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Eid ul Azha and third wave of Covid-19

 

Rayhan Ahmed Topade:

 

The Eid ul Azha is one of the two major annual Islamic holidays. It is marked by social and religious gatherings where Muslim families and friends unite to pray together and give alms, especially in the form of sacrificed animal meat.As the Covid-19 pandemic continues into its second year, it is imperative to observe the holiday with caution and vigilance.This document provides up-to-date public health advice that can be applied across different national contexts to make activities related to Eid al Adha safer. Key messages are proposed to both policymakers and the general public.The current wave of Covid-19 has proved to be the deadliest in Bangladesh. The death count continues to climb, while confirmed cases have surpassed 1 million. The country registered  nearly 14,000 new Covid-19 cases Monday almost double the daily number recorded at the peak of a second wave in April.Bangladesh  imposed a lockdown at the beginning of this month and extended it until Wednesday as cases and fatalities continue to rise.The government has attributed the spike in cases to the delta variant, which was first detected in India and is now fueling surges in many parts of the world. A recent study by Bangladesh’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research found that the variant accounted for 78% of sampled.Covid-19 tests in June. It has now overwhelmed districts outside Dhaka, especially in the southern division of Khulna, which borders the Indian state of West Bengal.But experts said this was not unexpected. Bangladesh has porous borders with India, making it inevitable that a more aggressive variant would cross over. While Bangladesh tried to seal its borders in late April, people still found a way to slip into the country. Covid-19 cases and deaths have been on the rise domestically since mid-May.

Global vaccine supply shortages and stalled deliveries have also meant the majority of the population is going without some kind of protection. Fewer than 3% of the country’s nearly 170 million people have been fully inoculated. After a pause, vaccinations have started again this month.But the government could have imposed stricter measures and prepared better for the Covid-19 surge, experts said, adding that the country should also further invest in community awareness to reinforce public health measures.In May, during Eid al-Fitr, a national public holiday in Bangladesh marking the end of Ramadan, thousands of people rushed to villages to be with their families, despite a national lockdown. Now, in the midst of another lockdown, the latest restriction measures still have too many holes, according to Muzaherul Huq, a leading public health expert and former regional adviser with the World Health Organization.When you lock your house, do you keep some doors open? he asked, pointing to exemptions in the current lockdown, such as keeping ready-made garment factories open. Huq also said the government should have made sure that health facilities in certain areas were prepared and strengthened with enough beds and oxygen.Now, treatment is not available at subdistrict hospitals, causing a delay in the provision of care and leading to more deaths.The government could also have strengthened social protection schemes to incentivize low-income earners to stay home during the lockdown period.The government has failed in more than a year’s time to plan a scheme of social protection and aid to low-income people and the garment industry workers.Even during restrictions, these people homes in a desperate need of livelihood.

But the latest restrictions have been the most stringent by far, with the army and other security forces patrolling the streets.There is worry that the upcoming Eid ul-Azha, a major Islamic celebration involving animal sacrifice that starts next week, will further drive cases. But the government is temporarily lifting the lockdown and easing restrictions beginning, with measures set to resume after the festival.Initially, subdistrict hospitals across Chapai Nawabganj reportedly struggled to provide patients with oxygen. But the health official said he now has an ample supply.In the main district hospital, the oxygen supply is sufficient at this moment. The hospital alone has 191 oxygen cylinders. Whenever the total reserve comes down below 50%, we make requisition and necessary supplies arrive. At this moment, we face no shortage of oxygen.More people have entered Bangladesh from India through official border posts since May 19, he noted, and all of them were put under mandatory quarantine. Bordering areas are also under the direct supervision of the prime minister’s office, he said, with top bureaucrats including the prime minister’s principal secretary in regular contact with district-level civil surgeons like him, underscoring that the gravity of the situation has not escaped the central government.Bangladesh will lift its nationwide Coronavirus lockdown for the country’s second-biggest religious festival, the government said on Tuesday, even as new infections soared to record levels. The cabinet said all restrictions would be eased in the Muslim-majority country of 169 million people from Thursday, ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival which will be celebrated from July 20 to 22 this year.Tens of millions of people usually head back to their villages to mark Eid ul-Azha with their families.

Bangladesh imposed its strictest-ever lockdown at the start of the month as new Covid-19 cases and deaths climbed to pandemic highs.Under the lockdown, people were only allowed to leave home for emergencies and to buy essentials, with public transport, shops and offices shut.

The death toll has risen above 16,600. But experts say the real figures could be much higher amid fears of underreporting.The infection level is still very high.There are also fears that crowding at markets to buy animals for slaughter and big gatherings during the festival could become super-spreader events.The announcement came as authorities restarted the country’s Covid-19 vaccination drive, which virtually ground to a halt in late April after imports of shots from neighbouring India were suspended to meet local demand amid a massive virus surge.The revived inoculation programme kicked off on a large scale on recently with two million shots of Sinopharm from China and 2.5 million Moderna doses from the United States via the Covax programme.

So far, 4.2 million people in Bangladesh have been fully vaccinated with two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine bought or donated from India.A further 1.6 million have received one shot.In nearby Bhutan, half a million Moderna doses arrived last week from the United States via Covax.More shots are expected to be donated by Denmark, Croatia, Bulgaria, China and several other countries.The tiny Himalayan kingdom, which has a population of 770,000, had pleaded for more shots after using up most of the 550,000 AstraZeneca doses donated by India.It had inoculated more than 60 percent of its population with first doses in late March and early April.In the world’s second-most infected nation India, where cases have declined from record highs in May.

The virus does not come and go on its own we bring it with us when we disobey the rules. Experts are warning us repeatedly that careless behaviour, like overcrowding, will lead to an increase in Covid cases.Although the government was supposed to enforce a 14-day strict lockdown until Wednesday to stem surges in Covid deaths and infections, a huge number of vehicles continue to ply the city streets. Monitoring by the law enforcers to ensure the restrictions has decreased lately. The restrictions enforced by the government to contain the spread of Covid will be relaxed from July 15 to 22. Strict restrictions, however, will be re-imposed on July 23.Experts fear that the government decision would lead to further increase in virus infections across the country. Cabinet Division sources said the government is also considering allowing public transports and shopping malls to operate on a limited scale during this period on the occasion of the Eid-ul-Azha to be celebrated on July 21.Public transports could operate with half of their seats vacant. And shops could be allowed to reopen, maintaining the health safety guidelines, they said. Besides, temporary cattle markets will be allowed across the country on the occasion of the Eid-ul-Azha.The two Dhaka city corporations have already issued notifications about the places chosen for setting up cattle markets in the capital.The decision to ease the ongoing lockdown comes hard on the heels of an alarming surge in infections and deaths from Covid. Experts fear that the government decision to ease the lockdown may aggravate the already deteriorating situation as it would be difficult to ensure the health guidelines during home rush and at cattle markets.And if the situation deteriorates further in the coming week due to relaxation of the restrictions.

During the lockdown, the government kept garment and other factories open and allowed rickshaws on roads. There were no strict measures to keep the infected and the suspected cases in isolation or quarantine, he observed.The infected people moved around and spread the virus. Similar things will happen during home rush and at cattle markets.The government needed to make people wear masks at any cost be it motivation or punishment. But we could not do that in the last 16 months. Forcing people to wear masks could have been more fruitful than a lockdown in curbing infections.Amid a surge in Covid cases, the government enforced a nationwide strict lockdown from July 1 for a week. It was later extended for another week till July 14.Since July 1, a total of 121,699 people were infected and 2,156 died from the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, the two Dhaka city corporations said a total of 18 makeshift cattle markets will be set up in the capital tomorrow and sale of sacrificial animals will begin on July 17.Now Covid-19 has smartly played the human connectivity game and exploited our social network, creating a once in a lifetime pandemic that has locked most of the world’s population in their homes, away from workplaces and schools, and resulted in untold suffering, with the loss of more than 3.2 million lives and close to $3.9 trillion in economic output.Today we must all take a proactive role and consider cancelling small gatherings linked with religious and cultural festivals until the end of 2021or when the Covid-19 vaccine coverage reaches a sufficient level to interrupt transmission.I urge my fellow Muslims to protect themselves by staggering or cancelling all family gatherings related to religious festivities until the end of 2021.If we make the right choices this week, we will be able to continue celebrating holidays for years to come with our parents and grandparents. Have a beautiful Eid for all. Eid Mubarak.

Writer and Columnist

raihan567@yahoo.com