Of 'easing' shutdown order and Eid shopping

Shihab Sarkar | Monday, 27 April 2020

Apart from the many forebodings creeping into the sensible city people's mind at the moment, lots of other ominous thoughts continue to haunt them. A dominant one among them is the slow easing of the shutdown order. The terrible manner in which the residents of the country's cities, especially Dhaka, continue to go about their business not caring a fig about the shutdown, many can clearly foresee the city's situation after a relaxation of the order.

The order was enforced, like in all coronavirus-hit cities in the world, to ensure that the pandemic-time 'social distancing' is in place. But the crowds and the frenetic melee in parts of Dhaka make many feel doubtful whether any 'social distancing' measure is in place in reality.

The print and electronic media have been showing for over three months the enforcement of shutdowns and lockdowns in the world's corona pandemic-hit metropolitan areas. Few cities, except the ones in China, have reverted to their pre-Covid-19 looks.

Dhaka doesn't belong to these cities. It's because the intensity of its coronavirus onslaught has yet to unfold infull. The pandemic is said to be in its third stage at present. According to virologists, it is a critical stage. Moreover, due to lack of manpower and necessary equipment, the country's healthcare authorities still cannot identify many asymptomatic virus carriers. The real pandemic situation in Bangladesh has only started coming to light. The situation can be termed volatile as the number of the confirmed deaths and cases keeps rising unabated.

In sucha situation filled with uncertainties, even a sketchy thought of easing the restrictive orders is enough to make one feel terriblypanicky. In terms of compliance with the shutdown order, the situation in the capital at the moment is disappointingly chaotic.The thoughts of relaxing the ongoing shutdown warrant a thorough review in the Bangladesh perspective. It's because the idea apparently portends both short-term and long-term consequences for public health and other national sectors - the socio-economic one in particular.

Generally speaking,the recklessness with which people in the country's large cities are defying the shutdown order, one can visualise the frenzy which is set to be unleashed after even a brief easing of the shutdown. Against this backdrop, the celebration of Eid has begun poking at the subconscious of a lot of city residents. So have the frantic shopping activities amid the Covid-19 dread that shows little signs of subsiding. As the graph chart of the virus-carrying cases continues to go higher across the country, experts do not see any prospects for fall in it in the coming weeks.

Normally, the capital is used to witnessing the start of Eid shopping immediately after Shab-e-Barat. With the start of the month of Ramadan, shopping keeps gaining its briskness. As the days in the month wear on, the shopping spree is seen reaching its crescendo. It results in thick and unwieldy crowds of shoppers remaining stuck around the popular shopping points in the capital. The persons who have proved themselves habitual online shoppers are, however, spared the hassle of conventional shopping.

Crowds of men, women and children, clinging to one another, making their way through traffic gridlocks, literally overwhelm the city's shopping blocks before Eid. Many move from one spot to another to pick their choice products. Viewing casually, Dhaka turns into an impenetrable mass of crowds during the shopping hours beginning from morning. This scenario prevails in the capital till the early hours on the day of Eid.

With such much-feared shopping frenzy in perspective, a re-enactment of it in this year's pre-Eid Dhaka may prove catastrophic for the city's residents. That in such a chaotic situation, the prerequisite for maintaining 'social distancing' will find itself being thrown to the wind is implied. Pandemic experts and the healthcare personnel dealing with the Covid-19 ravages in the country must be watching possible developments with premonition. Their fear is not without basis.

What troubled the experts the most is the spectre of 'natural herd immunity'. It's a kind of pseudo normalcy which, in time, blows up among a large number of people thought to have grown immunity to the pandemic. In large crowds, the general people develop this syndrome of 'indirect protection' from an infectious disease. Few can realise that they have already been infected.'Indirect protection' occurs when at least 60 per cent of a population or a large crowd becomes immune to a germ. Later, it can lead to an unwieldy situation caused by unchecked infection.

Due to Eid-ul-Fitr being the largest Muslim festival followed by Eid-ul-Azha, a festive mood engulfs the shoppers days ahead of Ramadan. It reaches its peak in the last days of the fasting month. In a case of relaxed shutdown, the country's big cities are set to witness a worrying situation. Dealing with it efficiently might emerge as a daunting task for the authorities.

Unlike the Bangla New Year, the celebration of Eid involves both religious and mass-level sentiments. The extent ofEid celebrations cannot be determined in a cavalier manner. In order to cut down on the radius of the festivities, making strong points related to prevention of Covid-19 is a sine qua non.

However, the authorities will, hopefully, come out smoothly while coping with the Eid congregations and the festivities. They have dealt with the Friday Jumaa, Shab-e-Barat and Tarawee prayers quite convincingly.But the mega challenge posed by Eid shopping has yet to be faced. Meanwhile, the ancestral village-bound Eid rush looms. The government ought to start mulling the steps right at this moment. Inordinate delay may aggravate the already weakened 'social distancing'. While dealing with the critical tasks, the authorities may also think of shutdown relaxation schedules for Eid shopping.