‘People must inform us as soon as symptoms surface. If they ignore them, their loved ones will be infected,’ IEDCR Director Dr Flora
Though the government has been claiming that passengers are properly being screened for coronavirus at ports of entry, Bangladesh's three maiden cases of the virus were not detected at the border.
The persons were diagnosed with coronavirus, or Covid-19, on Sunday, as they contacted the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) asked countries to do their best for coronavirus prevention and to tackle its spread. The Health Services Division previously said that it had emphasised the importance of barring the entry of coronavirus-infected individuals from Bangladesh and immediate screening for the viral infection.
Most coronavirus cases are mild: IEDCR
"There is no reason to panic," IEDCR Director Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora said.
"Though the virus can be deadly, most of those infected — nearly 80 percent of the total [globally] — are mild and are cured. Those who have died of the virus have predominantly been suffering from other ailments," she said.
"Mild coronavirus cases do not even require hospital admission," Prof Flora added.
More than 1.06 lakh people, worldwide, have been infected with the novel coronavirus until Sunday. Of them, 60,212 were cured and 3,600 patients died of Covid-19.
Lockdown possible in Bangladesh?
Many countries are copying the Chinese lockdown model, or quarantining an area, as a coronavirus containment measure. However, many have raised questions about whether it is possible to follow the lockdown method in densely-populated Bangladesh.
"It will be impossible to detect single infections as millions of working people live together in shared residences in Dhaka," said Former IEDCR Principal Scientific Officer and Head Dr M Mushtuq Husain.
"A whole community will be put under quarantine if coronavirus spreads. This will require field hospitals too. The government is moving ahead with such a plan," said Dr Mushtuq, adding, "This will be an uphill task."
Coronavirus preparedness 'questionable'
The government seemed relaxed as it set up thermal scanners at ports of entry. Bangladesh returnees are also being checked with a handheld thermometer.
However, several media reports suggest six out of seven thermal scanners at ports of entry were not working. Currently, there are two thermal scanners operating at Dhaka airport while thermal scanners at both the Sylhet and Chattogram airports are out of order.
The Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh recently raised questions about screening at airports and warned that Covid-19 may strike Bangladesh.
"Nearly 10,000 people enter Bangladesh through 34 points – including by river, rail and air – every day. The passengers are being scanned with only two thermal scanners," said the IEDCR.
"We have asked the WHO for ten thermal scanners. The government has also taken the initiative to buy them," IEDCR Director Prof Flora said.
In the meantime, health experts noted, "Thermal scanners only detect body temperature – not the virus. Someone carrying Covid-19 might initially show no symptoms as the virus can remain inactive for 14 days. In such cases, people who pass through the airport screening can later show signs of infection and spread the virus."
'Flawed screening' will intensify situation
Even strict and proper screening only can detect 46 percent of cases. Patients exhibiting symptoms can only be detected through screening, said a virologist at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
With such a reality, the poor and relaxed screening at ports of entry in Bangladesh will intensify the situation, said the BSMMU virology department professor.
China has developed a mobile-phone-based real-time tracking app for coronavirus patients. The app updates the authorities about the virus' spread around-the-clock.
However, in Bangladesh many passengers allege that the IEDCR did not even call them after they wrote down their phone numbers on health declaration cards at airports.
IEDCR seeks cooperation
"Many do not write down their phone numbers properly. Therefore, we cannot reach them," claimed IEDCR Director Dr Flora.
"We need mass awareness. People must inform us as soon as symptoms surface. If they ignore them, their loved ones will be infected," said Dr Flora.
She added, "Coronavirus can be tackled if people cooperate. It is problematic if anyone goes around suppressing the issue. We do not want to bring them in with the help of the police."
Many countries recommend their citizens avoid gatherings and have suspended flights to corona-hit countries to prevent the virus' spread. However, Bangladesh has yet to take any such measures.
Ministry mulling corona prevention fund
A number of countries have announced funds to tackle the spread of coronavirus. The United States also allocated $8.2 billion to fight the virus that originated in Wuhan, China.
"The health ministry has a plan to allocate such funds," said Aminul Hasan, director (Hospital and Clinic) to the Directorate General of Health Services.
"It is high time the government allocated the funds. All will get busy later if the virus races around the country," said Prof Nazrul Islam, former vice-chancellor of the BSMMU.
Govt will ask individuals to self-quarantine
The government will ask people to self-quarantine at their homes if the coronavirus takes a deadly turn in Bangladesh, said IEDCR Director Dr Flora.
"We have multi-sectoral and inter-ministerial committees. The ministerial committees will help in regards to self-quarantine," she added.
The IEDCR director said that deputy commissioners will lead local committees at the district level.
"If a family needs to shop, we will send them the items to their homes. However, we do not currently fear a massive outbreak," she commented.
Preparations at hospitals
The 200-bed Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital has been prepared to treat coronavirus cases. Moreover, 10 beds, each, at the Kurmitola General Hospital and Infectious Diseases Hospital in Dhaka's Mohakhali have been readied for Covid-19 cases.
In the meantime, the health ministry has asked all government hospitals to form separate corona units.
"We opened enough isolated units at hospitals. We will set up temporary healthcare facilities at schools, colleges and community centre hospitals if the viral infection surges," said Dr Flora.
She also commented that the private hospitals have readied their respective isolation units.
The health ministry recently formed three committees at both the national and divisional levels. The deputy commissioners will lead the district level committees.
The Sylhet district committee held their first meeting Sunday. Sylhet Civil Surgeon Dr Premananda Mondol said the meeting's participants discussed where and how the coronavirus patients will be quarantined.
They also discussed the overall preparedness of Sylhet district. Dr Premananda said they will meet again to talk about the updates.