Over the past few months there were a lot of musings if a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic would after all strike Bangladesh and if so when. If it so does, it might be during the coming winter, some suggested with mid-October's European experience in mind.
There were also sceptics who argued that the strain of the virus in this part of the world may be somewhat weaker as it was apparent during that time from the declining trend in infection rate in the country. Given that far fewer tests are being done than the population size would require, most other pandemic watchers were not willing to commit on matters of forecasting. For they thought it would be a futile exercise to do so as we are not sure where we are exactly placed on the hypothetical infection-rate curve as we lack adequate test data to plot one.
However, a sudden jump in the number of deaths from Covi-19-related complications as reported last week has come as a shock for the optimists who were inclined to believe in the magical and hoped that the pandemic would somehow disappear! The number of people who succumbed to the pandemic on that particular day was 39, while the infected numbered 2,212. But on the previous day, the numbers of deaths and infections were 21 and 2,139 respectively. The doubling of the Covid-related casualty figure has left people wondering if the much speculated second wave has finally arrived in the country!
Whether it is the second wave or not, the spike in the number of deaths is worrisome. The number of people tested for Covid-19 in 24 hours till that date was 15,990, while those found positive out of those rested were 2,212. This was the highest incidence of Covid-19 case over a period of 10 weeks ending on the day under consideration. The information was made available by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), the government body that looks after the health-related issues in Bangladesh.
Whatever the case, it is clear from the rise in the number of infections as well as deaths that the pandemic will be around for some time. But for how long will depend on how better we can observe the mandatory health guidelines. With the advent of the winter, the government has mounted measures like mobile court in Dhaka to ensure that the members of the public are in compliance with the health protocols. As such, the declared aim of this move is to encourage people to wear facemask when they are out for work and to impose fine if they are found compromising on this mandatory health protocol or take other disciplinary measures against them.
Changing people's behaviour by punishing was hardly ever successful. From our previous experiences, we know, if anything, the members of the public will be engaged in a game of cat and mouse with the law-enforcers for some time over the wearing of facemasks. At a stage fatigue will set in and, as usual, things will be back to square one.
We often blame ourselves saying that we are not a law-abiding people unless under duress. To be frank, no people are, as one can see it from the protests in some of the European, especially German, cities against wearing facemasks and observing other norms related to personal hygiene to ward off the pandemic. In the USA, on the other hand, a section of the population would rather defy the option of wearing facemask as part of their 'right' to demonstrate non-compliance with the health guideline. Thank heavens here in Bangladesh people are not that 'right conscious'! We would rather evade responsibility using so many excuses and stratagems!
So, the only other way to drive the point home in our case is through carrying out a relentless campaign. It should be on the road, at the workplace, on the radio and television and through the government's publicity network. And as it has been proved often that incentives in different forms work better than exhortations or disciplinary measures to motivate a people to do something boring or vexatious.
However, the incentives need not be material. Innovative ways of incentivising people to comply with most vital health protocols could be thought out and introduced.
But to encounter such an enormous health threat one needs to devise a strategy. And to devise one would require us to know the extent of the pandemic's spread among the populace.
But to be able to do that the first step will be to increase the number of tests markedly. The most popular diagnostic Covid-19 tests now in practice in Bangladesh is the molecular RT-PCR test. It is a more or less accurate method of knowing if there is infection by way of detecting the virus's genetic material in the blood. But the test's disadvantage is it is time-consuming. There is a faster way of doing the testing through what is known as the antigen test. It tracks a kind of protein from the Covid-19 virus in the blood. Though it is a faster method to detect infection, its accuracy level is lower compared to the RT-PCR method.
We have a large population to deal with. As such, a slower testing method, though it may have a better accuracy record, will not suit the objective of assessing the spread of pandemic infection among the people. In that case, the government should introduce the faster antigen tests to assess the overall pandemic situation in the country. It may also be used when quicker results are necessary.
However, for certification purpose, the more accurate diagnostic option, RT-PCR should continue.
Now the good news that the development of two anti-Covid-19 vaccines has so far been successful, there is reason for optimism. More so because other potential vaccines are also in the pipeline.
We believe the ongoing competition over the vaccine as demonstrated by some rich countries and big businesses will not affect us. The less privileged peoples have also the right to access those vaccines.