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The steady spread of coronavirus over the past few days is a matter of serious concern. The number of coronavirus cases and the rate of positive test results are both on the rise. In short, the contagion is spreading and spreading fast.

Three aspects of the present transmission are worrying us. Firstly, over the past few months there has been an increase in social gatherings. As the rate of coronavirus cases fell, these gathering increased significantly. The election commission held a large number of pourashava elections. That gave scope to the virus to spread. Then there were weddings and friends getting together. Local tourism broke all records as we saw in Cox’s Bazar recently. If anyone had the infection, it spread like wildfire.

Secondly, the characteristic of this virus is that it spreads rapidly and, like the UK variant, it is affecting those younger in age, along with complications. Many expatriates have come from the UK and many of them have not followed the rules of quarantine. They should be quarantined for 14 days, but some remained in quarantine for 7 days, some from 3. The UK variant has spread to other countries and so those coming from other countries too are bringing in the variant. The limited genome sequencing carried out in country reveals the presence of this variant.

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Given the circumstances, we need to declare a ‘state of health emergency’ and form a committee headed by a high-powered person to tackle the situation. The committee should have the powers to take stern measures under the national state of health emergency

The variant appeared here in January, but the government made no announcement in this regard. Other than the 18-point directive, there has been no significant initiative since this March. As a result, the virus has spread rapidly. If you multiply the 5000 cases detected on Monday a few times, the actual number that will emerge is scary. Many people testing positive are not being able to get admitted into hospital.

Also, the symptoms are not all the same. Sometimes the respiratory problems are not discernable. This is a cause for worry. Monday saw the highest number of cases in Bangladesh so far. The question is, how far will this go?

India yesterday saw the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Our communication with India will have an extensive impact on Bangladesh. We are heading towards an extremely adverse situation. Our daily lives are being disrupted. Our medical system is facing a crisis. The figures on Monday are cause for alarm. Physicians and nurses are exhausted. Unless we can curb this now, we may see bad days ahead.

What is to be done? Some of my suggestions appeared in the 18-point directive. There are some things which will not work. Given the circumstances, we need to declare a ‘state of health emergency’ and form a committee headed by a high-powered person to tackle the situation. The committee should have the powers to take stern measures under the national state of health emergency. They will have the authority under the state of emergency to shut own shops, restaurants and offices.

As infections have soared in India, it is not likely that they will be able to export the vaccine other than a token number. So it is not likely that we will receive the vaccine and that is a matter of risk. If we received the vaccine, perhaps there would not be so many cases or deaths
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The committee will be able to restrict movement and issue directives to include any institution in providing services and managing patients. They will be allocated emergency funds to deal with the situation and will have the authority to assign health workers of various public, non-government and semi-government institutions to tackle coronavirus. They will have the authority to convert any community centre, convention centre, hotel or other institution into a temporary hospital or quarantine centre or isolation centre.

If we can detect patients and keep them in isolation, and also detect those who came into contact with them and keep them in quarantine and carry out extensive testing on them, restrict movement in red zone areas and also restrict flights from outside as necessary and enforce a 14-day quarantine on anyone coming in from overseas, as well as create a national consensus by involving all individuals, institutions, people’s representatives and civil society members, regardless of party affiliation, with the prevention of coronavirus, then only will we be able to save the country from the fearsome clutches of coronavirus.

The matter of vaccines will become lax. We are not getting the third consignment. This will arrive in May-June. If the second dose can be administered within April, then in May 5 million to 6 million persons may be protected. We could lessen the risk of the frontline workers. Unless they can be vaccinated, we will not be able to bring down risks to the people in the three months till June.

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As infections have soared in India, it is not likely that they will be able to export the vaccine other than a token number. So it is not likely that we will receive the vaccine and that is a matter of risk. If we received the vaccine, perhaps there would not be so many cases or deaths. We are in a bad situation. Unless we take all out action now, we may commence towards dire circumstances.

*Be-Nazir Ahmed is former director, Disease Control, Directorate General of Health Services

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

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