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Dhaka Tribune

How prepared is Bangladesh to tackle the coronavirus?

As the world scrambles for a vaccine, the 2019-nCoV shows no sign of slowing down

Update : 29 Jan 2020, 12:00 AM

Amid fears of experts that the expanding coronavirus outbreak may hit Bangladesh anytime, the Health Ministry says they are well prepared to prevent the highly contagious strain of the new virus — now labelled 2019-nCoV — from spreading in the country.

However, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for this virus, yet.

Chinese scientists have managed to quickly identify the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus which was posted publicly soon after, allowing scientific research teams to get to work right away on a vaccine.

But it may take three months for human testing of the first of a number of potential experimental vaccines against the virus, Reuters reported on Tuesday, quoting the US National Institutes of Health.

Tension was still building up around the world on Tuesday, with China confirming 106 deaths from the virus and 4,580 cases of infection reported globally since the outbreak started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last month, which has already spread to more than 10 countries.

Amidst all the confusion and concern among people here, Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Tuesday assured that there was nothing to worry about this outbreak as no one infected with the virus has been detected in Bangladesh yet.

“However, this virus is very contagious. It can spread in Bangladesh via different carriers such as rats, bats, and other animals, apart from humans. We are working hard so the virus cannot enter the country,” he said.

He also stressed the government was alert, taking preventive measures and there was nothing to panic about.

The minister made the remarks aimed to reassure people, at a press briefing at the secretariat in Dhaka, after an inter-ministerial meeting on coordinating government action to tackle the potential threat.

High officials from the Health Service Division, Medical Education and Family Welfare Division, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Bangladesh Society of Medicine, the health department of the World Bank, and the ministries of foreign affairs, home, industry, shipping, and civil aviation and tourism attended the meeting.

Speaking at the briefing, a representative of the Home Ministry's Security Services Department said 2,805 people arrived here from China by air in the last 15 days.

At the same time, 7,570 Chinese people have gone back home to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, which has been extended in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The health minister said the Chinese nationals working at various establishments and projects in Bangladesh were also being monitored following their return from their home country.

He said the authorities were collecting their contact details at the airport and will follow up with them the next 14 days.

The preventative measures

The DGHS and the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research have said they are coordinating with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, to make sure effective measures are being taken to tackle the evolving crisis.

The health minister on Tuesday also said they have initiated two major preventive measures.

“One, to make sure that the virus does not enter the country, we are monitoring all airports and land and maritime ports. We have notified these ports and are setting up scanners [to check incoming people for symptoms of infection] there,” he said.

He also said those arriving from China are being monitored for 14 days, which is the incubation period of the virus. “Because, anyone infected with coronavirus will show the symptoms within 14 days.”

“Second, we have opened separate wards at the Kurmitola General Hospital and the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Dhaka to provide the necessary treatment to people infected by the coronavirus, if there are any,” Zahid added.

He also said all civil surgeons in all districts have been directed to make arrangements to treat coronavirus patients in a separate ward in hospitals.

“Necessary manpower has also been appointed to make sure patients receive proper treatment, once they are positively identified. In every district, civil surgeons, DCs and SPs have been advised to stay vigilant about the virus,” he said.

The minister reassured that none of the Bangladeshi students who are currently in Wuhan has been found infected.

“If they want to return home, we will bring them back. But the Chinese government is not allowing any country to take their citizens home before the 14 day quarantine period ends as part of its procedures,” he said.

The 14 day period will end after February 6, Foreign Ministry officials told reporters.

Zahid also advised people to avoid travelling to China unless it was an absolute emergency.

Meanwhile, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) organized a seminar on Tuesday to discuss the preventive initiatives regarding the coronavirus, where several experts expressed concern and stressed immediate setting up of quarantine facilities at the country’s entry points as a precautionary measure.

Stressing that prevention was better than cure, BSMMU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Kanak Kanti Barua said the coronavirus can enter Bangladesh at any given time, but they were ready to tackle it.

Doctors addressing the seminar also talked about how the virus spreads, its incubation process, the symptoms, and how to avoid getting infected.

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