The decision to return the country into a state of hard lockdown, that commenced on what happened to be the joint advent of the Bengali New Year as well as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year (some quarters are minded to read far too much symbolism into this cosmic phenomenon) stands out for its gravity, in what was an altogether grim week on the virus front for Bangladesh. To be sure, the government was left with few options, as it faced up to the fact that both infections and deaths were galloping at a rate that was scarcely conceivable in 2020.
Not for a second do I doubt that a repeat of Lockdown must surely have been the very last resort for a government that has built almost its entire narrative legitimacy on the plank of development and economic empowerment. Most probably it had some advanced knowledge on the news, or rather confirmation, that the Indian supplier of the vaccine would indeed be forced to renege on its commitment, with the Second Wave over there going off the charts over the last ten days. The desperate situation in which the government in Delhi finds itself has forced it to turn to their old allies in Moscow, despite two of its own homegrown firms - Bharat Biotech and the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, the Serum Institute of India – manufacturing the lifesaving shots.
And so India this week granted emergency use authorisation for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, shortly after overtaking Brazil to become the world’s second-most affected country by the coronavirus. The move announced by the Drug Controller General of India, makes India the 60th and most populous country to adopt the shot. Sputnik V is now approved for use across a total population of 3 billion people, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s sovereign wealth fund. The deal includes partnerships between RDIF and some of India’s pharmaceutical companies to produce over 850 million doses of Sputnik V in India annually, meaning enough of the two-shot vaccine for 425 million people.
Despite the wicked situation in which the pandemic has placed us, the government in Dhaka cannot afford to sit on its haunches. We know it has been part of the ruling party’s foreign policy over its entire reign since 2009 to gear up relations with Russia, and we have seen this play out in various spheres – none more so than the nuclear power plant being built in Rooppur. And last September, it was already the recipient of an offer to procure Sputnik V shots (it is priced at around $10 per shot) in a meeting with RDIF facilitated by the Russian Embassy in Dhaka. Those negotiations must be revived at the earliest now. We cannot afford to sit back and wait. Both lives and livelihoods will depend on the initiative shown by the government in the days ahead.