Bangladesh, a small nation in South Asia is on the verge of facing an unimaginable consequence following government’s total failure in taking timely measures in containing the spread of coronavirus within its population of 180 million. Unfortunately, this fastest growing economy in Asia is proceeding towards an imminent fate of death of at least two million people, while millions of people would be affected by Covid-19 within the span of next 2-3 weeks. The ultimate result of such huge effect would badly crash its economic growth, which would almost certainly push Bangladesh towards the fate of one of the worst sufferers of upcoming grand recession in the world. The country’s readymade garment sector, which is one of the two major sources of foreign exchange earning may even go totally or greatly dry thus leaving at least three million workers jobless.
The sign of the existence of Covid-19 patients started showing in Bangladesh from the second week of March, though the top policymakers in the country were left into the total dark. On the condition of anonymity, an official in the World Health Organization (WHO) said, “Bangladesh could have stopped the spread of coronavirus within its population if the government had imposed ban on foreign flights from the second week of March and identify those returnees from the coronavirus affected countries and put them into isolation. This was a huge opportunity that Bangladesh has already missed.”
The second blunder of the Bangladesh authorities was declaring a week-long holiday from 24 March while they did not take any measures in stopping the massive outflow of Dhaka city’s working class, who had gone to their homes in the smaller towns and villages taking the advantage of this sudden holiday. Covid-19 had spread among thousands of people, who were hurriedly leaving Dhaka city, mostly in large groups, through rail, road, river and airways.
WHO official has categorically termed such massive departure of thousands of people from Dhaka city to smaller towns and villages as “irreparable blunder”.
But the last nail in the coffin was hit by the leaders of Bangladesh Readymade Garment Manufacturer’s and Exporter’s Association (BGMEA), which had all on a sudden asked the workers to join their works from 5 April. This was clearly suicidal.
According to statistics and news reports from Bangladesh, its capital city Dhaka and adjacent business town Narayanganj have already become the epicenter of Covid-19 with unknown number of patients. The government has totally failed in realizing the potential health hazard of such a situation. Furthermore, Bangladeshi media and social media are claiming of hundreds of Covid-19 affected people fleeing Narayanganj town in fear of being identified. They are reportedly entering other cities, towns and villages thus spreading the virus within a massive segment of the population.
On 9 April, British journalist David Bergman in a Facebook post wrote: “A Bangladesh Army major has tested positive for Covid-10, two ranking military officers have independently confirmed to Netra News. This is the first case of a military officer getting infected with the virus in Bangladesh.”
Mr. Bergman further wrote, “Corona positive – confirmed. [First] case [in] Bangladesh Army”, one of the military officers wrote to Netra News. They also shared the name and other identifying details of theCovid-19infected officer, which we are not publishing due to privacy concerns. We can however, say that the infected major is a member of the Army Medica; Corps and until recently on duty at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka.
“When contacted by Netra News, a spokesperson of the Inter Service Public Relation Directorate (ISPR) said he was not aware of any such case of Covid-19 infection of a member of the Bangladeshi armed forces.
“On March 24th, the Bangladesh government deployed the army to the defence ministry, about 3400 military personnel have been deployed across the country primarily to enforce social distancing but also for preparing lists of people who have tested positive for Covid-19. The troops can be seen patrolling the streets in Dhaka and other cities calling on people to stay indoors and dispersing any crowds.
“As of April the 7th, people are officially reported to have died from the Covid-19 virus in Bangladesh, with 164 testing positive. It is not clear whether the positive test of the army major has been included in the official figure.”
It may be added here that Netra News, a recently launched news portal was blocked by the Bangladesh authorities.
Bangladesh losing the battle
Health experts say, Bangladesh authorities could conveniently win its battle against Covid-19 only if the top decisionmakers in the country, particularly Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would have been correctly briefed about the exact scenario. The fastest growing economy in Asia is now on the verge of facing acute economic hardship, which would start showing up from end June this year.
Because of its high population density Bangladesh is already at high risk of community transmission affecting a large percentage of the country’s population. A group that is particularly vulnerable in this situation is the millions of Rohingya refugees who have been living in packed refugee camps near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border ever since Bangladesh has decided to host them. This makes Bangladesh’s case different from other densely populated countries- a large number of its residents come from neighboring Myanmar who flee their country in 2017 because of communal violence and military crackdown.
Although, right now, the international community is backing Bangladesh and pressuring Myanmar to take the refugees back, the tables may soon turn if Covid-19 spreads to those refugee camps. To Bangladesh, a community transmission of Covid-19 among the Rohingya refugees would bring about an unwarranted disaster – the very contagious Covid-19 will spread in those camps at an unprecedented rate. Bangladesh’s unfit healthcare system makes it almost obvious that the country will not be able to give adequate medical assistance to the refugees – ultimately leading to the death of thousands for which Bangladesh will have to face heavy international criticism, and it will even give Myanmar the opportunity to demand for compensation from Bangladesh.
For Bangladesh, losing this battle against Covid-19 would therefore mean the beginning of a cascade of disasters, ultimately leaving this fast-developing country with millions of its people dead, a damaged economy and foiled reputation internationally.
Nirmala Saha is a former stringer of France24 TV.