Where we stand now and the road ahead
When the first casualty in Covid-19 in the country was reported on March 18, 2020, it made headlines in almost all national dailies the next day.
The announcement further escalated the public anxiety that began since the first case of Covid-19 was reported 11 days back -- on March 8.
The skyrocketing cases and deaths due to Covid-19 eventually forced the government to impose a series of lockdowns countrywide at different times.
So far, around 20.38 lakh Covid-19 cases were detected and 29,445 lives lost due to the viral disease.
Yet Covid-19 has not gone away, and causes death; the last casualty was reported on February 13.
"But it no longer causes any panic among people. Because, now we know how to manage Covid-19," Dr Mushtaq Hussain, consultant of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research told The Daily Star.
In 2020 and 2021, Covid-19 caused a catastrophe as the health system was not prepared, which created a panic among everyone, including the physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque claimed multiple times that the government has become successful in tackling the Covid-19 health crisis.
"We had been hugely criticised. But we did not stop working [to prepare the health system to tackle Covid-19]," he said at an event in Dhaka on Tuesday.
'HEALTH SYSTEM NOW BETTER PREPARED'
At the beginning, there was only one laboratory at the IEDCR that was capable of testing Covid-19.
As a result, there was an outcry for Covid-19 tests across the country, which moved on for the next few months.
By early December 2020, Covid-19 testing was expanded to 137 government laboratories and the private organisations were also approved to set Covid-19 testing laboratories later.
So far, there are 885 Covid-19 testing laboratories in the country, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
As part of a cautionary move, the government instructed all public hospitals up to district-level to dedicate five beds for Covid-19 patients. With the massive spread of the virus, the hospitals were soon flooded with patients.
Moreover, shortage of standard personal protective gears like coveralls and masks caused a loss of confidence among the healthcare staffers.
By late 2020, the government could resolve all the issues. The treatment arrangements were expanded up to upazila health complexes and the private hospitals were also involved in the process.
Around 13,000 hospital beds were kept dedicated for Covid-19 patients across the country, according to the DGHS data.
Even after one year of Covid-19, inadequate oxygen supply had remained a burning issue as the demand exceeded the production capacity.
Besides, the absence of a central oxygen supply system and shortage of high-flow oxygen devices in the hospitals led to the deaths of a large number of patients, especially in Khulna and Rajshahi divisions during the delta variant of the virus outbreak in 2021.
Now the hospitals are better prepared as those issues were addressed, according to the DGHS.
At Tuesday's event, Health Minister Zahid Maleque informed that a central oxygen line has been installed in around 120 hospitals countrywide.
Dr Mushtaq Hussain said, "Now the government should focus on keeping this laboratory functional by integrating them with the basic laboratory services at different hospitals.'
Bangladesh was among the few countries that could start a mass inoculation campaign against Covid-19.
For this, the government initially depended on the Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines produced in the Serum Institute of India.
After the first consignment of 20 lakh vaccines, Serum failed to maintain the supply chain for three crore doses of vaccines as per the contract due to the growing demand inside India.
As a result, the mass inoculation campaign, started from February 7 countrywide, had fallen into uncertainty. This forced the government to explore alternative sources.
So far, the government collected around 35.95 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Majority of those were purchased from China's Sinopharm company while a big chunk was collected through Covax arrangement.
So far, 89 percent of the population received first doses of Covid-19, 81 percent second doses and 40 percent third doses, according to the DGHS data.
Besides, 32 lakh people have received the fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccines.
Since March 2, the booster dose (third and fourth shots) campaign against Covid-19 have remained suspended as the stock has run out.
Dr Mushtaq Hussain said, "The Covid-19 vaccination is definitely a big success for the country."