COVID-19

Bangladesh infection rate high among South Asian countries

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The coronavirus outbreak emerged in Bangladesh later than in the other countries of the South Asian region. It had adequate time to prepare for the pandemic. However, facts and figures indicate that Bangladesh has the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the region within a shortest span of time.

So far over 200,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the country. Though it may have a lesser number of cases in total compared to Pakistan or India, the rate of infection is higher in ratio to its population.

Bangladesh’s rate of infection is almost double that of India and higher than Pakistan too.

From the very outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been emphasising the importance of sample testing, isolation, contact testing and lockdowns.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, the former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Nazrul Islam, said that the country’s infectious disease prevention programme was already weak and it remained so. There was no order or coordination in the programmes taken up to tackle coronavirus. Sample testing had been increased, but that has decreased again. Isolation and contact testing has now more or less been dropped completely. There seems to be no focus anywhere, leading to escalating infections.

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South Asian scene

Presently, coronavirus infections are soaring in South Asia. On Saturday, the 133rd day of the virus outbreak in the country, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Bangladesh stood at 202,066. And the number of deaths among these cases stands 2,581. The number of recoveries is 110,098.

Outside these 2,266 confirmed cases, experts cannot assess how many more have been affected as the number of sample testing has been less than required. The Directorate General Health Services (DGHS) estimates that he number of infected persons in the country is 1,239 per million.

India and Pakistan both have a higher number of coronavirus patients than Bangladesh. In India, the number of cases has exceeded 1 million. In Pakistan it is over 250,000. But in ratio to the total population, Bangladesh’s rate of infection is almost double that of India and higher than Pakistan too.

Worldometer has been providing real-time statistics about the coronavirus pandemic from the beginning. According to them, in South Asia only the Maldives had a higher rate of infection than Bangladesh. Then again, the population of the Maldives is only 54,000 and the number of infected there is near 3000. In India, the infection rate is 754 per 1 million. In Pakistan it is 1,185 per million. The number of infected in other the South Asian countries is below 1000.

Public health expert Mushtaq Hossain said there was no scope to sit back in complacence. There was still time to take action. If action was not taken now, there would be dire consequences ahead.

Bangladesh also has the lowest number of sample testing in the region, other than Afghanistan. But the rate of detection is high. Till Saturday the rate of positive results in ratio to tests was 19.86 percent. Afghanistan has the highest ratio of 42 percent. In Pakistan it is 15.41 percent. In the other countries the detection rate is less than 10 percent.

In India, the first coronavirus case was detected on 30 January. They are steadily increasing their number of Covid tests daily. Over the past two days they have had an average of over 30,000 tests on a daily basis. With increased virus transmission, fresh lockdowns have been imposed in Bihar, Pune, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Assam and other parts of the country.

In Bangladesh it is quite the opposite. The rate of infecting is going up, and various means are being adopted to lessen the number of tests. The lockdown is non-existent.

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Detection goes up to 76 percent after lift of lockdown

Three months after the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan province of China, Bangladesh’s first COVID-19 case was detected on 8 March this year. The government declared a general holiday from 26 March to control the spread of the virus. This was more or less a lockdown, with offices, businesses, industries and transport shut down. But that gradually became relaxed and the infections increased. On 31 May the general holiday ended and the virus transmission spiralled.

Till 31 May, the number of confirmed cases was just over 47,000. In the 48 days after the lift of the lockdown, around 155,000 people were infected. Till yesterday, 76.66 percent of the cases were confirmed after the lockdown ended.

Certain controls imposed from the start of July have led to a decrease in sample testing. This, in turn, has led to a decrease in the detection of new cases. But the rate of detection has increased. In the regular news bulletin of DGHS yesterday, additional director of the directorate, Nasima Sultana, said that in the 24 hours from 8 in the morning on Friday till 8 in the morning on Saturday, 10,923 samples were tested and the results of 2,709 were positive. That means a 24.80 percent of detection. And 34 died of the virus in that span of time.

Isolation and contact testing has been weak in the country from the outset. It has become even weaker. Generally speaking, all infected persons must remain in isolation, but apparently there is a lack of adequate workforce to monitor how far this isolation is being maintained.

Less than 10 percent of the coronavirus patients are being admitted to hospital. Most of the isolation and quarantine is at home, and that is not monitored. It is not possible for a large percentage of the patients to be isolated in one room completely alone. So, experts feel, this is not fully effective.

The decision for area-wise lockdowns is also not being implemented. There is a relaxing of all regulations at a time when the pandemic is on an upward curve.

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Adviser to the government’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Mushtaq Hossain, told Prothom Alo that in other countries the transmission has come under control in a span of four months, but it Bangladesh it has come to this level. There are two ways to prevent the spread of the virus, he said. One was to ensure that the people followed the hygiene rules and regulations, and the other was for the government to carry out house-to-house sample testing, isolation and contact testing. But things are lax in both these cases. The government cannot avoid taking responsibility for this. It is the same in India and Pakistan.

Mushtaq Hossain said there was no scope to sit back in complacence. There was still time to take action. If action was not taken now, there would be dire consequences ahead.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir