Covid-19 and zoning-based containment strategy for Bangladesh

Professor Dr AHM Zehadul Karim

Since its first appearance in China in last December, COVID-19 has so far infected 66, 82,531 people globally and also took 391, 848 lives of the people affecting 189 countries of the world. 

The spread of the disease has been so fast and rapid that initially at the very beginning it took only 91 days to kill 100,000 people, and within another 16 days, the death toll reached to 200,000.  

Meanwhile, Bangladesh has already exceeded the death of more than 975 persons as of now with a total number of infectors being traversed to 71,675 with an average increase of more than 2500 patients everyday and contextually the biggest single day jump of 3000 affected persons has occurred in the country just today. 

If we observe the process of contamination, it is clearly reflected that the rate of infectors in the country is increasing progressively at a higher rate everyday consistently making the number alarmingly terrified.   

At least a month ago, IEDCR Director, Prof. Meerjady Sabrina Flora also warned us cautioning that it might turn into a (suicidal) epidemic if strong precaution is not taken in the country; yet, some people from us seem to be very callas and reckless.

 COVID-19 is such a kind of contagious virus that it has already puzzled many big nations of the world killing people abruptly worldwide and the number of global infectors has commenced from all ages. As a precaution to it, World Health Organization (WHO) already suggested that among a few formidable requirements for preventing the disease, social distancing is one important non-pharmaceutical intervention.  

It is specially recommended by WHO for all countries of the world to implement this rule asking to prohibit public gatherings and accordingly, Bangladesh also tried its best to implement this law restricting all religious and non-religious gathering to save the nation from this catastrophic pandemic. 

But unfortunately the Governmental strategies in Bangladesh did not work out properly due to many reasons; many of these rules are not targeted accurately, nor are these rules abided by the masses. As we know it very well that we the Bangladeshis are unlike many other nations where we always have some arrogance for good words, but we are always very submissive to harsh voices and shouting. 

The worst affected COVID-19 regions in Bangladesh are: Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur and Chittagong which in fact, have not been locked down properly under strict shutdown rules, as many factories and industries were kept open due to keeping the economy alive. 

There is nothing wrong in opening the industries but the decisions to bring the people from home and sending them back again and a similar repetition of the same during Eid and other occasions does not seem to be a sagacious decision; rather, it regularly kept the people in an ‘on-road movement’ just for nothing. 

It becomes contrasting where we have closed the long-route travelling during Eid but at the same time, some people having cars were allowed to go home for celebrating their vacations seems to be an injudicious decision. In fact, it fully undermined the concept of lockdown where people moved around the roads and highways travelling all over in congested situation making the whole country vulnerable. 

We are ill-fated people in the country to see that those of us who formulate laws subsequently we go for violating it for our own interest as we have the power.  While we opened the factories and industries with an understanding to keep the economy alive, but we did not however think that it might have bitter effect as the Japanese, Chinese and other foreign investors might leave the country if we fail to reduce the infection rate. 

There should have been very cool thinking about these decisions as any mistake might cause severe effect for the whole nation. Imposition of curfews in some places of Dhaka and Narayanganj was very essential at certain time to keep the people at home forcibly at least for three weeks especially in Mohammadpur and Mirpur areas of Dhaka where the Bihari communities of Geneva Camp always move around on open streets day and night without maintaining proper disciplines. 

Many casualties in these areas especially at Geneva camp are often concealed which should have been identified as the hotspot region of COVID-19 cases in Dhaka. The residents of this camp are moving on the streets with all notoriety who do not wear any mask on their faces; while looking at them very carefully from our houses, we still find them spitting on the streets openly and also they are walking side by side without keeping any physical distance among each other. 

As the Rohynga Camp of Cox’s Bazar has already been declared the red-zone area, similarly the Geneva camp has also to be brought under red-zoning restriction immediately keeping the people in strict containment. Similarly, our evidences suggest that the rate of infection is also alarmingly high in old Dhaka as these historic city centers are predominantly overcrowded. 

The local ward commissioners being responsible for their communities should be given immediate legal directives under the guidance of police administration to implement area-based strict lockdown where only two or three vegetable and grocery vendors may be allowed to sell their daily food items going through door to door. 

Lately, now we are trying to implement a ‘flagging-zone model’ demarcating different areas on the basis of red, yellow and green regions depending on the number of affected persons in the localities to strangulate the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country. 

This model was rightly adopted in eleven towns and villages in Lombardy in Milan where an approximately 55,000 people had been lock-downed during the peak period of their pandemic and they were quarantined being identified as red zone area for more than a month altogether. All economic and social activities in this red zone of Lombardy remained in shutdown at the fullest until the number of reported infectors started declining in the region. 

Although, Italy was a little callas showing a damn of the situation initially at the very beginning for which they finally had to pay quite a lot when the whole situation went totally out of their control. Whatever may be the situation, Italian Government finally continued extending its nationwide lockdown measures against this coronavirus outbreak until the Easter season of April having its prolongation until May when it finally had brought them an effective result.  

It seems to us that we are now facing a similar situation like Italy as our number of infectors is progressively increasing day by day. While our Health Ministry has floated the zoning idea a few days earlier, the major plan perhaps has not yet been finalized, as we suspect that the Health Ministry might not have proper field-based documentation in regard to the number of infectors who have to be classified on the basis of zoning demarcation.

It might be because of the paucity of data as many of us have not yet been tested. We have reminded it several times through our previous writings that in obtaining field-based situational data we have to seek cooperation of the private sector and the NGOs who have profound knowledge and access to mass information. If we do not have proper information about the infectors at the mass level, it will be difficult for us to make suitable planning in this context. 

In choosing zoning model, there are however, some strategies for such zoning adoption as Kerala at the very beginning categorized the zones as red, yellow and green depending on the severity of COVID cases, but subsequently, they focused on keeping the people on specific containment zones to prevent the spread of the disease. 

Kerala Chief Minister, Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan mentioned that instead of zoning divisions any more, we are now tightening the containment zones where the local bodies were employed to sending food and medicine to the needy persons through their own volunteers.  In Bangladesh, it is the most responsive intervention in shrinking the spread of COVID at the community level and in this context, identifying the hotspots region for containment is the most important strategy to locate these places. 

To make the containment workable, we have one example from Indonesia where only a few registered vendors were allowed to sell their daily food items in the neighborhoods through proper maintenance of physical distancing and other prescribed requirements of World Health Organization. 

We are already in the inscrutable countenance and in saving the nation, we require immediate implementation of ‘zoning-wise strict containment-lockdown’ in some areas at least for 21 to 28 days right away; otherwise, the whole nation will have to suffer tremendously with an emerging severe fatal situation within a few days.

Professor Dr AHM Zehadul Karim is a Former Vice Chancellor of a public university in Bangladesh; now teaches at Jagannath University.