Grimmer crisis on the horizon
With the guard against Covid-19 lowered, health officials and experts fear that the country is heading towards a grimmer health crisis.
The relaxation of lockdown, public disregard for social distancing and uncertainty over vaccination have made the situation volatile as all four Covid variants of global concern have already made their way into Bangladesh. Those include the B.1.617 variant, which is ravaging neighbouring India and spreading fast in other parts of the globe.
Prior to the Eid-ul-Fitr, the government relaxed the lockdown to create space for economic activities. Though it suspended public transport to stop people from travelling, millions left big cities, including the capital, for their village homes to celebrate the Eid, flouting the health safety guidelines.
Only 2 percent of the country's 160 million people have so far got the double-dose of AstraZeneca vaccine while less than 4 percent got the first shot.
Due to a crisis of the vaccine, the authorities have suspended administering the first dose. Around 14 lakh people, who got the first shot, are now in uncertainty over getting the second one.
Health officials say there is a shortage of more than 14 lakh doses for administering the second shot to those who have already got the first jab. Vaccines are crucial in the fight against Covid as those reduce the mortality rate.
As of yesterday, a total of 36,51,153 people got both the first and second jabs while 58,19,912 people got the first shot.
Amid uncertainty over vaccines, there is no alternative to wearing face masks and following the social distancing rules to avoid a dreadful situation like the one India and Nepal are facing now, health experts cautioned.
Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of pharmacology department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said the country's healthcare facilities could come under pressure again as infections may surge after a couple of weeks.
"We must prepare right now in case such a situation arises."
Currently, there are 1,069 ICU and 12,059 general beds dedicated for Covid patients across the country, according to the Directorate General of Health Services.
Learning from India's experience, the government should immediately ensure uninterrupted oxygen supply at every district hospital and arrange oxygen generators at all hospitals in cities as soon as possible, Sayedur pointed out.
"To accommodate patients, government should set up a few field hospitals in the meantime."
Besides, the big cities should be isolated from the rest of the country, and those who are going out of the cities should be allowed in only after they spend 14 days in quarantine, he suggested.
"The government must strictly enforce the health safety rules, especially the one for wearing face masks. It should also distribute face coverings on a massive scale."
Several experts warned that as the virus continues to mutate and all the variants of global concern have already been found in the country, there is a possibility that a new variant may develop here and it could be more lethal.
The B.1.617 variant, first found in India, is the fourth variant to be designated as being of global concern and requiring heightened tracking and analysis. The other three fast-spreading and lethal variants were first detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque recently warned that Bangladesh may see a situation like the one in India and Nepal after the Eid given the way people are moving from one district to another, flouting the health safety rules.
"People are recklessly moving around. If this continues, a situation like the one in India and Nepal may be created in Bangladesh after the Eid," he said.
Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) at the DGHS, said the vaccine crisis, disregard for the health safety rules and the Indian variant will pose a big challenge to the country in containing virus transmission.
"Following the Eid holidays, there may be a huge surge in positive cases. The next three months -- June, July and August -- will be crucial for us. The health department should make preparations right now," he noted.
Prof Nazrul Islam, former vice-chancellor at the BSMMU, fears that the infection rate may surge and the hospitals could see a huge rush of patients in the coming days. Deaths from the virus may rise too.
"We need to enhance our oxygen production and supply and also ready some field hospitals. If we fail to do so, the situation will be disastrous," he warned.