The looming threat of Omicron
With the threat of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron looming in the distance, Bangladesh will have to go all out to contain the rogue virus, especially as the country is only just beginning to recover from the severe repercussions the pandemic has had over the last two years—in terms of loss of lives, as well as the burden created on the economy and healthcare systems. The new "variant of concern", with high transmissibility potential, is said to have already gained a foothold in 40 different countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Europe. Recently, the WHO warned Asia-Pacific countries to boost healthcare capacity and fully vaccinate their people to prepare for a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Last week, the authorities decided that incoming passengers from certain southern African countries will have to be in institutional quarantine. While we appreciate these efforts to contain the variant, given that it has also spread to quite a few other countries outside of the known epicentre, we are confused why the restrictions are also not being applied to non-African countries with high numbers of Covid-19 cases. We urge the government to be extremely cautious and implement strict travel restrictions, including screening at all entry points, checking of vaccine certificates and quarantine, whether at home or other facilities.
It must also be noted that the WHO has warned countries that while travel curbs could buy time while the world decides how to deal with this new variant, only travel restrictions cannot be the answer. There is no alternative to boosting healthcare capacity and implementing mass vaccination drives. In Bangladesh, so far, 36 percent of the population has received the first dose of the vaccine, and only 21.5 percent have received the second dose. While this is good progress when compared to many other countries, this is nowhere near enough to prevent community transmission of Omicron.
In Bangladesh's previous experience with Covid-19 waves, we have witnessed the public healthcare system struggling to cope, especially with critical patients who require oxygen and specialist care. This time around, we cannot wait for a new wave to occur before steps are taken to support hospitals and healthcare providers. We hope the government has learned important lessons while fighting Covid-19 since early 2020, and that health-related policies will now be proactive rather than reactive. Investment in manpower and logistics is of utmost importance at this juncture, and necessary healthcare facilities must be made fully functional to face the possibility of Omicron finding its way into the country.