Things look ominous as coronavirus infections keep surging in the country with the authorities reporting five new deaths and 41 confirmed cases yesterday, the highest in a single day.
Until 2:00pm yesterday, the death toll stood at 17 while the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases at 164, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Experts attributed the rise in cases to the availability of testing facilities, but pointed out that it might still not be the whole picture.
The authorities were testing only those who were showing symptoms, they said, adding that asymptomatic cases from different areas should also be tested.
"Although the number of tests has increased, it's still not adequate. The authorities are still not collecting samples from across the country," Ridwanur Rahman, a medicine and infectious disease specialist, told The Daily Star.
Currently, coronavirus tests in Bangladesh is concentrated in five clusters. "Given the number of test samples, it's not possible to say that the transmission is limited to clusters only. The more tests we conduct, the more we will be able to understand the extent of the transmission," he told The Daily Star.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control, and Research (IEDCR) started testing suspected cases on January 28, at a time when the coronavirus was taking a toll on China.
Until march, only the IEDCR had the ability to carry out the tests in Bangladesh.
In the last few weeks, the testing facilities have been expanded to 14 labs -- nine in Dhaka and the rest in five other districts.
As of yesterday, 4,289 people have been tested, shows official data.
The data shows over 88 percent of the tests have been conducted in the nine labs in Dhaka. A total of 679 tests were carried out yesterday. Of them, 582 were done in Dhaka while 97 in the labs elsewhere.
One of the reasons for the low number of tests is the narrow case definitions for Covid-19, the sources said. It means the authorities were focusing only on those who were showing Covid-19 symptoms.
"For now, we're not testing anyone who is not showing the symptoms as instructed by the national technical committee," said Dr Moudud Hossain, an expert assigned to the government's Covid-19 prevention and control activities for Rangpur division.
"But we don't know whether all the people with symptoms are coming for test," he said.
Talking to this newspaper, Prof Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist and a former vice-chancellor of the BSMMU, said, "The infection rate and curve have not gone up as per our predictions. But there is no reason to remain assured as the scattered samples are not being tested notably.
"We will observe the curve this week. If the number of cases deceases, it will be a relief for the nation," he said but pointed out that since the authorities were not testing asymptomatic cases, the current data might turn out to be misleading.
Replying to a query, Prof Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the DGHS, said he disagreed with the claim that the number of tests being carried out outside Dhaka was low.
"Where the tests are being conducted does not matter; the main thing is from where the samples are being collected. Most of the samples have been collected from outside Dhaka," he said.
A number of labs in many places are still not in operation and that's why the samples are being brought to Dhaka, the DG said.
Asked whether the samples represent the whole coronavirus picture, he said, "Of course, they do."
According to DGHS officials, the laboratories are capable of conducting around 5,000 Covid-19 tests every day with the existing manpower.
However, the number of daily tests is yet to touch the 1,000 mark, they said.
The number is inadequate comparted to those in other countries that have succeeded in containing the spread of coronavirus through early detection of cases and ensuring adequate measures.
South Korea could be a case in point. It contained the spread of the highly contagious virus because it went for a massive testing programme. Nearly, 20,000 people were tested every day.
FIVE DEATHS, 41 NEW CASES
Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, IEDCR Director Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora said of the five deceased, two died in the capital.
The five included one female. Two of the dead were aged over 60, two over 50 and the other over 40, she said.
The highest number of the new cases -- 20 -- were reported in Dhaka city. With it, the total of number of cases in the capital now stands at 74.
Narayanganj reported the second highest number of the new cases at 15. The total of number of reported cases there is now 38.
Besides, Keraniganj in Dhaka, Cumilla, and Chattogram has one new case each.
Addressing the journalists through videoconferencing at the briefing, the DGHS DG said, "Your [people's] protection is in your hand. Please maintain at least a three-feet distance from each other. Use mask while going out. Wash your hands using soap for at least 20 seconds frequently."
He urged those in quarantine to strictly maintain quarantine rules.
The authorities yesterday did not take any questions from journalists at the briefing at the IEDCR office.
Meanwhile, as there has been a spike in coronavirus cases, locals in different neighbourhoods in the capital imposed restrictions on movement of people and vehicles on their own, as part of efforts to contain the spread.
The Daily Star correspondent found this visiting different areas, including in Lalmatia, West Rajabazar and West Tejturibazar. They closed the gates at the entry to their localities and discouraged outsiders from going in.
They also prevented others from gathering at different places, including near grocery stores.