The national technical advisory committee on Covid-19 has recommended reconsidering the government's decision of reopening shopping malls and other businesses, saying such a move could lead to further transmission of the deadly coronavirus.
It also recommended that all decisions -- be it on reopening industries or relaxing the shutdown -- should be taken on the basis of opinions from epidemiologists.
The committee made the recommendations during a meeting with Health Minister Zahid Maleque at his office in the secretariat today.
"Reopening of shopping malls in any place means a kind of easing of the lockdown. Our position is that the transmission will increase if the lockdown is relaxed," Prof Mohammod Shahidullah, who is leading the committee, told The Daily Star.
"We have recommended that the decision on easing the lockdown be made based on opinions of epidemiologists," he said.
The government on Monday issued a gazette announcing its decision to reopen shopping malls, all types of shops and other businesses from May 10 on a limited scale ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. The move came around a week after it allowed readymade garment factories to resume production.
The decisions came when the virus has taken a tight grip on the country, infecting thousands of people.
The country reached the grim milestone of 10,000-plus coronavirus cases on Monday. The health authorities recorded the highest single-day cases -- 786 -- today, which brought the total number of confirmed cases to 10,929.
One more Covid-19 patient died in the 24 hours till 2:30pm today, taking the death toll to 183.
It is at this crucial juncture that the government seems to be desperate to resume business and commerce activities, which remain halted or disrupted for over a month, affecting the livelihood of millions of people.
The intention, however, sparked warnings from epidemiologists as the number of infections keep rising and at least two dozen garment workers testing positive for Covid-19 so far.
When and how to reopen battered economies has been a matter of intense debate in many countries where governments have begun sketching out plans to do so in a slow and methodical process to prevent the coronavirus from rebounding.
At the same time, they are also putting emphasis on widespread testing and continuing social distancing measures.
But for Bangladesh, the scenario seems different.
Besides, with a high population density, and the nature of economic activities, it would be difficult to ensure social distancing at the garment industries and markets in the country, said experts.
In the past several days, many people were seen crowding roads because of a thin presence of police personnel, who have been playing a vital role in ensuring social distancing, crucial to contain the spread of the virus.
With at least 1,153 of their members already infected, police have decided to deploy half their members out on the field at a time for a week. The other group will be deployed the next week. The move is aimed at avoiding coronavirus transmission.
'INCREASE TESTING FACILITIES'
The national committee in the three-hour meeting also recommended increasing the testing facilities and shortening the time to provide the test reports.
Asked about the reopening of businesses, Prof Shahidullah said, "For livelihood, some [sectors] will need to reopen. But we are totally against reopening everything."
Prof Shahidullah, also the president of Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council (BMDC), said, "We have also asked to take epidemiologists' opinion on allowing people's movement ahead of Eid as there is still time for it."
"If [health measures] are maintained rightly in the already-reopened factories, then it is okay. But in future, we have asked to take epidemiologists' comments before reopening anything [industries and commerce]."
He said the health minister assured them during the meeting that factories will be shut down if transmission rates increase there. "We want this to be maintained strictly."
Talking to journalists after the meeting, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said, "Normally, we can assume that the number of infections will go up after the reopening of markets, garments and shops. We have to try our best to keep it under control.
"Livelihood would go with life," he said, adding that the technical committee would provide suggestions with regard to reopening businesses. The ministry would then place it before the authorities concerned.
His ministry would follow the decisions taken by those authorities, he said.
"We have no prediction about the possible number of [Covid-19] deaths. It is true that people are dying and we are sorry for that, but the ratio compared to the other countries is still low here," he said.
Zahid Maleque also said a sub-committee or focal point would be set up with officials from his ministry, and the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), which would take steps to implement the technical committee's suggestions.
Besides, the committee asked the authorities to investigate the reason behind the sharp rise in infections among doctors, the minister said.
According to Bangladesh Doctors' Foundation, 574 doctors were infected with Covid-19 till noon today. The number of infected nurses is 354 and other health staffers 167, it said.
Habibur Rahman Khan, an additional secretary (administration) at the health service division, said the technical committee also asked authorities to ensure quality of Covid-19 testing.
"As the number of tests is increasing day by day, the committee said the quality of the tests should not be compromised," he said.
He also mentioned that the committee said the government should not allow people to leave their current residences ahead of the upcoming Eid. He pointed out that the government has already given such directives.
Habibur Rahman, also the chief of health ministry's media cell, said the meeting also decided that the authorities must take steps so that no patient is deprived of treatment at any hospital.
"If any hospital cannot provide treatment to a particular patient, the hospital must ensure his or her treatment at another hospital," he said.
He said the safety of doctors and other health workers were also discussed at the meeting.
On April 28, the technical committee in its second meeting came up with multiple advices on improving the standard of hospital care to win the fight against coronavirus.
One of those was increasing case detection measures and selecting new hospitals for treating Covid-19 patients. It also advocated for using makeshift hospitals for patients with mild to moderate coronavirus infections.
COVID-19 CASES KEEP RISING
One person died of coronavirus infection in 24 hours till 2:30pm today, the DGHS said in a briefing, aired online. Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, additional director general (administration) at the DGHS, said the deceased was male and aged between 21 and 30.
As many as 193 Covid-19 patients recovered across the country in those 24 hours, taking the total number of recovery cases to 1,403. They include those who recovered staying at home as well as in institutionalised care, Prof Nasima said at the briefing.
A total of 5,711 samples were tested over the same period, she said, adding another 128 people were put under isolation across the country.