Bangladesh widens coronavirus measures as panic grips nation

Manzur H Maswood and Mustafizur Rahman | Published: 00:41, Mar 10,2020 | Updated: 15:31, Mar 10,2020


Notre Dame College students come out of the campus wearing masks after attending classes in Dhaka on Monday amid coronavirus attack fear worldwide. — Sourav Lasker

The government on Monday widened measures to tackle the novel coronavirus as panic gripped the nation after identification of three Covid-19 patients in Bangladesh.

The infected cases were doing well and no new cases were detected on Monday, officials said, while the movement of people decreased on the streets and to the schools and markets on the day.

Many people were seen coming outdoors wearing masks, and shops and drug stores witnessed a rush for masks and disinfectants.

The government on Monday increased the number of hospital beds across the country, installed five more thermal scanners at the ports of entry, made it mandatory for the returnees to register their names with upazila hospitals and opened nine new call centres besides the previous four for coronavirus support.

The government, however, said that it did not have any plan right now to close the schools and colleges and suspend flights to and from the coronavirus-affected countries.

‘It’s an extra-ordinary situation,’ said health minister Zahid Maleque, urging people to cooperate with the government to tackle the highly contagious virus that has so far spread to over 100 countries killing more than 3,500 people and infecting over one lakh others, mostly in China.

Speaking at a press conference at the Secretariat after presiding over a meeting of the national committee on coronavirus, the minister said, ‘We’ve arranged a100-bed facility at each district and 400 beds in the capital for coronavirus-infected patients.’

‘We have now scanners at all the ports of entry to screen the passengers as five new thermal scanners have been installed,’ he said.

The minister, however, said that the government right now had no plan to close all schools and colleges and suspend flights to and from the affected countries.

He urged the Bangladeshi expatriates across the world not to return home now. 

Bangladesh on Sunday for the first time confirmed the presence of three COVID-19 patients in the country after the novel virus broke out in China in late December.

Health Services director general Abul Kalam Azad said that all the three infected people were now doing well and no new cases were identified.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Secretariat on the day urged all, including her cabinet colleagues, to avoid big gatherings.

She also urged all concerned to avoid other possible risky areas like ports of entry and hospitals, said health minister Zahid Maleque.

He met the press after a meeting of the national committee on the coronavirus that was attended by senior government officials and representatives from the World Health Organisation and development partners.

He said that the novel coronavirus was not dangerous like Ebola and SARS, but contagious, assuring people that the government had been prepared for dealing with the virus since January and people should not get panicky about it.

Zahid Maleque urged people to avoid gatherings and take precautionary measures like maintaining personal hygiene with washing hands with soap, alcohol-based hand rub and hand sanitizers to keep the virus at bay.

He said that the government would look into the matter of a section of businesspeople increasing the prices of masks and hand washes.

Health secretary Ashadul Islam said that the 40 people, who were in contact with the three infected patients, were taken in quarantine.

Earlier in the day, the Health Services director general said at a press conference at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research that the government installed five more thermal scanners at the ports of entry—one at the Dhaka airport, one at the Chittagong airport, one at the Chittagong seaport, one at the Benapole land port and one at the Sylhet airport.

Disclosing the government measures, he said that control rooms were opened at all the district and upazila hospitals across the country so that the care-seekers could easily get the necessary information and treatment.

He advised people not to get panicky and urged them to call the national health call centre—16263—and the hotlines of the IEDCR if they needed coronavirus treatment.

‘We have the preparations to take the patients to tests and to hospitals if needed,’ he said.

IEDCR director Meerjady Sabrina Flora again said that anyone coming from abroad should go for the mandatory home quarantine for 14 days.

All coming from abroad also must register their names with the upazila health complex for monitoring by the government, she added.

If any of the returnees has symptoms of the coronavirus infection like fever, coughing, sneezing and breathing difficulty, they have to contact the IEDCR through its hotlines, she said.

Meerjady revealed that one particular area of the country was clustered based on the identification of the three infected patients while surveillance sites were set up across the country for the early detection of the patients and controlling the spread of the virus.

Besides, laboratories outside the capital have been identified for testing the coronavirus infection if the number of patients continues to increase.

The IEDCR added eight more numbers as its hotlines in addition to the previous four numbers. Now the hotline numbers are: 01937000011, 01937110011, 01927711784, 01927711785, 01401184551, 01401184554, 01401184555, 01401184556, 01401184559, 01401184560, 01401184563 and 01401184568.

Besides, people could get information about the coronavirus from the national health hotline 16263.

Speaking at the press conference at the IEDCR, World Health Organisation country representative Bardan Jung Rana said that how fast Bangladesh could detect the [new] cases was the objective and the challenge now.

‘This [coronavirus infection in Bangladesh] is at the moment still epidemiologically linked, there are people who are coming in from infected countries,’ he said.

‘We need to be able to contain this and it has to be done. It needs rigorous work and solidarity among everybody,’ he said.

Despite the announcement from the government, lackadaisical screening of passengers at the Akahura land port in Brahmanbaria was reported in the evening.

The New Age correspondent from the border town reported that no health official was seen at the port after 5:00pm as people from India were entering Bangladesh. India has already reported over 30 coronavirus patients.

Brahmanbaria civil surgeon Shah Alam said that they ran the screening from 8:00am to 5:00pm and could not run the screening in the night due to manpower shortage.

Meanwhile, two passengers, who landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport from Spain and Italy on Monday morning, were sent to a hospital, said airport director AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan.

He said that they were sent to the hospital for check-up as they had high temperatures.

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