Another woman died of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, taking the death toll from the disease to four in the country, with no link of the infection established in the latest death.
Six more people were also tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, raising the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 39.
The death of the septuagenarian woman in a hospital in the capital raised further the concerns about community transmission of the virus as the woman did not have any foreign travel history and her source of infection was not detected.
In the second death from the disease, of an elderly man in the capital’s Tolarbagh on March 21, the question of how he got infected is still unanswered as he and his family members did not have any history of travel abroad either.
‘She [fourth dead] had long been under treatment in the hospital for other complications. It is yet to be established how she got COVID-19,’ said Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research director Meerjady Sabrina Flora in an online press conference.
After the fourth patient died at Anwar Khan Modern Hospital in the capital, the hospital authorities shut down its ICU unit where the patient was being treated and at least 10 doctors went in quarantine, said the hospital assistant director Fakrul Ahsan.
According to the World Health Organisation definition, community transmission of the novel coronavirus ‘is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories)’.
The IEDCR, the government’s disease monitoring arm, is saying that community transmission of COVID-19 has not been established yet but public health experts disagreed.
‘It’s quite evident that the coronavirus has already spread to communities, but the government is resorting to bureaucratic trickery to hide its inability to prevent the spread of COVID-19,’ said noted virologist Nazrul Islam.
‘It has exposed the government’s failure to contain the imported cases,’ he said, adding, ‘The government has miserably failed to ensure quarantine of people that entered the country from the coronavirus-affected countries.’
Among the new six confirmed cases, IEDCR director Meerjady said, one had a travel history to Saudi Arabia while four others contracted the disease from previously affected persons.
‘The sixth patient, who died, had no foreign travel history and it is yet to be known how she had contracted the virus,’ she said.
Bangladesh on March 8 confirmed for the first time that three COVID-19 patients were detected in the country.
Bangladesh was late in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have started spreading since late December from a market in Wuhan, China, that sells wild animals.
With new countries getting affected as the days passed since December, the government here tried to assure people that there was no worry for Bangladesh and that it was prepared to tackle the novel virus.
The testing of a large number of people to confirm if community transmission has occurred has not been done yet as the IEDCR, the sole agency to test the COVID-19 in the country, has so far tested only 712 people, who were either international arrivals or their family members.
The preparation for the treatment of COVID-19 is also described by public health experts as shambolic.
The government, including health minister Zahid Maleque, and the COVID-19 spokesperson Meerjady have time and again claimed that the hospitals across the country are prepared.
But the very government figures show that the picture is otherwise.
So far, the government has prepared merely 29 ICU beds for the COVID-19 patients who need such support because of breathing difficulty.
More worriedly, there is no ICD bed for such patients outside the capital.
The beds for the isolation of suspected or mild COVID-19 patients are also scarce, as the government has set up 1,050 isolation beds in the capital and 4,515 in the divisions and districts.
‘I would say that the government’s preparation is shambolic,’ said World Health Organisation’s former South Asia adviser Muzaherul Huq.
‘Top government officials are only indulging in tall talk over the preparation and are deceiving people,’ he said.
Director for hospitals at the Directorate General of Health Services, Aminul Islam, has claimed that the government has the preparations for installing makeshift facilities if needed.
‘Rest assured that the government will take timely initiative to ensure the treatment of COVID-19 patients,’ he said.
‘We will increase the number of beds at the existing health facilities across the country and have the preparations for installing makeshift hospitals in various locations,’ he said.
IEDCR director Meerjady said that the government took necessary measures to combat the outbreak.
‘The preparations are being enhanced day by day. The progress in the preparations is based on some levels set by the WHO depending on the spread of infection,’ she said.
She added that as the number of patients was increasing they were approaching the next level and the preparations were being made keeping that next level in mind.
She alleged that people were mistaking symptoms of other diseases like fever for the coronavirus infection, although hospitals and doctors across the country, many said, were refusing to attend to such patients for fear of contracting COVID-19.
‘We’ve been noticing a misconception growing among the public as they’re attributing every type of death with coronavirus infection,’ she said.
‘We should stop thinking COVID-19 every time if someone has fever,’ she said.
Former WHO regional adviser Muzaherul said that the government should increase the capacity to test increased number of people and isolate them if found positive for the coronavirus.
‘But the government is not decentralising the testing facilities, raising the risks of spreading the highly contagious virus unknowingly,’ he said.
Bangladesh goes on a 10-day public holiday from Thursday as the government is now stressing the need for reducing the social contacts.
Members of the armed forces were also deployed at the divisional and district levels on Tuesday in aid of the civil administration to ensure the home quarantine and social distancing and monitor the treatment facilities for the COVID-19 suspects.
On the day, the government shut down rail and waterway communications from the evening until April 4 while all domestic flights were also suspended from midnight past Tuesday until further notice.
The capital largely wore a deserted look while many areas across the country went into lockdown, including Tolarbagh neighborhood in the capital, Shibchar upazila in Madaripur and Sadullahpur upazila in Gaibandha.
On Tuesday, Ali Kadam, Lama and Naikhyangchhari upazilas in Bandarban district were locked down and their connectivity with Cox’s Bazar and Chattogram was restricted as a COVID-19 patient was detected in Cox’s Bazar, said Bandarban deputy commissioner Daudul Islam.
The local administration of Jagannathpur upazila in Sunamganj has restricted the movement of mass people for 17 hours between 1:00pm to 6:00am every day from Tuesday, said upazila nirbahi officer Mahfuzul Alam Masum.
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