Covid- 19: Still not the time to feel relief

Scene from a street in Khulna where no one is bothered about masks and other health guidelines despite an alarming increase in the spread of Covid-19
File photo

There is both hope and apprehension among the people about the coronavirus pandemic. There is some relief among the people due to the reduction in the Covid detection rate and casualties in recent times. On the other hand, there is also fear among many that the situation might change with the emergence of a new variant of the coronavirus.

Almost all the restrictions imposed to curb the transmission of the coronavirus have been lifted. The markets throng with crowds and the roads are jammed with vehicles. Almost all offices have returned to normal. Communication with neighbouring India is also to be resumed. Almost everything has reopened except educational institutions. It is still uncertain as to when educational institutions will be reopened.

Public health experts and virologists have not been able to reach a conclusion on the nature of coronavirus. In the regular health bulletin on Sunday, Mohammad Robed Amin, spokesperson of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said there is no chance for relief as yet. If the patient detection rate is below 5 per cent for two or three consecutive weeks, then the coronavirus transmission rate can be considered under control. However, such a situation has not yet arrived.

The patient detection rate on Monday was 12.07 per cent. The number was more than double even a month ago. On 24 July, the patient identification rate was 33 per cent. The number has been decreasing since then. The government figures show that the rate of infection is declining.

The scary situation with hundreds of people dying every day has improved a bit. The health directorate on Monday reported some 94 more Covid casualties in the last 24 hours. For several days in a row, the number of Covid related casualties was above 200. A maximum of 264 people died of Covid on 5 and 10 August. The fear that emerged with the spike in Covid related casualties is mostly gone now.

The pressure of patients was mounting at the hospitals as the number of Covid cases was increasing. There was an acute crisis of general beds, ICU beds and oxygen supply at the hospitals. However, the crisis is almost gone with the reduction in detection rates and number of deaths.

Some 11,012 general beds and 636 ICU beds were vacant in the country on Monday. There was no extra pressure of coronavirus patients either.

The reasons behind the improvement

Prof Tahmina Shirin, director of the government's Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Prothom Alo that there are several reasons for the improvement in the situation. Many people, who had been infected with the virus in the last one and a half years, are thought to have produced antibodies in their bodies.

Restrictions across the country from 1 to 14 July and from 23 July to 10 August had played a role in reducing infections. Besides, the coronavirus vaccines are also protecting some people. Although a few in numbers, many are following the health guidelines and wearing masks, she added.

The coronavirus transmission rate and subsequent casualties started to decline in August last year too. While addressing a programme on 15 August last year, health minister Zahid Maleqeue said that the transmission of the coronavirus could be brought under control even without the vaccines.

However, the spread of the virus could not be brought under control. From March this year, the transmission rate gradually increased and became severe in July.

Such a trend of coronavirus transmission is not just seen in Bangladesh. The transmission of the virus has been seen to increase again in many countries after declining. According to several media reports, the rate of infection is rising again in India and the United States.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been reporting on the increase and decrease in the transmission since the beginning of the pandemic. WHO says the transmission rate remained stable from 16 to 22 July after an almost two-month increase.

Compared to the previous week, the patient detection rate in India has increased by 10 percent this week. The coronavirus transmission rate has also increased in Sri Lanka.

Why does the risk persist?

In April this year, the delta variant of coronavirus was reported to have spread in India. Transmission rate and subsequent casualties started to increase rapidly in the country as a result of this. Concerns about this new variant of coronavirus spread all over the world.

There were concerns about this in Bangladesh as well and the spread of the delta variant in the country could not be prevented.

On 5 April, the delta variant was first detected in the country in the body of a 55-year-old man returning from India. The detection rate and Covid related casualties started to increase gradually after that.

We have learned a lot while tackling the wave of the delta variant. We have to utilise this knowledge in the future. More people should be brought under the vaccination campaign. Oxygen supplies at the hospitals should be increased. We have to develop the habit of wearing a mask.
Public health expert Abu Zamil Faisal

Already the lambda variant of coronavirus, originating in Peru, has spread in the US. It can spread to other countries just as coronavirus spread in the entire world from Wuhan, China. It does not mean that coronavirus would come from foreign countries only. It can transform anywhere if it gets a proper environment and a new variant can emerge.

Time to relief has not come yet

People are confused about the coronavirus situation. At the beginning of the pandemic it was thought that the rate of transmission and death would be high, there would be a crisis for beds at the hospitals and it would be difficult for the government to tackle the situation. However, that was not the case. The health ministry claimed the situation was under control due to the timely actions of the government.

There was some conjectures and assumptions about the pandemic in the country. Some said people of Bangladesh were more resistant to diseases; some said Bangladeshi people had abundant amount of Vitamin D as they spend more time in sun, some said many people in the country had got the BCG vaccine and therefore the effect of the coronavirus pandemic would be much less.

Many had thought that the environment of Bangladesh is not conducive for the spread of coronavirus. Many said the transmission would decline in winter while others said it would increase. However, all these conjectures were solely based on assumptions. There was no science behind these. All these conjectures were proved wrong when the coronavirus transmission rate started to increase in March this year.

The winter is coming. Many are concerned about the coronavirus situation in winter. IEDCR director, Prof Tahmina Shirin said, “Influenza in some countries spreads during the winter, whereas in Bangladesh it spreads in summer. However, the time has not yet come to say whether the monsoon weather has anything to do with the increase of coronavirus or not.”

Public health experts are in favour of bringing the issue of personal safety to the fore as well as the preventive measures. They insisted on monitoring the border areas.

Public health expert Abu Jamil Faisal said, “We have learned a lot of things while tackling the wave of the delta variant. We have to utilise that knowledge in the future. Besides, more people should be brought under the vaccination campaign. Oxygen supplies at the hospitals should be increased. We also have to develop the habit of wearing masks.”

*This report appeared on the print and online version of Prothom Alo and has been re-written in English by Ashish Basu