Bangladesh on Sunday confirmed the presence of COVID-19 cases in the country, saying that three people were tested positive for coronavirus after its outbreak in China in December.
Two of them have recently returned from Italy. All the infected patients are aged between 20 and 35.
‘We have confirmed three Covid-19 cases,’ said Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research director Meerjady Sabrina Flora at the daily press conference at her office.
She said that the first coronavirus cases in the country were confirmed on Saturday and were now under treatment at hospital.
One of the infected persons is female who was in contact with one of the Italy returnees, she said.
The two Italy returnees are not from the same family and they returned from two different locations of Italy, she added.
The disclosure about the coronavirus infection came hours after prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday morning urged the people not to get scared of the virus that has already spread to more than 100 countries.
In recent weeks people were in doubt that the country was free from coronavirus while the authorities were saying that Bangladesh was at a high risk for the spread of the novel virus.
The screening of incoming travellers at the ports of entry was also in question as to whether the screening was being done properly.
The coronavirus, which is believed to have started spreading since late December from a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan that sold wild animals, has killed over 3,500 people and infected more than one lakh people, mostly in China.
As China has recently seen a decrease in the number of new cases, Italy, South Korea, Iran, Japan and Singapore have appeared to be new hotspots of the virus.
Over one crore Bangladeshi live abroad, including in the affected countries, and Bangladesh has already stopped visa-on-arrival for the travellers from Italy, South Korea, Iran and China.
Kuwait on Saturday suspended flights to and from Bangladesh for a week.
Earlier, seven Bangladeshi expatriates were identified with the coronavirus—five in Singapore, one each in Italy and the United Arab Emirates—and three of the infected five in Singapore have already been released from hospital after they recovered.
Currently, 23 Bangladeshis remained in quarantine in Delhi after their evacuation from China. Bangladesh also brought back 312 nationals from Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, and released them in good health after a 14-day quarantine.
Bangladesh is now advising all people coming from abroad to stay in home quarantine and contact the IEDCR immediately if they find symptoms like fever, cough, sneezing and breathing difficulty.
IEDCR director Meerjady said that the two Italy returnees went home and contacted the IEDCR when they developed symptoms of the coronavirus infection.
‘After collecting their samples, we found them positive. We also carried out contract tracing of their family members and found one of their family members positive with the virus,’ she said.
‘The Italy returnees are from different families. We conducted tests on four of their families. Three of the family members are now in quarantine,’ Meerjady said.
She declined to give details about the patients and where they were being treated on the grounds of privacy.
The prime minister on Sunday for the first time spoke of the coronavirus while addressing an International Women’s Day event in the capital.
‘Don’t get panicky. We have adequate preparations to tackle the coronavirus,’ she said.
Meerjady gave similar messages at the press conference. ‘We have taken adequate measures to tackle the virus,’ she said.
The IEDCR director said that they earlier prepared hospitals with separate isolation units but were now thinking about isolated hospital facilities.
‘We are identifying isolated hospitals outside the capital,’ Meerjady said.
‘We have preparations that if the number of patients goes up, we will think of turning community centres and schools into isolated health facilities,’ she said.
Meerjady advised people to avoid mass gatherings.
I would request all to avoid mass gatherings and stay at home,’ she said.
But, she said, the identification of the three people does not mean that the virus has spread all over the country.
‘Still the situation is not like that when schools and colleges should be closed,’ Meerjady said.
As a cautionary measure, the IEDCR director advised people to wash hands with soap at short intervals and maintain good hygiene like covering the face while coughing and sneezing.
She said that it was not necessary to wear mask for everyone.
‘Those who have coughing and sneezing and those who will take care of the infected should wear masks,’ Meerjady said.
But after the news spread that the coronavirus infected patients were identified in Bangladesh, panicked people started thronging medicine stores and departmental stores to buy surgical masks, hand sanitizers and hand washes.
There remains concern over the preparations to tackle the coronavirus, public health experts said.
The management and control of the spread of the highly contagious virus in the country of 160 million people is also a challenge, they said.
It is very much likely that the virus has already spread to communities, said Dhaka Medical College principal Khan Abul Kalam Azad.
‘It will be challenging for hospitals if panicked people start thronging them,’ he told New Age.
The noted medicine expert advised people not to get panicky, but to stay at home and use mask if they have fever, coughing and sneezing.
‘If they have breathing complications, they should go to hospital,’ he advised.
Azad gave a number of advice for people, such as not going to bazars or public places unless essential and maintaining personal hygiene like washing hands with soap at short intervals, particularly after coming from outside.
He also advised the guardians not to send children to school if they have fever, coughing and sneezing.
Bangladesh Health Rights Movement chairman Rashid-e-Mahbub said that the country’s health facilities were already overburdened and tackling the situation would be difficult if the number of the affected became high.
He expected all-out efforts by the government to prevent the spread of the virus and prepare the hospitals for such patients.
The IEDCR said that it strengthened its surveillance system across the country for the early detection and control of the spread of the novel virus.
IEDCR principal scientific officer ASM Alamgir said that they activated their surveillance system and mechanism across the country to collect samples from suspected patients for the early detection.
‘We’ll isolate them immediately if anyone is found infected as per our strategy to control the spread,’ he said.