Lock, stock and some movement passes

Photo's: UNB

Close to 48 hours into the government’s newly-imposed lockdown – this time supposedly stricter and therefore bound to be better or more effective at breaking the chains of transmission – it remains a valid question whether it needed to come to this. If we leave aside the perceived effectiveness in preventing transmission of COVID-19, there is also a general consensus that COVID-19 lockdowns have caused significant collateral damage to the global economy, as well as disrupting access to non-COVID-19 related medical care, routine immunisation programmes and family planning.

For most people, the lockdowns and quarantines imposed by governments to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus have been the first time their freedom of movement and daily life has been so severely restricted. Previous pandemics, such as the Hong Kong flu in 1968, brought guidelines on hand-washing and social distancing but didn’t result in lockdowns.

Experts agree that lockdowns have the potential to be an instrumental tool in reducing COVID-19 transmission, but only when they are applied correctly. They aren’t the only effective way to reduce transmission.

“We should be doing a bundle of things, not just waiting until things get really awful and then locking down,” according to Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, adding that some measures in Canada have been more effective than others.

When followed, he said, they are a powerful tool that keeps people from circulating the virus, flattens curves and keeps health-care systems from becoming stretched beyond capacity.

Countries such as China, New Zealand and Australia, which led lockdowns with an iron fist, are now quietly returning to some semblance of normal. They are the ones to look to, as exemplars of hard lockdowns.

China’s was by far the most drastic, with health authorities enacting a lockdown that saw people confined to their homes for 76 days.

In New Zealand, health officials imposed four-level alert systems, limited travel and cancelled all mass gatherings shortly after detecting the country’s first handful of cases in March of last year. Meanwhile, Australia implemented a severe 111-day lockdown that mandated masks, shut down non-essential travel and barred residents from leaving their homes outside of exercising, caregiving, working or buying essential supplies.

In an interview with The Spectator, Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on COVID-19, was quoted as saying: “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus.” Nabarro continued by saying, “The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

Yet the alarming rise in the number of cases, that has continued for six straight weeks now, as well as deaths, that reached an all-time high of 96 for a single day in Bangladesh this week, left the government with no other option it would seem.

Lock it up

Under the fresh lockdown all government, semi-government, autonomous, private offices and financial institutions will remain closed but the officers and employees will have to stay in their respective work stations.

The Cabinet division issued a notification in this regard on Monday. The lockdown will remain in force from 6:00 am Wednesday (April 14) till April 21 midnight. But the employees and staff of air, maritime and river and land ports will remain out of the preview of the lockdown.

All modes of public transports, including those of road, river, railway and air, will remain suspended during the lockdown. But Emergency services, carrying of goods, production services will remain out of the purview of the restriction.

However, the restriction will not be effective in the case of carrying goods, emergency services and production. But industries and factories will remain open on condition of maintaining health protocols.

The offices, staffers and vehicles of the organisations providing emergency services, including law enforcement, will remain out of the purview of the restriction.

People’s movement will be restricted and no one will be allowed to go outside except for emergency needs (to purchase medicines, daily essentials, to take medical services and burial/ cremation of dead bodies, taking Covid-19 jabs etc).

All industries and factories will be allowed to continue their operation following health guidelines and the respective industries must take measures to carry their employees in their own vehicles.

Hotels and restaurants can operate with takeaway/online services only from 12 pm to 7 pm and 12 am to 6 am. No one will be allowed to have food sitting in hotels or restaurants.

All shopping malls and markets will remain closed during this period.

Daily essential items including kitchen items can be sold and purchased from open spaces from 9 am to 3 pm to maintain health protocols. Local administrations and the authorities concerned will ensure it.

The government imposed an apparently lose nationwide lockdown for one week from April 5 as part of its tougher move to contain the spike in both coronavirus infections and fatalities.

But the government allowed the resumption of public transport in city corporation areas from April 7 as well as reopening shops and shopping malls for five days from April 9 in the face of protests against the lockdown.

The lockdown remained in force until April 13 (Tuesday).

Changing the previous day’s decision on closure of banks, Bangladesh Bank on Tuesday took a fresh decision that banks will operate from 10 am to 1 pm for general transactions from April 14 to April 21 during the 'all-out lockdown' declared by the government. The banks can remain open up to 2:30 pm for execution of other required activities, said a Bangladesh Bank circular, issued at 8 pm on Tuesday.

Movement Pass

According to Police Headquarters, anyone not covered in the list of exemptions would require a movement pass to go out, in a process administered by the Police Headquarters. This caught on like wildfire. Sixty-thousand applicants registered for the movement pass till Tuesday evening, and around 30,000 passes were issued, even before Inspector General of Police Benazir Ahmed inaugurated the movement pass app on the eve of the lockdown.

According to the PHQ database, till Thursday afternoon, a whopping 346,430 passes were issued. The number of visitors to the "movement pass" app was already over 160 million at that point, and the number of total registrations was 487,891.

Losing another Ramadan

A maximum of 20 people – including the imam, khatib, muezzin, hafez, khadem – can attend Taraweeh prayers at each mosque during Ramadan. The instruction will be valid from April 14 and continue until further notice, the Religious Affairs Ministry said in a new set of directives issued on Monday. No more than 20 devotees will be able to join daily prayers in mosques. Also, the worshippers will have to follow health guidelines and ensure physical distancing while offering Friday prayers at mosques, the ministry said.

The deadly virus claimed 568 lives in January this year, 281 in February and 638 in March.

Defiant in Dhaka

Although the streets in Dhaka city had taken a deserted look on the first day of the hard lockdown on Wednesday (April 14), the movement of people, private vehicles and rickshaws increased on its second day on Thursday. Shops and shopping malls remained closed as the government has enforced a stricter lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19 cases.

Rickshaws were seen plying roads in different areas, including Dilu Road, Mohakhali, Bijoy Sarani and Manik Mia Avenue as people are hiring the slow-moving three wheelers to reach their destinations in absence of alternative transports.

Police and Rab members were seen monitoring the movement of vehicles and people after setting up check-posts at different parts of the capital.

They were asking people why they got out of home. Those who were failing to show the ‘movement pass’ or any valid reason of going out were being fined.

Asaduzzaman, a traffic Inspector in Mohakhali area, said: “We don’t allow anyone to move without valid any reason. Those who’re failing to show any valid reason are either sued or fined. However, we didn’t put any pressure on anyone on humanitarian grounds.”

A long queue of vehicles was seen on Kuril Biswa Road as police were checking each vehicle.

However, kitchen markets were found violating the government directives as they are not seen running their business in open spaces. Besides, some were seen ignoring health guidelines.

Lockdown rules

Under the fresh lockdown, all the government, semi-government, autonomous, private offices and financial institutions will remain closed.

All modes of public transports, including those of road, river, railway and air, will remain suspended during the lockdown. However, the restriction will not be effective in the case of carrying goods, emergency services and production. But industries and factories will remain open on condition of maintaining health protocols.

The offices, staffers and vehicles of the organisations providing emergency services, including law enforcement, will be exempt of course. People’s movement will be restricted and no one will be allowed to go outside except for emergency needs (to purchase medicines, daily essentials, to take medical services and burial/ cremation of dead bodies, taking Covid-19 jabs etc).

Hotels and restaurants can operate with takeaway/online services only from 12 pm to 7 pm and 12 am to 6 am. No one will be allowed to take food sitting in hotels or restaurants.

Just prior to this, the government imposed what will be known as the 'loose' nationwide lockdown for one week from April 5

But the government allowed the resumption of public transport in city corporation areas from April 7 as well as reopening shops and shopping malls for five days from April 9 in the face of protests against the lockdown.

Prepare the people

Experts speaking to our sister newsagency UNB said the lockdown is unlikely to reap any great results for lack of preparations to implement the restrictions.

They said a curfew-like situation must be created during the lockdown by engaging the members of the Army and BGB alongside the regular law enforcers to force people to maintain health safety rules and stay indoors.

The experts also opposed the government’s decision to keep mills and factories open during the lockdown as they fear it will help the virus continue to spread.

They said the government should have provided the destitute, day-labourers and slum-dwellers with a specific amount of money to manage their food and livelihood before enforcing the lockdown.

On April 5, a nationwide lockdown was enforced for a week keeping almost everything open. No positive impact of the lockdown was visible as the country witnessed the highest weekly increase in virus infections and fatalities with 47,518 new cases and 504 deaths. Although admittedly any effect would only start reflecting in the numbers upto two weeks later.

Under the circumstances, the government on Monday (April 12) issued a set of new directives to enforce a seven-day strict lockdown from Wednesday shutting all the offices and public transports. The expectation is that this will eventually be extended for at least another week, since any measure lasting below two weeks is not expected to have the desi9red effect, or any effect at all. Once again flying in the face of its own policy however, the government announced factories will remain open during the hard lockdown.

Implementation will be key

Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS, said extensive preparations are needed to implement the kind of strict lockdown that has a chance of being effective.

"The big problem is that the government is going to enforce the lockdown again without any preparation. When you want to keep 17 crore people indoors for seven days, it’s a matter of serious preparation. A large number of people are supposed to be engaged in such a move for its successful implementation,” he said.

The expert said makeshift shops should have been made in every locality so that people can collect their daily essentials during the month of Ramadan from there maintaining health safety rules.

He also said the low-income people should have been given incentives to encourage them to follow the rules of hygiene and stay at home.

“A slum dweller can't live on unless he or she earns every day. We should have made the list of needy people and provide them with a certain amount of money so that they needn't go outside for livelihood during the lockdown,” the expert observed.

Besides, Be-Nazir said, a team of volunteers should be there in every area to ensure isolation of the family members of the Covid patients and help the government implement its directives and restrictions.

“I personally think the government has no preparation and well-thought-out plans to control the coronavirus transmission. That’s why they’re taking whimsical decisions and enforcing lockdown without proper plans and preparations,” he observed.

Dr Be-Nazir said a health emergency or a strict lockdown should be enforced for at least 14 days to slow down the virus transmission.

“The loose lockdown that remained in force in the country for the last seven days seems to be futile to control the virus transmission. Rather, we’re heading towards a dangerous situation. The South African variant which is now prominent in the country is very deadly as it can rapidly damage the lungs of the infected people. That’s why the fatality rate is growing alarmingly,” he opined.

Without controlling public movement, the expert said, the existing upward cycle of the virus transmission cannot be broken.  “If we can keep our people at home for at least 14 days, the virus transmission will surely be eased.”

Who gets locked down anyway?

Eminent virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, also a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee, said, “The government first enforced a lockdown keeping almost everything open, and it’s now going to enforce another weeklong lockdown keeping the mills and factories functional. I have doubts about the success of such a halfhearted lockdown,” he observed.

The expert said the government is using the word lockdown but it is not enforcing it in a true sense. “Lockdown means everything will be closed, except some emergency services, and no one will be allowed to go outside without any emergency any need.”

He said everything was more or less usual during the first week of lockdown. “It has sent out a negative message to people and they’ve become more reckless to show apathy to the government’s instructions and abide by the lockdown,” he said.

Prof Nazrul said the government should focus on forcing people to mandatorily wear masks, maintain social distancing and avoid any gathering to contain the virus surge.  “If necessary, the government must deploy the members of the Army to enforce the lockdown.”

Dr Abu Jamil Faisel, a member of the public health expert team formed by the government for eight divisions, said people have lost their confidence in lockdown because of the way it has been enforced from April 5. “It’s still possible to control the unnecessary movement of people if Army members start patrolling different areas and punish those flouting the government’s directives.”

Public health expert MH Chowdhury (Lenin), chairman of the medicine department at the Health and Hope Hospital, also thinks a curfew-like situation should be created by deploying Army and BGB members so that people do not come out of their homes without any valid reason.

Do it right, then

Lenin said the success of the government’s restrictions depends on their implementation.

“The government issued fresh directives on Monday to place the country under lockdown. But we’re not sure whether they can properly implement those. There’s also a question as to why the government allows the mills and factories to remain open during the lockdown.”

A good number of people will go to factories and return home to join their family members, giving the virus a scope to spread. “So, I think it's a wrong decision.  A complete lockdown should be enforced for at least two-three weeks shutting down everything to get success in containing the virus.”

Prof Nazrul said the government should have engaged the public representatives like mayors, councillors, chairman and members for making the list of needy people and stand beside them with the help of the government and private and social organisations during the lockdown period.

Like many things associated with COVID-19, the ultimate effect of any lockdown is impossible to predict. In the end, it will depend on the choices and actions of people around the world. And so like any antidote, the benefits of lockdown may ultimately be shown to depend on timing, dose, and duration.

  • Lock, stock and some
  • Movement Passes
  • Pandemic
  • Lockdown
  • Covid-19
  • Coronavirus

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