Originally published in Dhaka Tribune on 17 August 2020

Its people are showing tremendous resilience in fending off this crisis

To fight the Covid-19 pandemic is a huge challenge for any country, even the most developed ones.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh’s health system and economic strength are certainly not the best in the world. Despite the same, in terms of mortality, Bangladesh is doing significantly better than many other countries.

Many are saying that deaths may be undercounted. Amid the pandemic, many patients have died of symptoms similar to Covid-19, but it cannot be considered with certainty that they have died of Covid-19. For the sake of argument, even if we assume that the death rate has been uncounted by 50%, still our death rate is far lower than the global averages.

Why do we have low mortality in Bangladesh?

In early February this year, the government evacuated close to 300 Bangladeshi citizens from China. The government also installed screening devices across its international airports and land-ports.

Bangladesh also took the bold step of suspending all flights from Europe. Many of the passengers, who were screened, were immediately quarantined. Two religious centres were immediately transformed into temporary quarantine facilities.

After the first case was detected, the educational institutions were closed and all non-essential businesses were encouraged to carry out their business activities using digital platforms. Initially, a nationwide general holiday was declared for a week, which was subsequently extended from time to time.

Our health workers are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic with heroic effort — deploying themselves with bravery and extraordinary expertise. They are working tirelessly in extraordinary circumstances to save thousands of lives. Many Bangladeshi dynamic health workers are playing an important role in global health too. Their research is not only being used in Bangladesh but by other countries.

The government announced incentives for doctors, nurses, health care providers, and field-level officials from different departments who are directly involved with providing services to the citizens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

From March 2020, several stimulus packages for different sectors were announced to sustain and maintain the economic activities. Measures have also been taken to protect the most vulnerable and poor to ensure effectiveness.

There was a package to support the wages of workers in the RMG sector, the largest export-oriented sector in Bangladesh, so that the employers could pay wages for three months and the workers could stay at home during the countrywide lockdown.

The government has taken measures to provide cash assistance to about 5 million families displaced by the pandemic. There are also measures to protect the homeless and for food distribution. Cash allowances for the elderly, widows, and disabled individuals are also being provided. All the relief distribution and financial support for the destitute has been playing an important role by keeping them safe at home.

In order to raise awareness, the government along with the private sector has launched aggressive campaigns via different platforms and media, including mobile phone operators. A huge number of telephone hotlines have also been launched to advise patients with Covid-19 symptoms. The laws relating to contagious diseases have been enforced to stop the highly contagious virus from spreading. A circular was issued by the health ministry ordering its citizens to wear masks whenever they go out of homes to limit the transmission of coronavirus.

Older patients or those with preexisting conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease are likely at higher risk than the average person.

But in Bangladesh, due to aggressive awareness campaigns, elderly people have become more cautious and thus the death rate amongst elderly people is much lower as well.

At the beginning of March, most of us apprehended that by July-August 2020, in Bangladesh the Covid death toll may reach millions and many would die from starvation.

Those who could afford to do so were panic buying and stockpiling all necessary foods and essentials considering that a famine-like situation may happen. But not a single Bangladeshi has died of starvation and neither was there any shortage of essentials or price hiking of the same.

Our health system is not well equipped to serve its 160 million-plus population. However, amid this crisis, the measures taken by the prime minister are commendable and steps were taken in the right direction for a pro-active lockdown.

The fight against this invisible enemy cannot be carried out by the government alone. If people follow public health guidance on mask-wearing, social distancing, and self-isolation, it may be possible to reduce infections in high-risk populations and lower the percentage of death drastically.

Bangladesh and its people are showing tremendous resilience in fending off this crisis. When the health care systems of the most powerful countries in the world have failed to curb the spread of Covid-19, and decomposed dead bodies were found in the streets of first world countries, Bangladesh has done a better job in combating Covid-19 by taking timely and decisive steps.

—Miti Sanjana is an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, a partner of Legal Counsel, and an activist.