As we have said time and again in this column, echoing the directives of WHO and experts within the country and outside—we must speed up the testing process on an urgent basis, now that we are entering the fourth week since Bangladesh reported its first official Covid-19 case. So far, Bangladesh has reported 49 cases and five deaths. This hardly gives the real picture and can lead to a false sense of security, grossly underestimating the scale of the outbreak. As we have seen in countries like Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the US, during the initial days when testing was very limited, the number of cases was also low. But after testing was expanded, the number of cases went up exponentially along with the number of deaths, especially after the fourth week.
Bangladesh has one of the lowest testing rates compared to many other Asian countries that have been successful so far in containing the spread of the virus. From January 21 till Sunday, Bangladesh tested 1,185 people for the virus, which is far below South Korea's daily testing capacity of around 20,000. We can take Spain's delayed response, with 45 cases within 31 days of the first reported case, as an example. Now, in about a month, the total number of confirmed cases has crossed 64,000. With such grim statistics, can we afford to wait? Reports of several people dying after getting Covid-19-like symptoms make it all the more urgent to have testing facilities available all over the country.
It is a relief that ICDDR,B has been given permission to start testing, with the government giving it kits. But it begs the question—why was such a world reputed institute that has been doing all kinds of disease related research, not given permission to conduct testing long before this?
Now that the experts and the experience of other countries affected by the virus have given us the facts, the authorities must speed up testing by expanding testing facilities all over the country. Testing kits have to be distributed to the designated hospitals with proper monitoring from IEDCR. At this point, the capacity of IEDCR has to be expanded so that it can carry out more tests, monitor cases all over the country and evaluate the situation in a realistic manner. Without widespread testing, it is not possible to get a clear picture of the transmission rates of the virus, especially within such a huge population. Only better knowledge of the ground realities can guide us to the actions that need to be taken.