About coronavirus

প্রকাশিত: ১০:১৫ অপরাহ্ণ, এপ্রিল ৭, ২০২০

About coronavirus

Dr. Mamun Al Mahtab (Shwapnil)

Perhaps we have got inured to the fact that any crisis must witness more rumours swirling in the air than facts anchored in the ground. Take the case of the crisis brewing from the coronavirus centring which a swarm of rumours has spread its wings and they have become unstoppable. Those who don’t even have a modicum of knowledge of the human body seem to be wiser than the Owl of Minerva. Some say pennywort leaves will heal the coronavirus patients, while some even lay supernatural claims to have dreamt of the medicine for the virus to rest in peace. I have even witnessed on Facebook that the medicine they dreamt of is now exported from Bangladesh to the US! Even my office assistant revealed that someone in his neighbourhood went in search of pennywort with a torch in his hand. But what appears as a silver line at the edge of the cloud is that nowadays people are less gullible than they were before. Still, the trend of believing in something unproven and unreliable has not died out. But, the number of people vulnerable to the rumours of this kind has come down the ladder. Moreover, the durability of the fake news existing in people’s psyche has also dipped low as people learned how to winnow out rumours. So, our immunity to the yarns spun around has been fortified than before. In the past, we witnessed people pinning their faiths to something that may even surpass the fantastical storyline of a thriller. We observed in the past people taking to the street with the claim that they saw on the moon in the night sky their spiritual guru Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the notorious war criminal awarded imprisonment for life for his crimes committed against his countrymen and humanity. How rumour-prone people could be enraged like mindless monsters were observed in different places of the country such as Borhanuddin and Nasirnagar. With that trail of vulnerability to rumours taken into account, we can safely say that we are now acting more judiciously than we did in the past. We owe to the mainstream for uplifting people significantly.

However, the danger of people slipping into the abyss of baseless claims is not something Bangladesh along is exposed to. A few days ago, I came to know that the government of Australia introduced an app to make sure that their countrymen don’t fall into the trap of fake news. At the same time, the British government has become tough on those fanning rumours. The law enforcers in our country have also hit the ground running to stop the spread of rumours that fly faster than the virus itself. Astounding as it may sound, their involvement has also been subjected to rumour. Some people even believed that the government was going to track mobile phones, the Internet, social media such as Facebook. This rumour couldn’t put its dent either. Thanks to the statements issued by the authority and the promptness of the media helped the rumour die out. However, not all rumours should be put in the same basket. There are people spreading rumours out of their panic. Some cash in on it to make money. Some hatch a plan to deteriorate law and order in the country and destroy people’s faith in the government. Among the rumours fanned by the last segment lies the one about the mortality rate from the coronavirus. Some people fell for it since one lie told hundred times is mistaken for the truth. They believe that there are more deaths from the virus and more patients in reality than are reported. They think that the government is hiding the news deliberately. Heartbreaking as it may seem, though some so-called specialists who are uploading such posts on Facebook and laying such statements that are also carried by the mainstream media, no one can beef up their argument with facts and figures. Some people are even resorting to arithmetic calculations to strengthen their argument. For them, I have very simple mathematics to present. A team of researchers from London Imperial College got two research papers published by the world’s most prominent scientific journal called ‘Nature’. From that publication, we came to know that the COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU need to stay in the hospital for 10 days on average, which implies that a patient will either return home safely in 10 days or will never return at all. It means that the first patient who died of the disease tested positive maximum 10 days back. In Bangladesh, the first death from the coronavirus occurred on Mar 18 and the first detection of COVID-19 happened 10 days back, which is on Mar 8. The calculation is as simple as that.

Thanks to the coronavirus, we are enriching a personal dictionary with new words such as ‘Epicentre’. Originally, the word describes the spot where an atom bomb hits the ground. Mankind has observed that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When it comes to the outbreak, the epicentre was in China and it was later shifted to Europe. Following the curve of the virus attack, we can conclude that the next epicentre is going to be the US. Until now, no tropical region has picked up the title of the epicentre. In-vitro experiments (the ones conducted outside the body) revealed that the novel coronavirus can withstand the temperature up to 70 degrees Celsius. We also know that it is a capsulated virus, which means that it has a lipid layer. That it is very unlikely that the virus might endure high temperatures. Scientists are yet to accumulate significant information about the virus and they require more time and research for that. Therefore, you cannot say for sure what its appropriate nature would be in a tropical country. But, the trend of its spread so far indicates that 95 percent of the deaths from the virus happened in the countries prevalent with cold weather. So, Bangladesh, a tropical country, can be dubbed exposed to a lesser level of risk than countries with cold weather are.

Moreover, Bangladesh is not a distant island where people would die in hundreds or thousands and all of those deaths would go unnoticed. Moreover, we didn’t witness scores of deaths in neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan either. In this digital era when information goes viral faster than a rocket, even a handful of death cases are reported while hundreds of deaths going unnoticed are even hard to imagine especially in a densely populated country. Furthermore, the country is now endowed with more than 25 electronic media and over 100 print media.

On top of that, the digital platforms are reverberating with young hearts since Facebook alone counts 50 million users in the country.

But, one issue is clear as the daylight. Those fanning the rumours that people are dying of the coronavirus in their thousands do not believe it themselves because the way they behave does not testify to that concern. Many of them who headed for home squeezing themselves in a sea of people and thus exposed themselves to a potential risk of getting affected are now trying to caution other people that the coronavirus is killing thousands. How could someone be a part of a crowd if he believes that a virus has spread across the length and breadth of the country and the person standing next to him might carry that virus and he might be infected as well? You can check it out on YouTube and newspapers that display visuals and pictures of the crowd flocking to their sweet home like they do during the Eid festivals. Does that prove that someone is scared of getting infected with the coronavirus? Many of them converged on Shahbagh as their merriment knew no bound when the opposition leader was offered a conditional release from jail and they did not think twice before accompanying the leader from Shahbagh to her residence. Perhaps someone among them who spread the panic about the coronavirus without believing it themselves is still out to the street when the entire nation is supposed to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus. Perhaps they are violating the ‘Stay Home’ rules and strolling outside without even caring about how they are catalysing the risk of spreading the virus. Someone among them may be sipping from their cup of tea at a makeshift tea stall and glancing at this write-up right now.

This is the time we must act judiciously. It’s not the time for making your post more viral than the virus itself. That narcissistic behaviour can be preserved for sometime later. Even if they don’t bother about their own health, they should be concerned about the health of their parents and beloved ones whose lives they are exposing to the risk of infection. Coronavirus does not have reservations or preoccupation with any caste, creed or political ideology. For those who seem to be wiser about the coronavirus than they are in reality, I have an adage, used by Dr Muhammad Zafar Iqbal in his recent article, to repeat – “A little learning is a dangerous thing, Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring.”

Dr. Mamun Al Mahtab : Chairman of Hepatology, BSMMU, Advisor of redtimes.com.bd

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December 2021