A technical expert group has come up with two sorts of predictions about which direction the COVID-19 transmission is heading in Bangladesh. Both the predictions maintain that the virus transmission may begin to fall in the beginning of September.
This four-member technical expert group is assisting the public health advisory group of the Directorate General Health Services (DGHS) in assessing the pandemic situation in the country. The directorate has been following the predictions of this group since April. Their last prediction was made on 23 June.
The two predictions based on two separate methods have differences in the numbers of patients and deaths. The first prediction maintains that the virus transmission has neared its peak. It is apprehended that the peak will remain till the end of July. At the end of August the number of confirmed coronavirus cases may cross 260,000. And the deaths may exceed over 3,500.
The second prediction says that the virus transmission will begin to peak mid-July and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases may exceed 439,000 by the end of August. The number of deaths may be around 6000.
These predictions were put forward at a discussion on ‘Corona in Bangladesh: A six-month review’, organised by the Bangladesh Health Reporters Forum on Friday. Speaking at the event, director general of DGHS, Abul Kalam Azad highlighted the first prediction, saying that the coronavirus situation in the country would stabilise within some days. Unless people’s movements were strictly restrained during Eid-ul-Azha, the spread of the infection could increase again. According to the data of various laboratories and the data analysis of the Institute of the Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), the rate of the virus transmission in the country was 1.05.
The infective reproduction rate or RT was how many persons were infected by one coronavirus patients. If the RT was above 1, the situation was dangerous. DGHS revealed the data of the first prediction, but did not mention the second one. There has been no explanation as to why the second prediction was not brought up for discussion.
Member of the technical expert group and teacher of Dhaka University’s health economics department, Shafiun Shimul, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “There are differences in the two predictions. The DGHS officials chose to highlight the prediction with the relatively less deaths and infections.”
The technical group members said that they did not have the standard of data and information required for projections or predictions. Projections were made on certain conditions. As the conditions changed, the predictions did not tally. The group also includes teacher of the same institute, Syed Abdul Hamid, member of the DGHS’ public health advisory committee, Abu Jamil Faisal and teacher of Canada’s Toronto University, Mofakkar Hossain.
One of the models for prediction of the virus transmission is SIR (susceptible, infected, removed). Basically, epidemiological data is used for projections in this model. The other model is the Time Series Model. Economists and data experts use this more. The technical team used the SIR model for the first projection and the Times Series Model for the second one.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Shafiun Shimul said, “I feel that the real situation lies between the two projections. Using the SIR model at the beginning of this month, I had said that by 30 June the number of infections would be 123,000. Based on the other model, I had said 163,000. The actually number at present is between the two.”
There was also fear of an increase in the infection due to Eid-ul-Azha and another peak may appear after Eid. The expert team said that in Saudi Arabia the infection had peaked several times.
Till yesterday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country was 130,474.
Previously, eight experts of DGHS had predicted 48,000 to 100,000 persons would be infected by coronavirus by the end of May. Several members of the expert team on Friday said that the prediction had been made based on the conditions that the lockdown would be in force, the readymade garment factories and other industries would remain closed, people would wear masks and follow other hygiene rules. These conditions were not met and so the prediction was not accurate. Qualitative analysis of data can reveal a picture closer to reality.
The technical group has been providing the government with projections concerning coronavirus every week. The last projection was made on 23 June. Using the SIR model, the projection said that the virus transmission was near peaking. The rate of infection was over 1. It was presently 1.05 and every day around 4000 news Covid cases were being detected. This was a danger signal.
This projection went on to say that the infection may remain at the peak till the end of July and will begin to abate towards the beginning of September. There was also fear of an increase in the infection due to Eid-ul-Azha and another peak may appear after Eid. The expert team said that in Saudi Arabia the infection had peaked several times.
According to the Time Series Model, the infection peak in Bangladesh may begin mid-July, with 5000 to 6000 news patients being identified every day, if the number of tests were increased.
Shafiun Shimul, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “The time of reaching the peak is a bit different according to the two models. The second one also projects a higher number of infections. Both the models predict the infections may begin to decrease in September.”
Member of the public health advisory committee and former DG DGHS, Shah Monir Hossain, said that epidemiological calculations indicate that the situation may improve towards the end of August. However, if people do not maintain hygiene rules and violate social distancing during qurbani Eid, then this projection will not be effective. The situation will worsen.
At the Bangladesh Health Reporters Forum event, the health directorate’s DG Abul Kalam Azad did not make any comment on when the situation may return to normal.
Member of the national technical advisory committee and president of the Swadhinata Chikitshok Parishad, Iqbal Arsalan, said that there had been no coordination, planning or preparation to tackle coronavirus. There had been corruption in procurement, but investigations were required to look into who were involved in such misdeeds.
Journalists and experts joined this online Zoom event from 11:00, Friday morning. The journalists highlighted their observations made over the past six months while reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. Broadly speaking, their observations in six sectors included: a lack of leadership and coordination among the health ministry and the departments under it; incorrect planning of the government in preventing and controlling the pandemic; irregularities in procurement; the need for the health department officials to be more sincere and efficient in collecting, recording and disseminating data and information; inability of the government to utilise the services of local experts; and failure to take lessons from the successful initiatives taken at an international level.
The health DG Abul Kalam Azad said, no country in the world had correct planning. He said they were endeavouring to increase coordination. The anti-corruption commission was looking into the irregularities concerning procurement, he added, saying that the health directorate was assisting in the investigations.
He said that it had been decided that the second level testing of a vaccine manufactured by the Chinese firm would be carried out in Bangladesh. The government was also looking into which firms in Bangladesh would be able to produce the vaccine.
Regarding the observations made by the journalists, member of the national technical advisory committee and president of the Swadhinata Chikitshok Parishad, Iqbal Arsalan, said that there had been no coordination, planning or preparation to tackle coronavirus. He said there had been corruption in procurement, but investigations were required to look into who were involved in such misdeeds.
Former president of Bangladesh Medical Association (BMS), Rashid-e-Mahbub said, the government must be sterner so that no one can make business out of the pandemic.
Mentioning that a mid-term review was required, former DG DGHS MA Faiz said it is imperative to protect those who have not been infected as yet.
Public health expert Mushtaq Hossain said it was necessary to make all out effort mobilise public awareness and inclusion in tackling the spread of coronavirus.