Countries around the world have come to a halt as the COVID-19 or Coronavirus is spreading out every minute. Reported first by China, it has already affected more than 190 countries. Since March 8, Bangladesh reported 51 cases and 6 of them died. The government is alert since the outbreak in China. Despite the lockdown of China with the rest of the world Bangladesh has managed to prepare itself for the pandemic and has taken numerous steps to curb the spreading and to keep people safe and sound.
HPM Sheikh Hasina’s ten directives:
To prevent Coronavirus from being a deadly threat than it actually is, HPM Sheikh Hasina chalked out ten directives for the responsible authorities. These are:
1. From 26th March, public holiday has been announced and it will continue till 4th April. At this time all establishments will be closed except markets-shops of raw materials, pharmaceuticals, food stores and regular necessities. All kinds of political, social and religious events will be closed. During this period, public transport has been limited but has been said to be avoided. All public transport drivers and assistants should take necessary precautions including masks.
2. At this time, if anyone has to go to the office or court to do the necessary work, they have to perform it online. Only those who feel the need during public office time will keep the office open.
3. The movement of public transports will be limited during the holiday but people have been advised to avoid public transports. If any passenger wants to travel by public transports on an emergency basis, he or she must take measures to avoid virus infection. Apart from wearing hand gloves and masks, the drivers and their assistants must take adequate cautionary measures.
4. Considering the necessity of commoners, Bangladesh Bank will give necessary directives in this regard to remaining the banking services operational in a limited way.
5. From March 24, the Army personnel will arrange treatment of COVID-19 patients and will quarantine the suspects at divisional and district levels.
6. The government will provide assistance to the urban low-income people, those who are affected due to coronavirus outbreak, under ‘Ghor a Fera Kormosuchi’ and the district administrations have been instructed in this regard.
7. The government has created livelihood opportunities and ensued accommodation for around one lakh people in Bhasan Char, Anwarul said the district administrations were instructed to send the interested people to this island so that they can avail the opportunities.
8. The district administrations have also been instructed to provide food and assistance to the poor people if they are affected due to the implementation of coronavirus prevention programmes.
9. Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) to prepare a list of 500 doctors so they can play their due role in containing the spread of coronavirus.
10. The government has imposed restrictions on all political, social and religious gatherings in the country, urging the people having COVID-19 syndromes not to go to mosques for prayers.
Initially, the government prepared six hospitals in Dhaka to test Coronavirus and has been working on increasing the number of testing centers. Currently, there are nine hospitals and institutes in four divisions which are capable of testing patients for Coronavirus. These centers are Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), Institute of Public Health, Dhaka Shishu (children) Hospital, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Disease, Rajshahi Medical College and Mymensingh Medical College. Already 21,000 testing kit have been distributed and 71,000 kits are in stock. To treat the infected people, the government has prepared 14,565 isolation beds around the country including 10,050 in Dhaka. Islamic Foundation has formed six teams for city corporation areas who will perform the funeral of the patients who died of Coronavirus.
In Dhaka, ten hospitals are providing treatment to the COVID-19 infected people. These are Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Govt. Hospital, Uttara (Contact- 01999-956290), Bangladesh Railway General Hospital, Kamalapur (Contact- +8802-55007420), Mahanagar General Hospital, Matijheel (Contact- 02-57390860; 02-7390066), Mirpur Maternity Hospital (Contact- 02-9002012), Kamrangir Char 31-Bed Hospital, Lalbagh (Contact- 01726321189), Aminbajar 20-bed Hospital, Savar (Contact-01700000000, 01712290100), Jinjira 20-bed Hospital, Keraniganj, Sajida Foundation Hospital, Zurain (Contact- 01777-771625), Burn and Plastic Surgery Department, Dhaka Medical College Hospital (Contact- 01819220180), Sheikh Russell Gastro liver Hospital and National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital, Lalkuthi Hospital, Dhaka, Regent Hospital at Uttara, United Hospital in Munshiganj.
Also, several emergency numbers have been set up at IEDCR, these numbers are 16263 (Hotline) 01401184551, 01401184554, 01401184555, 01401184556, 01401184559, 01401184560, 01401184563, 01401184568, 01927711784, 01927711785, 01937000011, 01937110011. Already 1.1 million people have received services through these emergency call centers. To provide services, 1541 health service providers are working in these centers. The government has also launched a website, www.corona.gov.bd to provide information about the available services.
Already 6200 isolation beds around the country are ready for people who tested positive of COVID-19. Also, 323 establishments are prepared for Institutional Quarantine. Till today, more than 955,000 people have received Coronavirus-related services through the emergency call centre set up by the Directorate General of Health Services. The government is also providing special training to doctors and nurses to fight this pandemic. Already 730 doctors, 43 nurses and 190 medical technologists have received the training. Besides, 10,812 doctors have completed online courses related to COVID-19. To protect caregivers and doctors, the government has distributed 377,140 personal protection equipment (PPE). Still, 42,870 PPEs are in stock and a million more will be procured.
Currently, 500 ventilators are available at government hospitals. Seven hundred more ventilators are being installed and 350 more will be imported. The health authority has prepared 100 ICU beds in hospitals and 300 more beds are being prepared.
To increase the supply of the safety measures, the government has exempted tariffs and taxes on importing alcohol for hand sanitizers, protective gear, germicides, testing kits, testing instruments, masks etc on two conditions. The importers can import only the fixed quantity determined by the Directorate of Drug Administration (DGDA) and DGDA will determine the quality of the products.
Also, the government has set up a call center to know about the overall situation among citizens during this crisis. In this initiative, mobile phone customers can tell the authority if they have any breathing difficulties, coughing, or fever by dialling *3332#. After calling, an IVR voice will ask five questions. The answers will go directly to IEDCR, the centerpoint of Coronavirus treatment and testing procedures in Bangladesh. After reviewing the answers, IEDCR will call the customer back.
Assistance for the Poor
The shutdown around the country to stop the spreading of the virus hit the low-income people hardest particularly. Keeping their welfare in mind, the government has taken up several initiatives. Low-income people can by rice for 10 taka per kg. The government has 90 thousand tonnes of rice in stock. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also declared to provide six months of food supply, financial assistance and housing facilities for the homeless and landless people. Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief has allocated an additional $771,301 and 13 thousand tonnes of rice for distribution. In 64 districts, the ministry has already disbursed $1.49 million and 46 thousand metric tonnes of rice.
The local representatives and local governments have stepped forward in minimizing the hardship of the poor people in their respective areas. The government has allocated Tk 10 Lakh and 321 tonnes of rice for low-income people of Sylhet. Mayor of Rajshahi City Corporation is distributing rice and lentils among 20 thousand families. Kishoreganj District Administration is providing food supplies to 10 thousand extremely poor people. District Administration of Chattaogram is providing food supplies for 10 days to 215 day-labourers and woodcutters of remote hill tract areas. An MP of Rajbari district has distributed food to 1300 sex workers of Doulatdia. Pirojpur’s local MP distributed food among 1000 jobless people. The MP of Barguna-1 distributed relief to 6500 people. Local MP of Naogaon Sadar Upazilla distributed food supplies among 10,000 poor families. The MP of Sirajganj-3 home-delivered seven days of food to families of 2000 day labourers and workers. In Keraniganj, the local MP and State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, Nasrul Hamid is arranging food distribution every day for 50,000 poor families. The Minister for Information has personally distributed food supplies to 500 families in Rangunia, Chattogram. The MP of Gazipur-3, Iqbal Hossain Sabuj is delivering food supplies to homes of 15,000 poor families. Bangladesh Awami League’s Joint Secretary has provided food supplies to 3000 families in Madaripur. The Upazilla Chairman of Manirampur, Jashore has distributed food supplies among 200 jobless families. Barisal City Corporation is delivering food supplies to homes of 40,000 jobless families. Cumilla City Corporation distributed food supplies among 8,000 low-income families.
Measures to keep social distance:
To stop the virus from spreading, the government decided to shut down or limit activities of educational institutions, public and private offices and public transportations. Educational institutions will remain closed till 9th April. Higher Secondary Certificate or HSC examinations are postponed and a new schedule will be announced in April. Public and private offices will remain closed until 4th April.
The government has taken a special initiative of video classes for students from Class Six to Ten. This ‘My School at My Home’ initiative is allowing the students to take subject wise video lessons at home which are being aired on Sangsad TV.
All the international flights except one weekly to China are cancelled till 31st March. Domestic flights are cancelled until further notice.
To avoid gatherings, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources has instructed its customers to pay the gas bills from February to May in June and they will not be charged with any late fees. Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC) has instructed its distributing agents to assist the customers with recharging the prepaid electric meters. Customers can give a call to 16116 and ask for assistance.
Every supermarket, shopping centers will remain closed until 4th April. But the market-shops of raw materials, superstores, medicine stores, grocery stores will remain open.
Public transportation and railway will remain closed till 4th April. Waterways will remain closed until further notice.
To stop people from gathering outside their house, the government has deployed the Army from 24th March to assist non-military forces like Police. The government has issued punishment orders for those who will not obey the order for home quarantine and shutdown.
Tackling Rumours and Price Hike
Law enforcement agencies have taken action against 20 Facebook IDs and pages for spreading rumours and false news regarding Coronavirus. Also, 50 more pages and IDs have been identified by the law enforcement agencies and arrested 20.
Trading Corporation of Bangladesh or TCB is selling daily necessities with fair value. It has set up 50 selling points in Dhaka and 300 points around the country. This is a regular initiative for low-income groups. During the Corona pandemic, TCB has increased the selling points.
To prevent the businessmen and sellers from hiking the price of safety products daily necessities, the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection is working countrywide. Their teams are paying regular visits to markets and even responding to complaints from general people. The online shops are also under observation.