By almost any measure you can venture, the country is enduring a very difficult period just now. Before getting to grips with the local outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the monsoon flood waters have arrived literally upending many plans that were being devised for the next phase of our struggle to contain the virus. The most basic measure, testing to trace the virus and then isolating to prevent the spread, without which no one, or no system can mount any sort of credible response bringing in other means, has been stifled since the first, relatively benign phase of this year’s flood arrived towards the end of June. The waters receded in a short time, but unfortunately our testing numbers failed to spike again.
Having cranked it up to reach around 18,000 RT-PCR tests conducted per day towards the last week of June, we suddenly, inexplicably stepped on the brakes. It followed almost an identical trajectory to US President Donald Trump’s shocking remarks at a rally on June 21, that he was asking his ‘people’ to “slowdown the testing”, in order to find less infections. In the face of the storm of criticism that followed, the White House had to walk that back of course (by saying he was joking). Could the Bangladesh authorities have found that logic, which is popular on the street as the ‘No Test, No Corona’ (the late Bob Marley would have blushed) theory, similarly alluring at one point. Dr Nasima has addressed the issue just once, during the course of her deadpan briefings, and denied it vehemently.
More recently she has taken to lamenting the effect the floods have had on sample collection and hence testing. A series of lockdowns planned for virus hotspots around the country, numbering in the hundreds, has been put on the backburner. Again, one may question if it would’ve worked, but when the government is unable to even implement its own stated plan of action, indeed it is forced to abandon it altogether, the crisis of confidence on the part of the same stakeholders who partnered you and were signed up to the same waypoints, hardly needs substantiation.
Now that this year’s 2nd phase floodwaters have flowed in through the rather weak and at times even absent flood protection embankments, the latest speculation is that these are likely to keep parts of the country inundated till mid-August. A couple of key positions in the health sector’s bureaucratic leadership will have new faces in the short term. A new health secretary, who was struck by personal tragedy almost immediately, was finally able to join his station this week. Here’s to hoping he can rise above that inauspicious start, and help pull along the entire department with him.