The current trend of plummeting Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh could well be the obvious calm before a cataclysmic storm.
The warning has come from some of the leading public health experts in Bangladesh, who are apprehensive of a third wave of the Covid pandemic. At the heart of their fears are children below 12 who remain out of the vaccine coverage and the elderly people.
These experts fear a slow pace of vaccination, waning vaccine immunity, sheer disregard for Covid-safety protocols, reopening of schools and increased travel may set the stage for another Covid wave in Bangladesh — a trend many European countries are witnessing now.
Bangladesh on Thursday reported five more Covid deaths and 244 fresh corona cases in 24 hours.
With the latest figures released by the Directorate General of Health Services, the death toll and the caseload in the country have reached 27,939 and 1,573,458, respectively.
Some 33,995,948 people have fully been vaccinated in the country, while 52,983,555 received the first dose as of Wednesday, according to the directorate.
No room for complacency
Public health expert MH Chowdhury Lenin, chairman of the medicine department at Health and Hope Hospital, says the second wave of Covid has remained controlled in Bangladesh for several weeks.
“We’re now in a relaxed mood over the prevailing Covid situation in Bangladesh, but we also have an apprehension that it may deteriorate anytime as many European countries, including Bulgaria and Romania, are already facing a fresh wave of the deadly virus,” he says.
Lenin warns that coronavirus cases have also started soaring in Iran and some areas of China. “So, this virus also can surge anytime in our country and there is no room for complacency over the current controlled Covid situation.”
Factors behind potential third wave
With the lockdown phase over in Bangladesh, Dr Lenin says that most people are now reluctant to adhere to the basic health safety rules — be it sporting masks or maintaining social distancing.
“Bangladesh has so far fully vaccinated around 20 percent of its population, but a swathe of people still remain unprotected. So, we must always remain alert and we can’t afford to let our guard down,” he says.
Prof Mushtuq Husain, a consultant at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), echoes similar sentiments.
“No country is free from a fresh outbreak of Covid as long as the virus is not eliminated from the entire world. We saw earlier that corona was almost gone from some countries with a zero infection rate. But the virus cases surged alarmingly in those countries again,” he says.
According to the expert, there are sporadic cases of Covid transmission in Bangladesh now, with 250 daily cases on an average. “It can turn into a community transmission anytime as there’s no travel restriction now. On the other hand, a deadly muted variant can hit our country,” he warns.
Prof Mushtuq says that many countries are witnessing a fresh Covid wave though their vast population is vaccinated. “Our country is a densely populated one and most of our people are still unvaccinated. So, we’re at risk of a fresh wave of the virus.”
Besides, he says that the Covid vaccines cannot prevent the infection entirely. “The jabs can prevent the severity of the virus infection and help lower the fatality rate. So, unless these vaccines are modified further, we won’t be able to attain herd immunity even by vaccinating 80% of the population.”
Elderly people & children most vulnerable
Dr Lenin says that children below the age of 12 are yet to be brought under the ambit of vaccination in Bangladesh while a number of senior citizens have not been able to get a shot.
“So, if a fresh wave comes, children and the elderly will be at the highest risk in terms of fatality. That’s why the vaccination drive will have to be accelerated,” he says.
According to Prof Mushtuq, everybody, including those who are fully vaccinated, can be infected if a fresh wave begins. “But elderly people are the most vulnerable.”
What should be done?
Prof Mushtuq advocates a well-organised medical and public health management network to strictly monitor the fresh Covid cases. “Since the daily average number of patients is below 300, the government can easily monitor all of them strictly and keep them in isolation.”
The experts have also called on the government to prioritise the immunisation of the elderly people in Bangladesh.
Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of DGHS, says the government needs to take preparations in advance to deal with a potential fresh Covid wave “as the virus is increasing drastically in some countries”.
“Those who come to our country from virus-hit countries should not be allowed to enter without vaccine cards and all of them should carry negative PCR-test reports. Even we have to think of imposing a travel ban on the countries where the virus is spreading fast,” Dr Be-Nazir says.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, a former adviser to WHO (South-East Asia region), says that the government should focus on contact tracing and increasing rapid antigen tests to quickly identify the infected persons and isolate them from others.
“Also, the government should strictly screen all incoming passengers at airports and land ports to check imported cases or new variants from abroad,” he says.
Source: United News of Bangladesh