Health screening system to prevent coronavirus in various land ports across the country is not adequate, which may cause the virus to spread, fear authorities.
Some ports do not have any thermal scanners.
On the other hand, in some land ports including Benapole Land Port, thermal scanners are dysfunctional. As a result, authorities have to take alternative measures for health screening.
However, the health directorate gave a new scanner to the Benapole Land Port yesterday.
Though filling up "health declaration cards" has been made mandatory for passengers coming through airports, there is no such initiative at land ports yet.
Health declaration cards collect information about passengers' health and which countries they have visited.
According to the Bangladesh Land Port Authority, there are 24 declared land ports in the country, of which 12 are operating.
"Though the virus has not yet spread widely in our neighbouring country India, we have taken measures to screen passengers at the land ports. We have set up handheld scanners at the ports without thermal scanners," said Dr ASM Zahangir, chief scientific officer at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research.
However, he refused to comment on the health declaration card.
Every day, around 8,000-10,000 passengers use Benapole Land Port – the largest land port in the country – of which 12 percent are foreigners.
Locals think the port is a risky zone for coronavirus infection, however, the thermal scanner in the immigration centre of the port – installed five years ago – has been dysfunctional for three months.
Only handheld thermal scanners are being used for screening the passengers, which poses a risk of coronavirus infection of incoming and outgoing passengers.
On Monday, 16 health workers were seen in the port screening passengers and Indian truck drivers with the handheld thermal scanner.
Some passengers said it was quite frustrating that lax health screening was going on even after three coronavirus infected people had been identified in the country. If the screening system goes on in this way, it is not possible to detect coronavirus infected passengers coming from abroad.
Shahidul Islam, medical officer at Benapole Immigration, said, "We have informed the higher authorities about the dysfunctional scanners. They have said the scanner will be fixed soon."
Benapole Immigration Inspector Ahsan Habib said the number of incoming and outgoing passengers dropped in the last three days.
Incoming and outgoing passengers have declined in Satkhira's Bhomra Land Port too.
Bishajit Sarker, sub-inspector of Bhomra Immigration Police, said 550 passengers came to Bangladesh and 600 passengers went to India through Bhomra Port on February 8. On Monday, 350 passengers came from India and 450 passengers went to India.
"People are afraid of travelling due to coronavirus. People are not going out unless they have an emergency," he added.
Provakar Mazumder, deputy assistant community medical officer at Satkhira Sadar who is currently responsible for health screening at Bhomra Immigration, said, "We do not have safety kits even for physicians. There is nothing but a digital thermometer for passengers."
In the meantime, yesterday, medical desk members at Akhaura International Immigration Check Post sent an Indian named Shuvash Sarker, 30, back to India. He is a resident of Agartala in the Indian state of Tripura.
"Shuvash was kept in observation. He was tested twice and his temperature was high. As a result, he was sent to India", said Md Shah Alam, the civil surgeon at Brahmanbaria.
Shanjoy Kumar Baroi, assistant director (traffic) at Kishoreganj's Nakugaon Land Port, said, "Coronavirus has created a sense of fear among locals. That is why we are taking cautions in case of going to Meghalaya."
Our Dinajpur correspondent said the Hili Land Port check post had taken cautions to prevent coronavirus.
In the wake of coronavirus, passengers are screened with handheld thermometers at the Sylhet Land Port. Physicians have to take decisions based on the information provided by the passengers.
Besides, a special medical team has been formed at Tamabil Land Port.
"We test passengers' temperature only," said Dr Moinul Islam, head of the medical team.
However, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said, "The government is taking measures in the land, water and airports to prevent coronavirus.
We are taking actions after health screening of passengers."
The government has not hidden any information regarding coronavirus, he added.