The number of newly infected patients and infection rate has been high for more than one week now. One year after the coronavirus outbreak in the country, there are a lot of concerns among the people regarding the new rate of infection. In an interview with Prothom Alo, Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director of DGHS (planning and development), said it was possible to control the infection last year as the government imposed lockdown before 100 people contracted coronavirus.

She told Prothom Alo on Friday, “Transmission is increasing rapidly. The situation is not promising. We are monitoring the situation. The government may not go into lockdown due to financial reasons. However, some strict measures are being considered.”

Meanwhile, a section of the health experts are in the dark about the initiatives of the government to address the current situation. Meetings between the Public Health Advisory Committee and DGHS has almost stopped. A member of the committee and public health expert Abu Jamil Faisal told Prothom Alo, “The last meeting with the DGHS was held on 10 January. I do not know whether the committee still exists or not.” He further complained that the DGHS is not taking the necessary steps in the current situation.

‘The UK variant’

Microbiologist Samir Kumar Saha told Prothom Alo that the 'UK variant' of coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the country. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “The virus is spreading rapidly now. There were other variants in the country before, now the UK variant is spreading. The more it spreads, the higher is the chance of mutation. There is also the risk of developing a 'Bangladesh variant' of coronavirus.”

Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) finished the gene analysis of 120 coronavirus on Thursday. Among them, 70 per cent were UK variants. More than 20,000 mutations have occurred since the coronavirus spread all over the world from Wuhan in China’s Hubei province in early 2020. The new mutant variant was detected in the UK in December last year. The infectiousness of the new variant is about 70 times higher than the common variant.

Speaking to Prothom Alo last week, Tahmina Shirin, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said the UK variant was first detected in the country during a sample test of an expatriate from the UK.

Tahmina Shirin yesterday said that till the first week of March, the UK variant of coronavirus has been detected in the samples of 16 people in the labs of IEDCR. IEDCR identified the new variant by analysing the gene of coronavirus.

Coronavirus detection tests are being conducted in 219 centres of the country. However, gene analysis is being conducted only in a few of the testing centres.

Seeking anonymity, a pathologist told Prothom Alo that the UK variant of coronavirus was detected in the samples from several testing centres a month ago. There has even been talk of taking necessary steps including contact tracing to control the spread of this new strain of coronavirus. However, there is no visible or effective initiative at the field level to control the transmission rate.

The weather factor

Coronavirus infection was widespread during the time from March to August last year. The weather is mostly warm in these six months. Although there was speculation about an increase in the infection rate in winter, this was not the case. However, the infection rate is on the rise again with the onset of summer.

Regarding the current scenario, virologist Prof Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo on Friday that the fever, cough, pneumonia and influenza viruses are widespread in winter in this country. Due to their presence, the prevalence of novel coronavirus was low. While other viruses have become more stagnant in warmer climates, the presence of coronavirus alone is now greater. So the coronavirus infection is growing.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) have stated in their report that the government efforts have contributed more than the climate for the difference in the infection rate in different countries. The report was made by 16 experts to assess the impact of weather and air pollution on coronavirus infection. This is the first time the United Nations has published such a report.

According to WMO, viral infection in the respiratory system is generally seasonal. Influenza is higher in the spring while coronavirus spreads more in warmer conditions.

Health guidelines neglected

There is no visible activity in Bangladesh at the field level to control the spread of coronavirus. Everything except the educational institutions are running just as before the pandemic started. The educational institutions in the country have been closed since March last year. The government has declared educational institutions will reopen on 30 March. Tourist spots are overcrowded. Wedding ceremonies and other social functions continue as before. People are not following the health guidelines in these cases. Public health expert Abu Jamil Faisal said, “These are the reasons behind the rise in the infection rate.”

The infection rate was much lower than present in the corresponding period last year. Despite that, the government declared a general holiday from 26 March.

On 13 March, the cabinet division sent instructions to all divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners and upazila executive officers of the country to wear masks and maintain health guidelines. The health department also sent similar instructions to all civil surgeons and upazila health officers. It also said that a mobile court would be conducted if needed. However, none of such activities is visible at the field level.

The public health experts are saying, there will be a risk of further increase in the infection unless stern action is taken.

*This interview appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu

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