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Coronavirus Outbreak: How is govt preparing to tackle potential crisis?

  • Published at 11:55 pm February 7th, 2020
Relatives of one of the people currently quarantined for coronavirus, at Ashkona Hajj camp in Dhaka, check with the security personnel at the camp about their family member on Friday, February 7, 2020, waiting to deliver home-made food

Hospitals prepared, effectiveness of scanners remains a concern

Bangladesh is gearing up to tackle the threats imposed by the deadly novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which till now has claimed the lives of more than 600 people in China while infecting more than 30,000 others worldwide.

Speaking to this reporter, government officials said they had taken necessary measures at all entry points of the country – air, land and sea – where the authorities concerned are screening travellers with thermal scanners and infrared thermometers to detect infection, in a bid to ensure initial treatment for coronavirus patients as well as stop the virus from spreading.

As a part of the government's efforts to fight the outbreak, isolation units, ICUs for coronavirus patients, and medical desks have already been opened with specially designated doctors and specialists across the country. 

Earlier in January, Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque instructed officials concerned to take necessary steps so that district level hospitals were prepared to take in coronavirus patients, through establishing isolated wards.

However, despite coronavirus patients being detected in a number of countries apart from China, the Bangladesh government has mainly been examining passengers coming from Wuhan in a bid to prevent the virus from entering the country.

Authorities at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) in Dhaka screened a total of 703 travellers from China in the last 24 hours and found nobody infected with the deadly novel coronavirus, said a press release issued by the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) on Friday.

Since January 21 till on Friday, a total of 8,396 people entering Bangladesh from China have been examined for the virus, the release added.

Moreover, Chinese nationals working in the country, especially those who have visited China recently, were also brought under observation.

While scientists and health researchers from all around the world are yet to find a cure for 2019-nCoV, experts and physicians suggest that creating awareness could be the only effective way in stopping the spread of the virus.   

Research published in January by The Lancet, a UK based health scientific magazine, shows that people aged 50 and above are more likely to be affected by coronavirus than younger individuals. 

Those who have other diseases like pneumothorax, an abnormal collection of air in the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall, are more prone to the deadly virus, the research added.

Isolated wards, ICUs ready 

According to our correspondents from Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sylhet, Thakurgaon, Jessore Tangail, Khagrachari, Madaripur, Pirojpur, Bandarban, Noakhali, Feni, Bhola, Sunamganj, Dinajpur, Jamalpur, Chapainawabganj, Brahmanbaria and Chittagong, isolation wards have been established and doctors have been assigned in government hospitals for tackling coronavirus.

A 250-bed isolation unit has been established at Dhaka's Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital for coronavirus affected patients. 

As Benapole land port in Jessore is one of biggest land ports of the country, a large number of travellers use this entry-exit point with India everyday. Therefore, extra measures have been taken by the authorities concerned to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Isolation wards have been set up in all upazila health complexes of the district, including Jessore General Hospital, confirmed Dr Md Mashurul Huq Juel, medical officer at Jessore Civil Surgeon’s Office.

Meanwhile, Tangail Civil Surgeon Dr Md Wahiduzzaman has said: "An isolation unit is initially being set up at Tangail General Hospital. However, special arrangements will be made in the upazila hospitals if more people are infected with the virus."

A press release issued by the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) on January 29 said all districts and medical college hospitals of the country have been directed to set up isolation wards if coronavirus patients are found in areas within their jurisdiction. 

Dr Bholanath Bosak, superintendent of Infectious Diseases Hospital, said: "The medical college hospitals as well as the district level hospitals of the country need to be prepared as the virus infected patients can develop pneumonia and ARDS. They will need Intensive Care Unit (ICU) support for their treatment." 

Thermal scanners’ shortage at ports

Although the government has installed upgraded thermal scanners and infrared thermometers at Dhaka airport for screening inbound passengers, the availability of equipment used to check travellers for coronavirus at other ports (land and sea) are still a concern. 

Unlike Dhaka and Chittagong airports, which have thermal scanners and infrared thermometers necessary to screen passengers, the thermal scanner at Sylhet airport has remained ineffective for quite some time. 

Sylhet Civil Surgeon Premananda Mondol told Dhaka Tribune that as the thermal scanner was currently ineffective at the airport, the authorities were using hand-held infrared thermometers to examine passengers arriving from China. 

The lone thermal scanner at the Benapole land port, Jessore, is dysfunctional, said Dr Bichitra Mallick, medical officer of Benapole check post, reports UNB.

Officials at Burimari land port, Lalmonirhat, on the other hand, lack any scanners and are only asking passengers if they had fever or flu to detect coronavirus infected patients.

Khandakar Mahmud, Burimari land port immigration police sub-inspector (SI) said more than 600 to 700 people cross the port regularly.

"We have sent letter to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) but they are yet to take any step to set up thermal scanners at the port," he added.

Dr Raihan Kabir, team head of the medical desk formed at the Sona Masjid land port, said: "Despite directives from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on the matter, mercury thermometers are being used to check travellers as we do not have thermal scanners or infrared thermometers at the port." 

Moreover, according to our reporters, most land ports of the country lack proper screening equipment to detect coronavirus patients.

Adequate test kits at hand, says officials  

The Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Abul Kalam Azad, said that the department had an adequate number of testing kits for detecting coronavirus patients in the country.

"Tests for the virus will be done at IEDCR laboratories," he added. 

Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer at IEDCR, said: "Currently the tests for coronavirus detection are being done through a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a three step real time measure that takes longer to give a result.

"We will welcome any test kits, well recognized by world renowned organizations, which would take lesser time for providing us with a result," he added. 

When asked about the recently invented test kit by China, which provides results faster than the existing kits, he said: "The kit that China has developed is yet to be recognized by international health organizations. We cannot take a risk by bringing those kits here at this crucial moment."

IEDCR Director Dr Meerjadi Sabrina Flora told Dhaka Tribune the organisation was using a standard test kit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for detection of the virus. 

According to IEDCR, samples collected from suspected coronavirus patients are being sent to WHO to determine whether or not they are infected by the deadly virus.  


Our correspondents Anisur Rahman Swapan, Barisal; Hedait Hossain Molla, Khulna; Dulal Abdullah, Rajshahi; Liakat Ali Badal, Rangpur; Serajul Islam, Sylhet; Zakir Mostafiz, Thakurgaon; Tauhid Zaman, Jessore; Abdullah Al Numan, Tangail; Nuruchsafa Manik,  Khagrachhari; Monjur Hossain, Madaripur; Arif Mostafa, Pirojpur; S Bashu Das, Bandarban; Ranajit Kuri, Noakhali; Rafiqul Islam, Feni; Ahad Tuhin, Bhola; Himadri Bhodra, Sunamganj; Faruk Hossain, Dinajpur; Halim Reja, Hili; Bishwajit Deb, Jamalpur; Anwar Hossain, Chapainawabganj, Ujjal Chakraborty, Brahmanbaria; and Anwar Hussain, Chittagong contributed to this report  

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