THE second wave of the Covid-19 infection continues to take toll while the threat of a third wave from the highly contagious India variant looms large in Bangladesh. The India variant, already detected in a number of Covid patients, can spread like wildfire unless the government takes steps to ensure institutional quarantine of all who return from India and put in place a contact tracing system to ensure that the carriers do not silently spread the virus. After repeated requests of the national technical advisory committee on Covid-19, the government on April 26 suspended travel to and from India through land ports, now extended till May 23. Bangladesh missions on May 9 also stopped issuing no objection certificates that are mandatory for an entry into Bangladesh from India. Public health experts and immigration officers at ports welcomed the government move, but they think that suspension alone cannot stop the virus spread unless the immigration points are equipped with human resources to verify Covid certificates and with quarantine facilities for the people who return.
Since the government closed the border with India, at least 2,699 passengers have arrived from India through the Benapole port and 17 of them entered Bangladesh with Covid-positive certificates. In Jeshore, seven Covid patients, who returned from India, fled hospital as they could not bear the expenses of their treatment. At the Burimari port, at least 44 Bangladeshi students studying in boarding schools in Darjeeling, India complained that they are stuck in a hotel for more than the recommended quarantine period as their Covid test results have not reached on time. Immigration officers too have expressed concern about passenger management as they transport passengers to seven districts in the Khulna division on their arrival from India for lack of quarantine facilities at the port. Transporting passenger from the port to districts carry some risks of virus spread. They are also concerned about RT-PCR report that people bring from India as they do not have any unified mechanism at hand to examine the certificates. Closing the border with India is the first crucial step towards controlling the contagion, but the cross-border control of the disease must be equipped with a fool-proof surveillance that does not exist at land and sea ports. The World Health Organisation and the International Organisation for Migration have developed guidelines to control the Covid-19 spread at ground crossings. All that the government needs to do is, therefore, to follow the protocol and allocate resources accordingly for an effective Covid control system.
The government must learn from the experience of Nepal as the Covid-19 situation there has taken a fatal turn for a weak Covid control in its border with India. The government must, therefore, set up testing and quarantine facilities at land ports. It must also identify priority ground crossings and scale up preparedness on the locations. Authorities must ensure that none is harassed or held in quarantine for more than the recommended period and bear all the expenses of treatment of Covid-positive patients.
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