With lockdown strengthened it’s time to expedite virus tests

Mostafa Kamal Majumder
With the Muazzin (a man who calls devotees to prayers) asking devotees over loudspeakers on Monday to say prayers at homes, instead of going to mosques, five times a day, the public awareness about the war against the coronavirus pandemic has entered a new phase in Bangladesh. The same loudspeakers are normally used to pronounce ‘Azan’ calling devotees to prayers at mosques. The Muazzin of each mosque referred to a government directive for making the announcement. The language differed from one to another but the message was unmistakably the same. Some believers have stopped going to mosques several days before and thus the congregations were gradually becoming smaller because they believed they risked contracting the virus that has attacked the entire world simultaneously.
More deadly information about the virus is it can mutate itself into more deadly viruses increasing the death rate. The virus, released by an infected person by sneezing or talking to another person, can float live in the air for hours during which anybody can be infected through inhalation or by coming into touch with body parts if people do not strictly follow the guidance not to touch the face and eyes, and to wash hands with soaps, or clean those with sanitizers repeatedly.
The virus can settle on items people buy from shops, from doors and doo- locks and through handshakes. Social distancing, in other words, keeping away from each other is helpful in restricting the spread of the virus. A very dangerous aspect of not observing social distancing is that one careless member of a family can contract the virus outside the home and spread it to all other unsuspecting members unawares.
The announcement by Muazzins was made on the day Bangladesh recorded the highest number of 35 infected cases and three deaths in 24 hours. Experiences in other countries indicate that the number of detected cases would continue to rise with the expansion of testing facilities till such time as all the infected cases will be detected and routes of spread from them stopped. How long it will take nobody at the moment can say. One thing can safely be said the spread of the virus will continue till our medical practitioners are able to identify its origins, the Covic-19 patients, and the routes of its transmission.
Stepping up to that stage will be a Herculean task because for this the health authorities should be in a position to locate the concentration of the infected persons and find other areas which still remain free from infections and consolidate barriers to further spread of the virus.
With social distancing enforced by the administration, law enforcing and members of the Armed Forces, other issues have emerged quickly, how the people would collect food from their lockdown positions. How to restrain the day labourers, who live hand to mouth. Plus how to feed the domestic animals.
The news of dogs feeding on four deer at the Rajshahi Zoo has come as a shock to all people. In normal times the dogs that attacked the deer would have fed on different types of food wastes thrown by the residents of Rajshahi City. Attack on the zoo deer and feeding on them, unheard of before, tells of the desperateness of the hungry dogs.
Again, the unfortunate trekking of thousands of garment workers to the capital to join work at their factories that the owners had announced to open, and their trekking back homes when the decision was reversed a couple of days ago, is feared to have done a great disservice to the social distancing work of the government. God forbids nobody knows whether many of them have contracted the virus by coming into touch with each other.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Police has prohibited the movement of people to and from the capital while kitchen markets and shopping arcades have been asked to close by 7 pm. According to reports supplies to the kitchen markets have remained steady, although prices of many essential items have fallen over the last 15 days. All efforts should be made to ensure that this steady supply chain does not break despite the social distancing restrictions. Otherwise, cities and towns will run out of the supply of essentials.
With mosques in the metropolis and elsewhere asking devotees to stay back at their homes, it is hoped that one stream of social gatherings will come to a stop making the social distancing programme meaningful. Alongside this, the testing facilities should be expanded rapidly to detect the infected cases at the shortest possible time. Once this can be achieved lockdown and social distancing can also be lifted by guarding against further import of the virus from foreign countries.
(The writer is the Editor of GreenWatch Dhaka online daily)