He puts on a mask and takes hand sanitiser with him while going outdoors. When he comes back, he sprays disinfectant all over his body before entering home. Then he takes a bath before touching anything. He even takes his evening walk at home.
For shopping essentials other than meat and fish, Syed Mominul ventures online, most of the time with the help of his two working sons, who follow the same procedure as their father when they go to office.
“No matter what, we are taking precautions. Our family haven’t caught the coronavirus yet. Let’s see how long we can keep it away,” said Mominul, a former official at the agriculture ministry.
Although most of the people in Bangladesh do not follow the health rules as strictly as do Mominul’s family, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their day-to-day life largely, making them get used to new habits in the year 2020.
People have done away with handshakes and hugs, which have been replaced with fist, elbow or leg bumps. Those who want to keep physical distance while greeting others follow the rules with Namaste. Experts suggest maintaining a minimum of three to six feet physical distance everywhere out of home to reduce the risk of infection.
Masks have become a symbol of protection from the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. In Bangladesh, the offices have adopted a “no mask, no service” policy. The government has also assigned mobile courts to enforce mask wearing. The visitors also must sanitise hands and other parts of the body at some offices.
The virus put huge curbs on socialising and people now tend to avoid parties and gatherings now.
Public health expert Mushtuq Husain, who did his PhD research at the University of Cambridge in the UK, thinks no other pandemic could effect such widespread changes before.
“It’s because the previous pandemics hit specific regions. But the whole world has been affected this time due to progress made in communications,” he said.
Not only health, the pandemic has shown the people how to save time by working online. “It has increased the volume of our work,” Mushtuq said.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic also made people familiar with words such as “social distancing”, “immunity”, “quarantine”, “lockdown” and “isolation”.
During the 66-day lockdown in the form of general holidays, the internet became the platform for most of the work. Even court hearings were held online via video call.
Seminars turned into webinars, living rooms became office and classrooms went to bedrooms.
Many jumped to online shopping at the time, giving a huge boost to the e-commerce industry.
The e-commerce businesses in the country saw a turnover of Tk 160 billion from March to September, according to the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh or e-CAB. The figure may rise to as high as Tk 300 billion by January, said Asif Ahnaf, corporate affairs director of the association.
The home delivery services of online stores have picked up amid the coronavirus shutdown. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi
“People are getting used to online shopping while many big companies have entered the e-commerce business,” he said.
“And a huge number of self-employed entrepreneurs have emerged at the time. Especially, women entrepreneurs have made a tremendous progress. Those working on grocery products achieved 300-400 percent growth,” Asif said.
The use of Zoom, a video conferencing platform, has jumped sharply as people flocked to the internet for meetings, webinars or classes. Google, Facebook and other tech giants also brought features for large meetings.
Zoom said the number of people using the platform increased to 200 million a day in March 2020 from 10 million in December 2019. The figure increased to 300 million in April.
“LET THE POSITIVE CHANGES PREVAIL”
Professor Sadeka Halim, the dean of Dhaka University’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said the coronavirus crisis has become part of life now; all the people follow the rules more or less.
“But people are abandoning the good habits as time flies by. They think there is no good doing them because they are getting infected even after taking precautions,” she said.
Mushtuq, who advises the government’s disease control agency the IEDCR on COVID-19, said the health care system of Bangladesh should be based on the interests of public health instead of profit.
“Some people thought establishing big hospitals in costly buildings will turn our health system into a good one. We might have lacked focus on social efforts and the mindset to work as a whole on issues like safe drinking water, pollution-free environment and the effects of climate change,” he said.
Bangladesh did not think much about encouraging its citizens to get treatment here instead of going abroad, but the pandemic has “taught us the lesson that there is no point getting treatment abroad if our health system does not work well”, he said.
“If we as a society spend Tk 1 on ensuring healthy environment, changing the people’s behaviour and adopting healthy habits to prevent diseases, we will be able to spend hundreds of thousands of takas on other things,” Mushtuq added.
He also cited the instance of Europe, which established systems for safe drinking water and sanitation, grew the habit of washing hands with soap and water, and shunned the bad habit of spitting in public after suffering cholera and plague epidemics. “They are reaping the benefits now.”
Prof Sadeka said it will be good news for Bangladesh if the good habits adopted during the pandemic are continued.
“Many suffer from respiratory illness in our country. If we can grow the habit of wearing a mask, it will cut the rate of such diseases. I believe the people will become more health conscious,” she said.
And now, after the pandemic, the government will pay more attention to the health sector, she thinks.
Bangladesh should also utilise the benefits of distance learning even when the educational institutions reopen.
“We are building a ‘Digital Bangladesh’, but we can’t yet hold exams or grade students online,” she bemoaned.