Covid rage jeopardises Eid festivity19 July 2021
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin :
After one year, Eid-ul-Azha has come again in the Muslim society carrying along the message of sacrifice. Allah (SWT) gave a dream to his dear friend Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail (AS) for the sake of Him. Satisfied with the incomparable example of sacrifice and devotion that Ibrahim (AS) set in this ordeal, Allah (SWT) informed him that he had fully passed the test and as a reward gave him an animal as a sacrifice in place of his son. Islam has perpetuated this sacrifice of Ibrahim (AS), the father of the Muslim nation, through the rituals of Eid-ul-Azha.
Special festivals on specific days have played an important role in human society from time to time to break the monotony of daily life and to allow for sharing mutual joys and sorrows. Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha are two universal festivals for the whole Muslim Ummah across the globe. By celebrating these festivals on the same day, all the Muslims in the world re-experience the bond of universal unity that exists among them. Apart from these two festivals, another big festival like PahelaBoishakh is celebrated with great fanfare in the Bengali society. In addition, many other festivals, big and small, are celebrated from time to time, which continues to make a significant contribution to meeting the psychological needs of the people of this country.
These religious festivals celebrated in Muslim society have some fundamental characteristic differences with other festivals. Islam does not deny people's need for entertainment, but in the midst of joy, Islam always wants to keep alive in the mind of a Muslim the feeling that we are God's slaves. Through its rituals, Islam wants to deeply root in the mind of a believer that the real joy of a believer is in glorifying the Lord and surrendering to Him with self-sacrificing mind and asking Him for forgiveness always --- when getting up or sitting down, sleeping, dreaming or waking. That is why we see that the Eid day activities begin with the collective surrender to the Most Merciful through the Eid prayers in the morning. In the prayers and before and after, 'Allahu Akbar' voice is resounded all around glorifying His Majesty's excellence. After the prayer, through animal sacrifices for the sake of gaining nearness to Allah (SWT), every Muslim declares once again that all our activities are dedicated to His satisfaction. 'Surely my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the worlds' (Al-Qur'an 6: 162).
Eid festival is always to mean overflowing crowds of homebound people, in roads, railways and waterways --- everywhere, who are eager to share their happiness with relatives and friends. There is an indescribable hustle and bustle everywhere. So much suffering, yet no one regrets this journey of reunion with loved ones. For transport owners and workers, it is an occasion of special annual income. The huge gathering of people for the purchase of animals at the Qurbani Hat, moving around from Hat to Hat in the search for the desired animal, and bargaining for the price of animals one after another - all these inspire a great deal of enthusiasm among the young and the old. The children are overwhelmed to see the animals bought in their own houses and neighborhoods. For many, processing the meat after slaughtering the animal is an experience only once a year, but there is no lack of enthusiasm. Finally, in the final stage of this arrangement, when the cooked meat of the sacrifice arrives for consumption, everyone feels like that the much-awaited moment is ultimately here. In order to make this festival of Qurbani universal, Islam has not only made provision of Eid Jamaat early in the morning with collective participation of all but has also encouraged to divide the Qurbani meat into three portions and distribute two of them among the relatives and the poor. This deepens the mutual cordiality among the relatives. The poor and needy get the feeling that this festival is not only for the rich, but they are also equal partners in it.
Since last year, this joyous event of the Muslim community has been fading due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Let alone celebrating the festival, people are struggling to save their lives. The worst part of this pandemic is that it imposes control over social interaction. People are forced to live a life of house arrest, willingly or unwillingly. While man seemed ready to rein in this deadly germ by inventing vaccines in the shortest possible time with the application of latest technologies, it kept constantly changing its form and throwing new challenges. The country somehow managed to push the beta variant on Eid-ul-Fitr. But this time, the only future can tell where Delta variant, which started to rage on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha, will end up.
Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, the original strain of coronavirus has changed its form again and again to give several more deadly strains, which have repeatedly tarnished the apparent success of scientists in dealing with pandemic in various countries. Notable among these variants are: Alpha or UK variant, Beta or South African variant, Gamma or Brazilian variant and the latest Delta or Indian variant. Presumably, the Delta or Indian variant is the most dangerous version of this virus so far. Neighboring India is a vivid example of how devastating it can be. The steep rise observed there in the number of infections and deaths due to the Delta variant is unprecedented.
The Delta variant has come to Bangladesh with a kind of advance notice. When it was rampant in neighboring India, it was clearly assumed that its spread to Bangladesh was only a matter of time. It was seen that within a short time of its first ever identification in Bangladesh, this variant initially spread in the border districts of Khulna and Rajshahi region and then very quickly all over the country. The rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths soon surpassed all previous records. For the first time, the country saw more than two hundred deaths in a row. Most worryingly, according to experts, more than half of the infected patients are from rural areas, which means that the virus has now spread beyond the city to the villages.
The question is: did we have lacking in our planning and preparation? Are we on the right track to deal with the situation? It was reported that the main reason for the rapid spread of this virus was its excessive transmissibility, which suddenly puts a huge pressure on the health system of a country by increasing the number of critically ill patients requiring hospitalisation. As a result, the number of general and ICU beds allocated for COVID-19 patients in hospitals is rapidly depleted and, consequently, the number of deaths started to increase due to failure to bring all the patients brought to the hospital under proper care. Experts have also blamed bringing patients from villages to the hospital at a very late and extremely critical state for the increase in the number of deaths in the country. Due to the limited capacity of the country's health system, what we needed was to focus on preventing the spread of infection from the very beginning. With this in mind, the government has moved, in the right direction, with lock-down first at the regional level and later across the whole country.
Where we are lagging behind is that we have not been able to adequately motivate a large section of the population to take a very critical but simple preventive measure like wearing a mask. It is not easy to implement programs like lock-down in the socio-economic reality of a country like ours. The need for lock-down would have been reduced if adequate use of masks could have been ensured universally. We need to think more seriously about why we failed to achieve the expected success in ensuring universal use of masks. Many feel that this requires the involvement of mass people, including socio-political activists, at the local level, in addition to the administrative system, which apparentlywe are still taking lightly. The same goes with the repeated failure in achieving adequate success in lockdown attempts. As it turns out, just days after the lockdown begins, it becomes largely limited to just shutting down public transportation. In many cases, it is becoming difficult to find signs of lock-down in alleys other than the main road. Second, the successful implementation of lockdown has been hampered by the lack of a clear plan to support low-income working people, many of whom have to live on their daily incomes.
Another shortcoming of our preparedness for dealing with the Delta situation is the inadequacy or, in some cases, total absence of required health infrastructure with general and ICU beds for the treatment of COVID-19 patients at the district and upazilla level. It has become now one of the priorities due to large-scale spread of the disease in rural areas. One more thing is particularly important. According to experts, it is essential to quickly bring most people under vaccination to prevent the emergence of new variants. Sadly, we were offered a long time ago an opportunity to prepare some foreign vaccine right here in this country. We lost the opportunity due to our callousness. Attempts are on to make vaccines on the private level in the country as well. There too we have failed to attach due importance.
After a two-week 'severe' lockdown, the government has lifted the lockdown for a week, in consideration of upcoming Eid festival and accompanying economic activities like buying and selling sacrificial animals. Although there was no better alternative for the government to balance life and livelihood, the current pandemic situation is not conducive at all to such a decision. It is difficult to say what effect the Eid Jamaat, Qurbani Hat and the two-way flow of people between town and village on the occasion of Eid will have on the COVID-19 situation in the end. In view of the plan of imposing lockdown again after the Eid, it is imperative for policy makers to come up with a definite plan to provide financial assistance or interest-free loans to low-income people. Seemingly, the loss of livelihood of these people that is about to force them to sit on the street is evading our eyes.
Eid greetings to all. Eid Mubarak.
(Dr Muhsin is Professor and Chairman, Department of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University).