Government must step up to the plate on Covid-19 preparedness

Published: 00:00, Feb 17,2020


THE Wuhan virus, now officially designated as Covid-19, which is reported to have caused at least 1,523 death in China and infected more than 66,000 others, as New Age reported on Sunday, has raised preparedness concern in Bangladesh, putting the healthcare system on high alert, as the system is already known to have struggled to cope with the pressure of regular patients. With no case of Covid-19 infection having so far been detected in Bangladesh, health officials say that they have already activated a surveillance system keeping to the epidemiological protocol. The government has opened isolation units in all district general and medical college hospitals and the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research has set up coronavirus sample collection points in all district headquarters and at 29 ports of entry. All, especially those returning from China, have been advised to report to the epidemiology institute in cases of symptoms such as fever, cough, sneezing and breathing difficulty. The government has started screening people entering Bangladesh at the ports of entry with thermal scanners. Travel information on incoming people is collected and anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus infection is sent to quarantines.

Online training manuals are reported to have already been sent to physicians across the country for better preparedness to tackle the situation. Physician’s training is reported to be taking place from this week. The epidemiology institute is also reported to have collected kits and reagents from the World Health Organisation, which has announced a global emergency as Covid-19 virus has already spread to more than two dozen countries, to make test results obtainable in two to three hours. Yet the issues that have raised concern are the adherence to the standard protocol in screening. About 15,000 people are reported to enter Bangladesh on an average every day through different ports of entry; and with people coming from China, where the infection broke out, and Singapore, with the second highest number of infected people after China, any lapse in the screening of incoming passengers could prove disastrous. It has already been reported that the use of thermal scanners has not been adequate in many ports of entry and in many of the places, hand-held scanners are used instead. Reports reaching from many land ports say that health officials posted there for screening incoming people show a lackadaisical attitude as people are merely asked if they have had fever, cough or breathing problems and drivers are largely not screened. Thermal scanners set up at a few ports of entry have been out of order for some days.

No case of Covid-19 infection has so far been detected, but this should not give health officials any space for being complacent. A single case of infection could make the situation grievous and at the rapid pace the infection is known to be spreading could constrain the whole of the healthcare system, which had to struggle to even comfortably manage the dengue outbreak that shook national health managers in 2019. The government must, in such a situation, step up to the plate to head off any possibility for people to contract the Covid-19 infection.

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