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The government is unable to take a right decision in right time to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, experts have said.

The health department has not taken any preparation in real sense to tackle the second wave of coronavirus.

Although the public health experts have suggested for a strict measure, the government has opted an ordinary step to control the highly contagious disease.

In the wake of spike of coronavirus, the government banned tourism across the Chittagong Hill Tracts, then Cox’s Bazar and finally the whole country. No one knows why the decision was not taken to ban tourist spots across the country simultaneously.

Despite the government’s 18-point health directives that discourage public gathering, medical college admission test was held on 2 April amid presence of huge crowds surrounding the examination centres. A section of people concerned think that the admission test could have been deferred.

The restrictions on passengers from the Europe and 12 other countries including the United Kingdom were imposed untimely.

Oxford University scientists suggested that an interval of 12 weeks between the two doses of corona vaccines provides the best result, but the government had initially fixed the interval time as four weeks and later it was revised as eight weeks.

There are many more examples of policy inconsistency and belated decisions in tackling the first wave of the pandemic in Bangladesh. Moreover, people’s sheer negligence to the health guidelines now has resulted in record breaking infection and death toll during the second wave of the pandemic.

Currently, the infection rate has jumped over 20 per cent for the last couple of days.

Sources at a Dhaka-based private hospitals recently told Prothom Alo that half of the samples they had diagnosed were found positive for coronavirus, indicating a surge of infected patients in the capital city.

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People associated with Covid-19 testing think that the number of infected patients would have been much more if many more people were brought under the coverage of testing facilities. The migrants and government officials, who will go abroad, inflated the number of daily testing.

They warned that the second wave would continue for long.

Mujaherul Haque, a former consultant to the World Health Organisation's South Asia region, told Prothom Alo that a forecast about the second wave was made six month ago. A number of countries are now experiencing the new surge.

” As the second wave hits Bangladesh with more infection and death amid shrinking access to hospital facilities, we find the health department unprepared for it,” Mujaherul said.

The suspicion over a surge of infection was created after a UK variant of the coronavirus was identified in the country on 5 January. The government, surprisingly, did not restrict arrival of air passengers from the UK.

A member of the National Technical Advisory Committee under the health department, regretted that proper decisions were not taken in due time although the trend of growing infection was evident even a month ego. The member preferred to be anonymous.

The first day of March this year saw 585 new patients with coronavirus. The daily infection rate was only 4.31 per cent.

Tahmina Shirin, director at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said an increasing trend of Covid-19 infection has been evident from the beginning of March.

When asked why not the measures were taken seriously that time, she replied that the health department is not entitled to take government decision unilaterally.

On 2 April, only 47 beds across the 10 Covid hospitals in Dhaka remained vacant. The Kurmitola General Hospital and the Rajarbag police hospital were found overcrowded with the coronavirus patients.

In the last two days, several patients had to visit different hospitals in the capital for admission. The government direction to increase the intensive care unit facilities and supply of oxygen in the hospitals is still unattended. Prothom Alo has already published detail report on the crisis.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) director general Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam said the treatment of non-Covid patients started again after it had suspended for many days.

Under the current situation, some hospitals have to be designated for Covid patients, he added.

"The current situation is very complex. We have to deal with the issue considering the available resources and capacity,” Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam said.

The DG said that raising the number of at the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, National Institute of Kidney Diseases & Urology, National Mental Health Institute, National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, City Hospital, Lalkuthi Hospital and Sheikh Russel Gastroliver Institute and Hospital is underway.

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organisation officially made an announcement about the identification of a novel coronavirus at Hubei province of China. Five days afterward, Bangladesh launched health screening at every air, land and sea ports.

On 21 January, prime minister Sheikh Hasina was officially informed about the contagion. Next day, the IEDCR launched press briefing on the novel virus situation.

For two weeks, the government quarantined 312 air passengers arrived from Wuhan of China on 2 February. Amid the measures, the first case of Covid-19 infection was identified in the country on 8 March. Ten days later, news on the first Covid death was announced.

To control the coronavirus infection, the DGHS finalised the preparedness and response plan for COVID-19.

The main objectives of the plan are: to check spread of coronavirus by the returnees, to control spread of the virus within the country and to identify the virus-infected patients and provide them with special treatment at isolated places.

Virus infection control requires: maintenance of health guidelines, mass-level testing and identification of the virus-infected patients and the person who get contacted with the patients; and treatment of the infected person at isolated places.

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Last year, none of the measures were implemented seriously, some health experts observed. They said the government failed to motivate mass people about the health guidelines.

China, where the novel coronavirus originated, brought the contagion under control within a few months.

A 10-member expert group from China arrived in Bangladesh on 8 June 2020. Members of the group submitted a report to the DGHS after their two-week field visit in the country.

The report revealed some shortcomings including mismanagement in resource distribution and lack of coordination, priority to treatment rather than disease control and lack of preventive measures among the mass people.

The situation has not changed much after a year. What has the government done so far to implement the recommendations by the visiting group?

DGHS director general Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam said he could not evaluate the development as he did not go through the report.

Some public health experts recently suggested the government must impose lockdown, or at least for two weeks, to weaken the second wave of the pandemic.

Professor Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the pharmacology department under the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said, “I would suggest 14-day curfew on major cities, particularly Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chattogram and Gazipur. The government should also stand by the curfew-affected working people as well as the insolvent Covid patients.”

The pandemic-induced general holidays for 66 days started from 26 March last year had reduced per capita income, impacting badly on national economy.

*This report appeared in Prothom Alo print and online edition, and has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman

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