When the pandemic is still running rampant, factories, markets and restaurants have been allowed to throw their doors open drawing flak from epidemiologists who now fear the situation may worsen further
Even after 45 days into lockdown, Bangladesh is failing to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic which appears to be unusual compared to the worst hit European Countries such as Italy, France and Spain.
In those European countries, new cases fell within two to three weeks after they enforced the lockdown. Massive testing efforts helped them to detect cases and isolate patients resulting in flattening the curve.
But in Bangladesh, new cases are still spiking. Despite low testing, more than half of the total cases were detected in just the last 10 days with one-fourth of the deaths being reported during the same time. The first infection case was detected on March 8 while first death was reported on March 18.
The curve is rising slowly for the last one month with an increase in the number of tests to some extent. But, it has not reached its peak as can be observed from the daily reported numbers. The curve fluctuates on some days but there is no sign of it being flattened.
In fact, the number of new infections reached a new height on Sunday at 887 persons as reported by the health directorate in its daily briefing.
Due to the low number of tests being conducted, the real infection rate of the pandemic is still unknown even after two months into detection of the first case. Asymptomatic carriers still remain undetected, increasing the risk of spreading the virus. Health experts find it difficult to forecast specifically when the curve will be flattened. They consider the low number of tests as an impediment to a real assessment of the pandemic situation.
When the pandemic is still running rampant, factories, markets and restaurants have been allowed to throw their doors open drawing flak from epidemiologists who now fear the situation may worsen further.
Three weeks ago, a health ministry projection said the new cases and deaths will spike in May.
The first estimate was conservative, according to which 48,000-50,000 people may be infected and 800-1,000 may die by May 31.
Another projection says infections may rise to around one lakh.
Now, the experts who prepared the forecast are working for another projection in the wake of relaxing the lockdown restrictions.
"Our earlier projection is no more valid as the lockdown restrictions have been eased. Factories and markets were allowed to reopen. So, we are working to prepare another projection," said former director general of DGHS Shah Monir Hossain, who was a member of the eight-member team that prepared the projection.
The same trend of curve is being seen in India. The neighboring country enforced the lockdown at the same time of last week of March, but the virus curve is yet to flatten.
Like Bangladesh, India also could not ramp up testing like the European countries that helped flatten the curve of the disease.
Against this backdrop, the forecast made by WHO's special Covid-19 envoy David Nabarro is worrisome for India. In his view, the coming months—June and July may bring more and more devastation.
In an interview with NDTV, the health expert said the pandemic will reach its peak in the country by the end of July before it is contained.
Nabarro said the coronavirus would not simply vanish after restrictions are lifted. "When the lockdown [is lifted], there will be more cases," he said.
The WHO's envoy forecast may be applicable for Bangladesh as well, because of the cultural similarities of the two neighboring countries.
The health minister and health experts of Bangladesh fear the infection rate may spike further as the lockdown restrictions were eased reducing the scope of physical distancing to curb the virus.
The effectiveness of the lockdown enforced half-heartedly has already been questioned as neither could it flatten the infection curve nor could it protect the economy from the pain of the shutdown.
With Bangladesh and many other countries lifting lockdown restrictions gradually to reduce the economic pain, a Harvard University economist in a recently published new research paper advocates for lengthening the lockdown further to fight the pandemic.
Studying the impact of the Spanish flu, his research paper, that has implications for the response to Covid-19, urges countries not to lift lockdowns too early. The study suggests shutdowns need to last about 12 weeks to save lives. Most likely, 12 weeks work much better than 4-6 weeks.
Economist Robert Barro says social distancing didn't meaningfully reduce the number of deaths from the Spanish flu a century ago because it didn't last long enough.
But Sweden's former top virus expert Johan Giesecke, however, says something different. In his view, lockdowns are merely delaying an inevitable surge in cases and deaths - not preventing it.
Johan Giesecke says attempts to stop the spread of the disease are 'futile' because everyone is likely to be exposed to it before a treatment can be found, meaning all countries will end up in a similar position regardless of what measures they took.
His opinion suggests adopting the concept of herd immunity which his country Sweden is following in fighting the virus. Sweden has not enforced any lockdown, but it is maintaining social distancing.