Screening flimsy at 5 land ports
Despite growing concern over the spread of coronavirus, health screening of incoming travellers remains lax at the country's five busiest land ports.
The situation seems similar at the two international airports in Chattogram and Sylhet.
There was no archway thermal scanner in any of the five land ports -- Hili in Dinajpur, Sonamasjid in Chapainawabganj, Burimari in Lalmonirhat, Akhaura in Brahmanbaria and Benapole in Jashore -- as of Monday, when our correspondents visited the ports.
Health workers were checking people's body temperature using hand-held infrared thermometers, which, port sources said, were giving faulty readings in some cases.
The ports also lacked trained manpower to do the screening, said sources there.
Talking to this newspaper, many travellers complained that the existing health staffers did not seem serious about collecting records from health declaration forms, which people crossing the ports were supposed to fill in and submit to health desks there.
The Daily Star correspondents saw many leaving the ports without submitting the filled-in forms.
The form contains information on passengers, including their recent travel history and whether they have fever, shortness of breath, nausea, headache or cough.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), however, maintains that all the airlines and land ports were directed to provide those forms to passengers and instruct them to submit those to the health desks.
It was evident that the few health workers were struggling with the screening when a large group of travellers arrived at a time.
Besides, some health staffers were not wearing any hand gloves or disposable apron.
When virologists' attention was drawn to the matter, they said the health workers run the risks of getting infected with coronavirus. The virus then may also spread to others.
In several land ports, those travelling in inter-border goods-laden vehicles were not going through the screening at all, posing risks of coronavirus transmission.
Osmani International Airport in Sylhet and Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram had one archway thermal scanner each, but those were out of order, The Daily Star correspondents found during their visit on Monday.
Health officials at the airports were seen using hand-held infrared thermometers to check passengers' body temperature.
The health ministry, however, sent three thermal scanners each at the two international airports and Benapole Land Port yesterday.
Our correspondents also did not see any sort of disinfection activity at the land ports and the two airports.
During the visit, The Daily Star found that the lone digital thermal scanner at the Benapole port had been out of order for a long time. Medical teams were conducting health tests on passengers with the lone
hand-held infrared thermometer.
There was no screening equipment except a hand-held infrared thermometer at Sonamasjid land port.
Medical staffers expressed fear of a possible health risk as they were not using any safety gears whatsoever. They said they did not have any personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns, gloves and hexisol hand rub.
Health officials were checking body temperature of passengers with the lone hand-held infrared thermometer at this port in Hakimpur upazila of Dinajpur. Wishing anonymity, one of the officials said the thermometer does not work properly all the time.
The authorities were yet to set up thermal scanners at the Burimari land port in Lalmonirhat's Patgram upazila to detect any suspected coronavirus patient travelling from India, Nepal and Bhutan.
SHAH AMANAT INT'L AIRPORT
The lone thermal scanner at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram had been out of order for the last two years.
Airport sources said it might take a couple of days for the new one to start functioning.
The airport also has a shortage of medical personnel to screen all incoming passengers, who were now being screened with an Infrared Thermometer Gun, said airport sources.
Contacted, MZA Sharif, assistant airport health officer of the Chattogram airport, told The Daily Star: "We face a huge problem when some 300 to 400 passengers land at a time."
So far, the novel coronavirus has hit more than 111 countries with 1,13,000 confirmed cases of infection. Among the infected, over 4,000 have died and 63,000 have recovered, according to media reports.
Most of the cases were reported in China. Outside China, Italy has faced the worst outbreak with 7,500 confirmed cases and 366 deaths.
Bangladesh has so far three confirmed cases -- two males and a female. Two of them returned from Italy recently.
Covid-19 -- the seventh strain of the virus that was first detected in China's Wuhan city in December -- can hide inside human body for up to 14 days without showing any symptom, according to WHO.
Unlike in Bangladesh, some of the major international airports have taken preventive safety measures against the spread of Covid-19.
Terming screening measures at different land ports and airports lax, experts said any loophole could be costly.
"The screening process should be vigorous. A slight oversight could turn costly," Prof Muzaherul Huq, former regional director of WHO's South East Asia region, told The Daily Star.
Despite repeated attempts, DGHS Director General Prof Abul Kalam Azad could not be reached over phone for comments.
(Our correspondents in Benapole, Dinajpur, Brahmanbaria, Sylhet, Lalmonirhat, Chapainawabganj and Chattogram Bureau office contributed to this report)