The start of the vaccination programme, albeit in pilot mode, this week heralds a new phase in Bangladesh's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic - one where we are on the cusp of moving past the blighted disease and the vice-like grip it has held over our lives for the better part of a year now.

The initial group that received the vaccine on Wednesday, January 27, included a nurse, a doctor, a military official, a traffic policeman and a senior official of the government's health department, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the pilot. The PM quite rightly said it was "a historic day" for Bangladesh and sought the cooperation of everyone to make the campaign a success. She also slammed a vested group that spread misinformation, including overblown claims of severe side effects.

It was especially heartwarming to see Runu Veronica Costa, 39, a senior staff nurse at state-run Kurmitola General Hospital, receive the very first shot. She was clearly unfazed and showed courage as she prepared to get the shot from a fellow nurse during the program that was telecast live amid a media frenzy over the event.

As the prime minister asked whether she was afraid, Costa firmly replied, "No." In a nutshell, she captured the sort of attitude and demeanour that would hold us all in good stead, as we seek to overcome the virus. Speaking of which, it is also pleasing to note that the outbreak in Bangladesh has been headed in the right direction - even before the vaccines arrived. After dropping to single digits for the first time since April on December 15, the country's daily infection rate or positivity rate has continued its downward trend, and since January 6, has remained consistently below 6 percent.

In mid-January, it dropped below 5 percent, and on January 28, it has been reportedly below 4 percent for three consecutive days. This is significant because in May, 2020 the World Health Organization advised governments that before reopening, rates of positivity in testing (ie, out of all tests conducted, how many came back positive for COVID-19) should remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days. So the trend in Bangladesh augurs well for the reopening of schools as well in February. The Ministry of Education has issued a notice for schools and colleges to be prepared for reopening at any time after February 4. The notice also included detailed guidelines from the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) for maintaining health and safety measures, that included preparing a budget for buying disinfectants, creating a routine for daily cleaning, orienting the cleaning crew for cleaning and disinfection, ensuring at least three feet of space between seats for students, as well as mandatory use of masks. They could serve as a guideline in most lines of work. Let us embrace them and prepare to reclaim our lives from the virus!

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