our development partners – including corporate leaders – to step forward in contributing instead of looking for grants or facilities from the government, which is run with the levies by the citizens.
The government has decided to go for funding support by loans, not grants, at a lower interest rate through the established channel like commercial banks. Unfortunately, the banks have not been able to cater to the needs of micro-enterprises or households or proprietary businesses, as defining the right creditor, monitoring the use and payback of the principal with interest is more time-hungry compared to corporations or SMEs.
Banks prefer to disburse funds to credit-worthy bulk customers who pay back with the least follow-up – at least on paper! As a result, more than 600 microfinance enterprises are catering to the demand, governed under the Micro-credit Regulatory Authority, and about half are partnered with PKSF.
This year pahela baisakh events could not take place. As a result, the flower cultivators' crops were a complete loss; the Hilsha-catching fishermen – who were under dadon (advance buying) could not supply their mohajon (fish wholesalers); the weavers – who bought thread by taking money from the semi-informal channel – weaved but could not move forward in the supply chain. Also, some small garments and tailoring houses who took the weaved fabric on credit were unable to pay it back as their dresses could not be supplied to stores or contract manufacturers.
Have we thought of the perishable agricultural – banana, pineapple, etc. – producers, whose produce has rotted for not being able to bring to market for transportation or unavailability of buyers? For the main food grain, it is transition time of Boro-paddy to cut off – and if not sold, stored – and the next crop is to be cultivated, with a scarcity of labourers.
It is encouraging to see a TV reporting like a bus driver-cum-owner from Comilla saying, "People from my area will go to north Bengal as labour in the paddy field to earn and I shall charge the right bus-fare to support." However, it is unfortunate to see a garment factory owner, after 40 years of business, asking for a grant to pay salaries for a nonproductive month or two!
Anyway, kind attention of policymakers is required towards the semi-formal microcredit sector, which has a personalised monitoring system that can save the marginalised population in large numbers. These micro-firms grow bigger SMEs for banks to cater to, but a bank's priority is always the bigger paymasters. These startups call for patronisation in the distribution of wealth too. So, the FIs extension scope is compelled to the finance requirements of micro enterprises and SMEs to salvage. In this regard, public opinion may contribute to priority formation.
Our government took the pandemic seriously and the prime minister herself took the steering wheel in her control. Amongst the authorities who are working during the pandemic, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare deserves big applause. When a fellow citizen is unable to see their next-door neighbour in Italy, our embassy team reached them with relief; in the KSA, the embassy medical team supported our wage earners at a time of need.
Full government authorities, especially the utility departments are working commendably on the frontlines during novel coronavirus days. The media, private data networks, and supply chain management are delivering, risking themselves, exposed. In the meantime, we are also seeing news like a DC arresting a landlord for scaring occupants to leave the house for not paying contracted rent! For example, in a five-storey house with 10 flats, nine are on one side and the sole bari-wala turns into the villain. Has the DC considered where from s/he will pay the next loan instalment or if his office waived the land tax for the landlord? Such silly incidents disturb the rule of law and equal treatment.
Police redeemed a great image with those who risked themselves on the roads to keep people social distancing. Could we keep social justice?
Private hospitals and clinics cater to 70 percent of the patients and their current occupancy is 30 percent – which means a lot of required service is being ignored. This must be catered to at the soonest.
Still, kudos to our medical professionals who, without proper support plus research and development outcomes, are doing their moral service. Let us remember sacrifices like Dr Faisal in the UK, who, in his last social media message, asked for PPE. He could not protect himself and left for eternity. Locally and internationally, research is ongoing, day and night, to find a fast, cost-effective diagnosis tool, vaccine and medicine. Bright days are ought to come!
M Musleh Uz Zaman, is vice president of the Cadet College Club