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Dear Policymakers, What the Fuck Are You Doing?

Image source: The Daily Star


A Special Coronavirus Edition


Seeam Marjan


Three weeks ago, it seemed like Bangladesh, among very few other countries of the world, could successfully save itself from the Covid-19 blow without any major loss in comparison to the rest of the world. When Europe went through the second wave with thousands of deaths per day, Bangladesh’s corona graph was almost approaching null. The government was praised for their decisive policymaking (?) throughout the pandemic, which apparently helped minimise the number of deaths and saved the economy from crumbling. International prizes were flooding in, and it seemed like the ruling party found another reason to continue the constant glorification for their central leader. 

However, for any conscious citizen living in the country, it was pretty easy to understand that whatever might have helped Bangladesh battle the pandemic, the state’s decisiveness was definitely not the cause.

For the most part, we don’t actually know what happened in Bangladesh. Our per-day testing was far less than what was required to comprehend the real picture. Besides, after the first four months, when we became habituated with the new normal, the government stopped putting out the numbers and the statistics in-front because no one really cared about them anymore.   

This phenomena of having less incidence and mortality of Covid-19 even after having a weak infrastructure isn’t exclusive to Bangladesh. This has been noticed in almost all the South Asian countries. Researchers are yet to find out any concrete evidence as to why this has happened, but academics speculate that both genetic and environmental factors might have played a role. 

All in all, although Bangladesh was brought to its knees during the first Covid surge, a lot of factors might have played to save the country from the initial blow. Bangladesh was given one year to prepare, to build its infrastructure, to revamp its healthcare system in case of any other similar emergency. Except for putting out all their effort into hiding the real picture, the state did absolutely nothing. One year later, we are again brought to our knees, courtesy of our beloved policymakers.

Even now, when we are vulnerable once again, and need hope and stability the most, our policymakers are still failing us. 

 

Let’s take a quick look at how we’ve fared so far, shall we? 

  • Food insecurity remains a big issue. 
  • Lack of adequate medical equipment still cripples hospitals and frontline medical workers. 
  • The mass adoption of a vaccine still keeps getting delayed.
  • The number of Covid-19 cases keeps rising, with no signs of stopping. It reached a new high of 7087 infected last Sunday, with a total death count of 101 on Saturday.

While the world rejoices over success stories in countries like New Zealand, all our policymakers can do is make empty promises and falsify news reports. With no proper measures in place, we’ve headed into another enforced lockdown. And it seems no one is batting an eye. But as the new strain of Covid-19 looms with even more ferocity, it’s time to ask, “What the fuck are our policymakers doing?” 

Public Transportation: A case of negligence 

Public transportation is an irreplaceable daily component for most working class citizens in our country. They rely on buses to get to work and come back home safely. For many, it’s the only form of transportation they can afford. Our policymakers know this. Even then, our public transit remains criminally unsafe. The buses are dirty, with no scope to follow Covid-19 safety precautions. Hand sanitisers or masks are nowhere to be seen. And bus contractors keep taking in unmasked passengers even when the bus is at maximum capacity. It seems that profit is still the main driving factor for Paribahan owners. It’s devastating that such a crucial part of our lives is so dangerous right now. 

So, what did the geniuses up in parliament cook up as a “solution” this time? They issued directives to limit the bus capacity to 50% while hiking fares by a whopping 60%. And they instructed Paribahan owners to implement safety protocols. To no one’s surprise, these directives made the situation even worse. Buses still kept taking on passengers beyond the 50% limit, clearly violating the “one person per seat” rule. What’s more, a lot of these passengers didn’t wear masks. How the will buses maintain any semblance of order or safety measures is beyond anyone’s understanding. 

On the contrary, Paribahan owners seem to have pounced on this “opportunity”. They are charging passengers DOUBLE the usual rate, far more than the proposed 60%. So, not only are buses getting more and more unsafe, but we also have to pay more to avail them? It seems like we’re paying more to get the virus inside our bodies. And it’s shameful. 

The situation got even worse. People took to the streets to protest these new developments, blocking roads and causing further disruption. Being forced to do physical protests at the height of the pandemic is a tragedy. One, it’s the only way to make our policymakers care. But two, it endangers the lives of the protestors every single day. In conclusion, our policymakers have no idea of how things work on the streets. They overlook how far Paribahan owners’ greed can reach and how much we still depend on public transportation. 

In the end, all our policymakers could do is to halt all forms of public transportation — except for essentials such as cargo, provisions, and medical equipment. It’s a clear cop-out. 

The closure of ride sharing services

Not content with ruining the public transportation service, our policymakers turned to ride-sharing services as their next victim. No one misses the hypocrisy here. It seems that our policymakers are perfectly fine with having dirty, crowded buses operate on our streets. But when it comes to ride-sharing services, a source of income for many people searching for employment, their public health radar seems to go into overdrive.

So, our policymakers turned to their most favourite solution to any problem — “When the going gets tough, just ban everything.” And so they did. Last Thursday, the government issued a directive to ban all ride-sharing services effective immediately. The resulting backlash was swift. Motorcyclists took to the streets to protest as their only source of income was cruelly taken away. During the pandemic with no other employment forms, these workers have been irrevocably harmed by this move. They can no longer reliably put food on the table or afford adequate health provisions. The protests got so bad that they resulted in gridlock at Khilkhet.

Do you notice a pattern here? Every time our policymakers issue a false solution, people take to the streets to protest, and our collective health is jeopardised once more. 

Boimela: A rich cultural event turned into a joke

Ask any bookworm about Boimela, and they’ll go on an hour-long monologue of their beautiful experiences. That is until the pandemic rolled around. Even so, Boimela remains an important cultural event that’s loved and adored by many. But more importantly, it is still the most significant source of income for most book publishers in our country. And here lies the tragedy. 

In an ideal world, we’d have made the transition to virtual events much sooner. But this didn’t happen. Instead, our policymakers decided to hold the Boimela at the height of the pandemic. The operating time was from 3pm to 9pm on weekdays and from 8am to 9pm on the weekends. With no proper safety measures in place, this was a boneheaded move. And this is especially considering that most other forms of public gathering, religious or cultural, are banned. The resulting uncertainty meant that not even a quarter of the people showed up to the fair. And who’s bearing the losses? Independent book publishers who are struggling to make ends meet. 

The line of reasoning to hold Boimela this year is comical. So apparently, the coronavirus is sentient now and willingly takes a break during Boimela hours? What’s more, it “knows” to not go anywhere near the location of the fest? It seems our policymakers believe in these extraordinary powers of sentience that a literal virus acquired overnight. If the fair opened in full swing, Covid-19 cases would have spiked, sparking another nationwide wave of hysteria.     

Enforced lockdown is still the best we can do 

To try and curb the crisis, our policymakers once again pulled the rabbit out of the hat. They issued orders to limit office workers to a third of their employee base. To no one’s surprise, this move resulted in many lower-tier workers being laid off or unable to show up to work while those who are more able still come to the office. It’s a classic case of inequality where the poor and disadvantaged are the most affected. On the other hand, tourism services have been banned for just a couple of weeks. Hear this: Just a couple of weeks. Our policymakers seem to think a couple of weeks is enough to stem the danger that the tourism industry poses to public health. It shows the impotence of their policies and the actual depth of their knowledge of the crises that haunt us.  

Now, the situation is quickly spiralling out of control. We hit a record high of 100+ deaths and over 100,000 new cases in a swift and catastrophic surge. Our policymakers had no option but to enforce a countrywide lockdown. People are conducting a mass exodus from the capital while the police are scrambling to hand movement passes to essential workers. But with no moves to create good long-term policies such as improving medical provisions or accelerating the vaccination process, it seems we are doomed to another year of the same old cycle. Every time we see tokenistic changes or directives that make the situation worse, we rebel, hoping that something will improve. But in the end, all we get is a government order to stay inside. And the ones who are hurt the most are people in the working class. These are the people who NEED to get out there to survive. Our policymakers turn a blind eye to these people as food insecurity still wrecks many rural and suburban communities. 

Conclusion

Enough is enough. We’ve had it with our policymakers, making everything worse and then enforcing lockdowns as a form of temporary relief. If proper food security, safety protocols, medical provisions, and vaccination are not ensured, we’ll spend 2021 in much the same way as 2020. Behind closed doors, hoping and praying for everything to get better, only to find ourselves in the same position over and over again. 

 

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