Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan, an internationally-recognised leader in global public health and education initiative, has suggested people to listen to health professionals only as confusing messages from unlimited sources are flooding the public domain amid global coronavirus pandemic.
"We must listen to health professionals both at home and abroad, others shouldn't talk too much about COVID-19 issues," Dr Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh-origin health professional in Canada told UNB.
He said Bangladesh can ensure the best utilisation of countrywide existing health infrastructure keeping health complexes up to upazila level prepared to deal with the situation as nobody knows how far it might go in Bangladesh.
"We’ve great health infrastructure across Bangladesh up to the upazila level. This must be utilised with required testing and treatment facilities if the situation demands," said Dr Bhuiyan who has founded a programme at Ryerson University's Chang School of Continuing Education that prepares internationally-trained doctors for non-licensed work in Canada's health sector.
The government has decided to provide incentives for doctors, nurses, health workers and other employees of the republic who deployed themselves with bravery in the war against COVID-19.
"I want to reward those who were engaged directly in the fight against COVID-19 since March," said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday.
He said there is a significant development in Bangladesh's ICT sector which needs to be utilised properly at this difficult time. "We need to create awareness-raising messages in digital form that can easily be understood by common people, even everyone in remote areas," said Dr Bhuiyan.
He said mobile phone operators can generate such messages so that those easily understandable messages reach all the mobile phone subscribers across the country.
For example, he said, subscribers will receive automatic calls every hour, and upon receiving the call, subscribers will hear awareness messages, including the latest government directives, he said.
"This is a new crisis, all must accept the new normal," said the health professional who is monitoring the evolving situation across the world.
Now mobile phone subscribers in Bangladesh hear a recorded message before a phone call gets connected with the receiver of the call.
Talking about mental health at this stressful moment, Dr Bhuiyan said mental health is extremely important, too. "Spending time with families is crucial to stay cheerful instead of getting stressed."
Dr. Bhuiyan who holds position at Ryerson as distinguished visiting Professor, said lessons need to be learned from other countries while dealing with coronavirus issues.
"We know this virus may last for 14 weeks to get its peak anywhere in the world, and the situation may prolong," said the health expert who is living abroad since 2001.
He also laid emphasis on encouraging young people to get them engaged in volunteering.
Meanwhile, Dr. Zhang Wenhong, Professor and Head of the Center for Infectious Disease, Huashan Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, will share his experience and answer Bangladeshi counterparts’ questions about the pandemic.
The videoconference will be held on Wednesday at 1pm (BDT), an official at the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka told UNB.
Five more people died from coronavirus in Bangladesh in the last 24 hours, raising the death toll to 17, according to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
Besides, 41 other people tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, raising the number of such cases in the country to 164, said IEDCR director Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora in an online briefing Tuesday.
The entire Dhaka city wore a deserted look as all shops except medicine stores were shut down by 7pm on Tuesday in compliance with a directive of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.
Visiting various parts and alleys in the capital in the evening, few people were seen on streets.
Members of law enforcement agencies were also strict in enforcing social distancing instructions, forcing people to stay indoors.
The DMP on Monday ordered the closure of recognised kitchen markets and super shops in the capital by 7pm while grocery stores and small shops of different areas by 2pm. However, medicine shops can remain open round the clock.
The decision was taken as part of the government's initiative to fully ensure social distancing to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.
Police stations under the DMP conveyed the instructions in their respective areas and it came into force fully on Tuesday.
Despite repeated orders from the government, it was getting tough to ensure social distancing due to the reluctance of some city dwellers.
On March 23, the government decided to deploy members of the Armed Forces --Army, Navy and Air Force -- in aid to the civil power across the country to maintain social distancing and ensuring home-quarantine of overseas returnees.
However, many were reluctant to comply with the directives as they came out of their homes unnecessarily.
A huge number of people were gathering defying the guidelines on social distancing on the streets, kitchen markets. Although most of them were found wearing masks, they were also seen gathering in front of the shops without maintaining the required distance of 1 metre or so thought to be safe for preventing transmission of Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus.
DMP Deputy Commissioner (Uttara Crime Division) Nabid Kamal Shaibal told UNB that the number of people on streets was comparatively thin from Tuesday afternoon as all types of shops, except medicine stores, were closed by 2pm. “The number declined further when kitchen markets and superstores were shut down by 7pm,” he said.
Many city residents usually gather at tea stalls and groceries and as all of those were closed by 2pm, there was no place to gather for gossiping which forced them to stay indoors, he said.
Five more people died from coronavirus in Bangladesh, raising the death toll to 17.
Besides, 41 other people tested positive for Covid-19, taking the number of such cases in the country to 164.
As coronavirus crisis upended their livelihoods, tens of thousands of poor people and day-labourers in the capital are now worried about maintaining a roof over their heads as they are unable to pay house rents.
Many small landlords who are fully dependent on the income from their tinny houses are also in trouble to manage their family expenses since their tenants are seeking either a rent break or waiver considering their financial hardship.
Some people have taken to the Facebook to voice concern over house-rent payment while some others spread fake news and rumour that the government has waived house rents and postponed utility bills for a month, forcing the Prime Minister’s Office to issue a statement on Thursday trashing it.
Urban experts and economists suggest some ways, including giving a grant by the government for the low-income people, introducing food rationing for them and waiving holding tax and income tax of the landlords who waive partially or fully rent of their tenants, to give the tenants a relief from the burden of rent payment at this critical time.
Nurul Alam, a street vendor, lives in a tin-shed house with his family in the city’s Rampur area with a monthly rent of Tk 4,000.
“I used to earn Tk 300-400 every day by selling various cosmetic items in front of Anarkoli Market at Mouchak. But I’ve no income for nearly 10 days. I find it difficult to support my family. But my landlord is mounting pressure on me to pay his rent. I’m in a fix as to how I’ll pay the rent and buy food for my family,” he told UNB.
Tea seller Selim Mia in the city’s Shantibagh area is even in a more grievous situation than Alam as he’ll have to pay the rent of both his house and stall. “Law enforcers don’t allow me to open my tea stall, putting an end to my earning. But I’ve to pay my house owner Tk 5,000 and the tea stall owner Tk 4,000. But I don’t have money. My family will starve if the current situation prolongs.”
Rickshaw-van puller Ismail who lives in a slum with his mother and four other family members near Malibagh Rail Gate is also going through a serious ordeal for lack of earning. “Whatever money I saved earlier have run out. My landlord has asked me to pay the rent of Tk 4,000 by this week by any means or leave the house. I don’t know how I’ll will manage it.”
Abul Kashme, a small landlord of a tin-shed house in the city’s Khilgaon area, said he gets around Tk 20,000 every month from his tenants as rent which is the only source of his income. “My tenants are requesting me to waive the rent or take it when the situation gets normal. But how I’ll survive with my family if I don’t get the rent.”
Similar problem is facing by many rickshaw-pullers, transport workers, day-labourers, hawkers, the employees of hotels, restaurants and different shops, markets, construction workers and other low-income people as they have become jobless due to the coronavirus shutdown.
Meanwhile, Bharatia Parisahd, a platform of tenants, in a statement on Thursday demanded the waiver of three months’ house rent as the income sources of around 50 lakh low-income people in the capital have disappeared due to the suspension of economic activity.
Contacted, former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said the urban poor are facing a serious problem over paying house rent since they have no income. “But there’s a problem that our government has no scheme for the urban poor to help overcome this problem.”
He said the government can provide a grant for the extreme urban poor and day-labourers so that they can pay their house rent, at least partially, and buy food for their families.
Azizul said many landlords are solvent and they can voluntarily waive or hold off the rent of their helpless tenants until normalcy restores. “But many house owners also don’t have the ability to waive the rent as it’s the main source of their income.”
Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said nearly four million poor people in the city have lost opportunities for earnings. “It’s now difficult for them to manage food for their families, let alone paying the house rent.”
He said the government can introduce food rationing for them. “But giving any grant for them is probably not possible for the government as it is under serious pressure due to the overall situation of the country.”
Mustafiz said the NBR can announce that it will waive some income tax for the house owners who will relive their poor tenants from the burden of rent. Besides, the city authorities can waive the holding tax.
Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Syeed Khokan said their city corporation has only one option to waive the holding tax for the house owners if they exempt their tenant from their house rent. “But it’s still too early to take such a measure.”
“We need to wait for a few days more and observe the situation. We also need to see what steps the government takes in this regard,” he said.
Urban expert Prof Nazrul Islam said the middle-class people will somehow manage the house rent, but it is very difficult for the low-income ones.
“Usually, poor people pay a small amount of money and it is not more than 5,000. So, an announcement can be given that those who pay rent up to 5,000 will get support from the government under a bailout package like that of RMG workers,” he said.
Police and Armed Forces members, the government’s frontline staff, are playing a proactive role in convincing people about government directives to maintain social distancing as well as home-quarantine by overseas returnees in a bid to curb the deadly coronavirus, apart from maintaining the law and order.
The government announced general holidays from March 26 until April 4 in the first phase and later extended that until March 11 asking people to stay at home and maintain social distancing and overseas returnees to be there in compulsory 14-day home-quarantine to check the coronavirus spread as Bangladesh is a densely-populated country.
Sources at the Police Headquarters said over 2 lakh members of Bangladesh Police have been working relentlessly from the very beginning as per the government’s directives to tackle the situation.
On March 23, the government decided to deploy members of the Armed Forces in aid to civil power across the country and they started their activities on March 25.
Members of Bangladesh Navy are working in 19 coastal upazilas under five districts while Bangladesh Army members elsewhere across the country, and members of Bangladesh Air Force are engaged in transporting emergency medical equipment, medicines and serious patients from nearby BAF bases.
Assistant Inspector General (AIG-Media) of the Police Headquarters Md Sohel Rana said all the units of Bangladesh Police are working together to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “They’re efficiently carrying out directives that the government gives from time to time.”
He said police personnel are making door-to-door visits to find out overseas returnees and keep them in home-quarantine apart from ensuring that people maintain social distancing.
As many were reluctant about complying with the directives to maintain social distancing, Army members started going tough from Thursday against those violating the directives.
Lt Col Abdullah Ibne Zaid, director of the Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) Directorate, said Army members are strictly ensuring social distancing and home-quarantine all over the country as part of helping the local administration.
They are also spraying disinfectant in different areas alongside creating awareness among people about coronavirus, he said.
Zaid said Navy members are discharging the same duties in coastal upazilas.
Nine naval ships are involved in alerting fishermen, who are fishing by small and large trawlers in the sea and rivers of coastal areas, about maintaining social distancing, he said, adding that they are also giving advice and guidance about the awareness issue among their (fishermen) families.
Masks and soaps are being provided by Navy members among fishermen to ensure their safety, the ISPR director said.
Besides, various relief materials, including rice and pulses, are being provided among the poor and destitute to help them cope with the situation, he said.
Wishing anonymity, another ISPR officer said strict legal action is being taken against those who are violating the government directives.
Bangladesh on Monday confirmed the death of three more people from the coronavirus, taking the death toll from the Covid-12 disease in the country to eight.
Six more people with corona infection have been identified. So far, 123 people have been infected in Bangladesh, 35 in the last 24 hours alone.
As the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, or IEDCR, announced the biggest daily spike in infected cases of COVID-19 in the country so far on Sunday, the break-up of the 88 cases identified so far revealed two potential hotspots in capital Dhaka - Tolerbagh, a locale within the sprawl of Mirpur in the city’s north-west, and Basabo in the south-east.
Based on the number of cases (9 in Basabo, 6 in Tolerbagh), they were named as part of 4 ‘prone’ locations in Dhaka city. One location that doesn’t seem to worry the authorities, but bothers experts as well as Dhakaites, is the ‘Geneva Camp’ of Urdu-speakers in Mohammadpur.
One of 70 such clusters (they were maintained as refugee camps by the UN under the Geneva Convention) all over Bangladesh housing the ‘stranded Pakistanis’ since 1971, the one in Mohammadpur is the largest. Most of the inhabitants are Muslims who had migrated from the Indian state of Bihar as the Subcontinent was partitioned along communal lines in 1947, or their descendants. When the map changed again, Pakistan long promised but ultimately failed to repatriate them.
One of the most densely populated parts of the most densely populated city in the world, almost none of the economic growth or development witnessed in the country over the last 10 or even 20 years visited the ‘Bihari camp’, as it is also known.
Now the ghettoised population that confronts grinding poverty on a daily basis is faced with a potential health crisis, as they are hardly in any position to observe the guidelines of ‘social distancing’ asked of them to fight an invisible enemy.
“More than 40,000 people under approximately 5000 families are living in between 12.5 Bigha (179,685 sq ft) areas in this camp. Each goli (narrow lane) is approximately 7-8 feet wide and 130 feet long. Each family consists of 8-9 members - so maintaining adequate social distancing is a tough call for the dwellers in this unfortunate land”, Washi Alam Bashir, President of Mohajir Rehabilitation & Development Movement (MRDM) at the Geneva Camp, told UNB.
In order to observe the regularities in Geneva Camp during the countrywide lockdown period, team UNB visited the camp and noticed the presence of significant gatherings of people on the streets inside the camp, where several shops were open. Although on the main roads leading in where some of the best kebab shops in the city are located, such as Mustakim kebab, Muslim kebab etc. -shops were closed.
The narrow-lane based camp is usually occupied by a large number of dwellers coming from different parts of Dhaka in regular days, as foodies often come to get indulged the flavorful Mughal foods like kebab and biriyani - while many cloth-traders come to place orders of ‘benarasi’ and ‘karchupi’ works on clothes, as the Biharis are famous for their excellence in handloom crafts. The hand-looming can be seen in almost every house as they run small-scale, home-based industries.
However, this was not the usual scenario when team UNB visited the street, which was occupied by mostly the insiders of the camp - not by the outsiders, as Dhaka remains in lockdown under the watch of the authorities.
The crowd contained mostly the men who work mostly as barbers, carpenters, mechanics and garage hands, butchers, drivers and rickshaw pullers, shopkeepers, casual and construction labourers on hire in different parts of the city. Amid the lockdown period, they are barred from work, thus they were observing their idle time in the streets.
In addition to that, two mosques located in the camp usually occupied with the moderate crowd in normal days as almost everyone is Muslim in the community. Interestingly, the crowd in these two mosques seemed higher than the usual despite the Islamic Foundation and Islamic scholars clearly urged everyone to pray at homes and avoid mass gatherings at the mosques.
“People are going to mosques helplessly. Not only because of the fear of this crucial time to seek mercy and blessings from the almighty, but, well, for somewhat a social reason that should be noted,”Bashir told UNB.
“These men are not used to staying at home all-day-long. They work hard throughout the day in different parts of the city and come home at midnight only to sleep. Most of the families having a significant amount of men, women and children living together and women need their spaces which they are usually familiar with during the normal days – but at this point, the jobless men have no other options but to keep themselves out of home in this scorching heat, thus they are occupying the streets and the mosques, the latter of which seems better to the Muslim majority,” Bashir explained.
While asked about the maintenance of the health guideline of social distancing which is suggested by Islamic scholars and health authorities, Bashir and other leaders of the camp informed UNB that the mosque authorities are constantly miking and instructing people on health guidelines such as stay home as much as possible, and to stay clean through maintaining proper hygiene.
However, maintaining hygiene is difficult in the camp where people even have to share common and open bathing, and around 90 people share one latrine.
“We have taken measures such as washing down the streets with water and bleaching powder solutions on morning and evening, and water drums with soaps have been placed on the streets so that the dwellers can at least wash their hands every now and then whenever needed to protect themselves against Coronavirus - however, we know it’s not much,” Bashir explained the safety measures.
Bashir informed about a particular safety measures which has been implemented, that the kebab and biriyani hotels as well as butcher shops and saloons, altogether the larger portion of the Bihari workers - either minimized or fully closed all of their operations 3-4 days prior to getting the countrywide lockdown notice on March 26.
“That being said, we have been living in fear of getting a possible mass level of famine because of being jobless – so we are more worried about having food than being afraid of the virus. Although our MRDM and other authority groups, as well as the comparatively wealthy dwellers and mosque members, have jointly helped a total of 320 families each with 10 kg rice, 5 kg potato, 2 kg onion, 1 kg lentil, 1 kg soybean oil each within the last couple of the days - we know this is not enough,” Bashir expressed the anxiety to UNB.
While asked about the assistance of local authority, Bashir informed that the councilor Nurul Islam Ratan (Ward 32, Dhaka North City Corporation) has ensured that he has been trying to manage and provide a large scale of relief goods due to the crisis.
During the Dengue catastrophe of last year, several of the camp dwellers suffered and died because city corporation authority could not properly spray mosquito repellents throughout the camp due to the adjacent and congested housing system in the camp, according to the dwellers.
If proper measures cannot be taken to ensure the health and safety of the camp dwellers within the shortest possible time, it is possible a huge number of these poor-fated people would have to face the devastating effects of COVID-19.
Unlike the development that bypassed the camp, if the virus takes hold within the hapless community, it is unlikely to confine itself.