In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, the government is considering a temporary travel ban to and from China.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday said the issue would be discussed at an inter-ministerial meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).
He made the remarks after a meeting at the ministry on precautionary measures to deal with the virus that has been spreading across the globe from China, according to a press release of the ministry.
“Bilateral trade between China and Bangladesh is very deep. A huge number of people from Bangladesh are travelling to China for business purpose. It would become a matter of serious concern if the virus makes its way into Bangladesh,” the press release said quoting Maleque.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) urged people not to panic as it has taken necessary preparation complying with World Health Organisation (WHO) suggestions to detect the virus.
Airport authorities in Dhaka had screened all 2,048 passengers coming from China between January 21 and yesterday and found none infected.
“No other country but China has been proved as the source for the virus till date. Therefore, we have initiated intensive measures at Dhaka airport to bring all passengers coming from China under screening. Other border points have been kept under general alert,” Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director at the IEDCR told The Daily Star.
Experts said the government’s response was on the right track. However, there was a need for staying on high alert as the new virus cannot be detected during incubation period in humans.
The virus, first encountered in China’s Wuhan city, is associated with common cold, pneumonia, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
It has killed 56 people and infected around 2,000 in mainland China.
There are no vaccines or antiviral drugs that are approved for prevention or treatment.
Health authorities around the world are taking action to prevent a global pandemic as the virus continues to spread, with cases reported in Australia, France, the United States and seven Asian countries, including Nepal.
The WHO has acknowledged that the respiratory illness is an emergency in China but the organisation said it was too early to declare it a global health emergency.
To stop the virus from getting into Bangladesh, the authorities have set up a three-step screening process for passengers mainly from China.
“We have scanned 2,048 passengers coming from China thoroughly. None of them needed to be sent to the specialised ward at the Kurmitola General Hospital,” Md Jahirul Islam, assistant airport health officer at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA), told The Daily Star.
Besides, all incoming passengers are now going through thermal scanners, he added. The airport is using two thermal scanners and one handheld infrared thermal scanner. Two new scanners would be put into service soon, according to an official.
All passengers are required to fill a form regarding their health status and China travel history, if any.
After landing, they are screened by thermal scanners. If the health team finds passengers, especially from China, with specific symptoms, like fever, cold, cough, sore throat, the team will send the passengers to an isolation room.
In that room, another health team will test them further and if need be, send them to Kurmitola General Hospital where IEDCR will conduct tests approved by the WHO and US Center for Disease Control.
Otherwise, passengers are given a green card allowing them to leave the airport and are asked to contact the IEDCR if they have any symptoms within 14 days.
“The incubation period for coronavirus is 14 days. So we would keep in touch with all the passengers coming from China for two weeks,” Flora told The Daily Star.
Among the South Asian countries, Nepal has reported a coronavirus case while India has quarantined three people for observation.
Not all colds necessarily mean coronavirus infection. “However, we would urge people to stay alert and inform us through our hotline +8801937000011,” Flora said.
Representatives from the DGHS, IEDCR, WHO, and US-CDC are also meeting every morning to discuss the latest developments and measures, she added.
Prof Saifuddin Munshi, professor of virology at the BSMMU, told The Daily Star, “It is important to protect the health workers handling the passengers coming from China. Following safe practices is as important as setting up a screening system.”
Prof Ahmed Abu Saleh, chairman of the department of Microbiology and Immunology at the BSMMU, told The Daily Star, “The problem is that an infected patient would initially go to the nearest hospital. So, treating patients in isolation would be a challenge.”