Bangladesh likely to enter a long transmission cycle of COVID-19: Experts

Professor Be-Nazir said the DGHS is either trying to hide the real scenarios or they do not have the capability and enough data about the coronavirus transmission

People sit as they come to a coronavirus testing center in the Mugda Medical College and Hospital as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2 July 2020.
People sit as they come to a coronavirus testing center in the Mugda Medical College and Hospital as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2 July 2020.Reuters

Though it appears that the number of coronavirus cases has marked a fall over the last two weeks, health experts said the positive case rate is actually now higher than in the past as the transmission is gradually growing for lack of effective preventive measures.

They also said the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has taken a ‘suicidal’ decision of reducing the number of daily coronavirus infection tests in the country at a time when the infection rate is rising alarmingly.

According to them, many infected people are now out of detection and are turning into ‘super spreaders’ of the virus. And for this, they said, the country will enter a long transmission cycle, wreaking havoc on human health, society, economy and every sector.

However, DGHS authorities attributed the decline in the number of tests to change in the definition of recovery, discarding the follow-up or second tests, inclement weather or flooding in different areas, the imposition of test fees and people’s lesser concern over the virus infection.

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The health experts said people’s confidence in the testing systems has eroded due to scams by JKG Health Care and Regent Hospital, a complicated system for registration of test and delay in report delivery.

According to the DGHS, 3,533 confirmed virus cases were detected during the previous 24 hours as of 15 July. It said 14,002 samples were tested in 79 labs across the country during the period and the infection rate is 25.23 per cent while the infection rate is 19.75 per cent against the tests carried out up to now.

The current data shows the transmission has increased and the rate is gradually growing. But this is also true that people are not undergoing unnecessary tests now
Professor Nasima Sultana

This has so far been the highest single-day rate of detecting positive cases. The previous highest rate of 24.95 was also recorded two days back on 13 July, manifesting the high transmission of the virus.

Professor Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the DGHS, said it is still not clear whether the virus infection has decreased or increased. “The current data shows the transmission has increased and the rate is gradually growing. But this is also true that people are not undergoing unnecessary tests now. Only suspected people are coming for tests. So, it’s usual that the infection rate will be higher than the previous time.”

She said now they have the capacity to conduct over 20,000 tests every day, but people are showing little interest in giving their samples and it indicates that the virus may show a falling trend.

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“Now we don’t conduct follow-up tests as the definition of recovery has changed. People in flood-hit areas also can’t properly undergo tests. It also seems people’s worry about the virus has decreased a lot. Earlier, the sample test was scheduled from 11:00am to 3:00pm. Even after 3:00pm, many people were seen standing in queues. But now no one is found after 1:00pm. So, the sample test has declined,” Nasima added.

But according to DGHS website data, around 2.3 million COVID-19 suspects have called the hotline numbers of the directorate expressing interest in the test over the last 13 days as of 16 July. Of them, only around 190,000 people had been able to undergo tests

But according to DGHS website data, around 2.3 million COVID-19 suspects have called the hotline numbers of the directorate expressing interest in the test over the last 13 days as of 16 July. Of them, only around 190,000 people had been able to undergo tests.

A virologist at Dhaka Medical College said the testing system has been made tougher discouraging people to avoid tests. “One has to register in advance for the online sample testing. Once the prescribed number is met, there is no chance of registration.”

Talking to news agency UNB, professor Nazrul Islam, former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said coronavirus transmission is still on the rise but the tests declined sharply over the last two weeks.

He said though a smaller number of samples have been tested, over 24 per cent infection rate has been recorded for the few days. “It indicates the virus is still showing an uptrend.”

He voiced concern that the fall in the number of tests is only contributing to the spread of the virus since many infected people are remaining undetected, and they are freely moving everywhere.

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Professor Nazrul Islam, also a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) formed to tackle the virus situation in the country, said the current daily poor testing rate does not represent the real situation of infection in the country.

“It’s our bad luck that the fee on coronavirus tests was imposed on 2 July, and the number of tests started dropping from 3 July. But there’s no alternative to increasing the number of tests and identifying the infected people to contain the virus transmission,” he observed.

Professor Nazrul said the country should conduct at least 25,000 sample tests every day to know about the genuine situation, and now it has that capacity as the number of laboratories has increased substantially.

The noted virologist said it is a fact that people are also showing less interest in undergoing the COVID-19 test these days due to the imposition of a fee, providing false test reports, hassles in providing samples and delay in having test results.

“People are losing confidence in the testing system due to JKG and Regent Hospital’s scams. People aren’t only less serious about the test, but also about wearing masks, social distancing and health hygiene rules. It’s a dangerous sign.”

Professor Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS, said, “The coronavirus infection rate is still increasing in our neighbouring country, India, which was hit by the virus well before us. What did we do more than them that the virus would decline in our country? The main thing is that the number of tests has declined at a time when the infection has increased.”

When Dhaka’s Wari area was placed in lockdown, he said, 50 per cent people of the area who underwent tests found positive for the virus. “These are hidden patients. If we can’t trace the hidden patients, the infection will gradually rise. If we want to control the situation, we must scale up tracing, testing, isolation and quarantine across the country. Or else, it’ll enter a long transmission cycle, wreaking havoc on human health, society, economy and every sector.”

Professor Be-Nazir said the DGHS is either trying to hide the real scenarios or they do not have the capability and enough data about the coronavirus transmission.