THE government appears to make little or no efforts to minimise the secondary health impact of the COVID-19 outbreak while cases of novel coronavirus infection and consequent death continue. In the absence of vaccines or medicines, public health policy-makers have globally relied on non-pharmaceutical interventions meant to ensure a prolonged stay-at-home period to avoid contracting the disease. A prolonged stay-at-home period may help avoid being infected, but it also carries risks, particularly among the ageing population with chronic condition such as diabetes and hypertension. Routine exercise is generally recommended for this demographic group which is not possible during the outbreak as all public places and parks in Dhaka that were closed in March have not been reopened to the public. Now that offices, markets and factories are open by maintaining the COVID-19 health guideline, parks in Dhaka are still closed, which public health experts and urban planners find unjustified.
The number of public parks is shrinking and is inadequate for Dhaka’s population. The limited number of parks that exist has been inaccessible to the public for about three months. People with diabetes have expressed concern that the park closure has made it difficult for them to maintain their health condition as they have no space for routine physical exercise. But city authorities appear unaware of this secondary health impact. City authorities rather appear unconvinced. Many of the parks, as officials say, are closed for renovation, but they are largely hesitant to open them to the public as they are worried that it will be challenging to enforce the health guideline. City authorities should remember that they are mandated to ensure and maintain people’s access to public space. Restricting people’s access to avoid a challenging task is not an acceptable way of containing the virus. The government took a similar strategy when it suspended the open market sales programme for low-income groups on similar grounds that OMS places could be hotspot of infection. Public parks should not be closed, but the health guideline must be maintained.
Countries around the world have strategies in place to ensure that stay-at-home order does not jeopardise public health by limiting people’s physical activities. Authorities in Bangladesh too need to review its strategies and open the parks to the public immediately. For a city with a significant number of people suffering from non-communicable diseases, prolonged stay-at-home period without measured access to parks may prove too costly in the long run. The government must, therefore, take into account both the immediate and the long-term public health impact of COVID-19 into account.
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