THE COVID-19 test positivity rate has increased in recent weeks; death from the disease has also increased by 30 per cent. But the public seem to have become indifferent to health safety guidelines. There have so far been no preventive or curative drugs against the disease that has so far left 462,407 people infected and 6,609 of them dead in Bangladesh. The only preventive, non-pharmaceutical interventions, as recommended the World Health Organisation, are the use of mask and the maintenance of social distancing. In Bangladesh, a reluctance at or indifference to the use of mask has, however, noticed since the disease broke out. A photograph that New Age published on Saturday shows a crowded part of a roadside market where almost no one wears a mask. The government has made the use of mask mandatory as a measure against a second wave of the disease and run mobile courts to enforce the mandatory use of masks. Yet, people appear unaware of the risks.
Public health experts have blamed the government for the situation as it has at times played down the severity of the health emergency. In March, when the government imposed restrictions on movement, it called the measure a ‘general holiday’ instead of ‘lockdown’. While offices were closed, export-oriented industries were kept open. On a number of occasions, government officials, even ministers, made misleading remarks. The health minister at a public event once said that the virus would ‘leave the country on its own.’ Such statements on part of government functionaries have impacted public perception, influenced their behaviour and came in the way of health safety protocol enforcement. The government support for the poor and the distribution of masks are episodic and sanitising stations are inadequate. The government’s mask and sanitiser distribution plans need to be systematic for a large number of working class people. The government also needs to have specific response plans for the people living in crowded, low-income areas that will also consider the issue of their economic survival.
The government must, therefore, inform the public of the COVID-19 reality and run a public awareness campaign on the way the virus spreads and how the infection can be prevented. The government must expand the reach of its mask and cleaning agent distribution programmes to popularise the use of masks. Instead of relying solely on punitive measures, as evident in recent mobile court drives against no use of masks, it must emphasise proper information dissemination and public awareness campaigns by involving the mass media.
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