The nation needs to bring the transmission rate down or equal to 1
As Bangladesh prepares to lift the ongoing lockdown from June, experts fear easing movement restrictions now may allow the coronavirus pandemic to stay longer in the country by prolonging the flattening of the curve process.
At the same time, they said continuous shifting of decisions by authorities have also hampered control measures and would lead to an increase in the transmission rate (Ro) in the country.
Sources at the Ministry of Public Administration told Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday that initially, all public, private and autonomous offices can be opened on a limited scale from May 31 to June 15. However, everyone will still need to follow the 13 health directives issued earlier.
BSMMU Associate Professor for Public Health Atiqul Haque said in order to curb Covid-19, the nation needs to bring the transmission rate down or equal to 1.
“But, decisions like allowing people to go home during Eid vacations or easing the lockdown will definitely harm the control process and helping the situation to sustain longer in the country.”
National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine (NIPSOM) Professor Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed said: “Such measures will definitely allow the pandemic to stay longer.”
The professor said most areas of the country, around 85%, were out of severe condition or contamination just a few days back, according data from Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) and Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) showed.
However, fear of transmission rose as the government allowed people to return home and media reports showed that these people did not maintain social distance and those who are asymptomatic would cause more transmission.
“There is no reason to believe that these people will not help in spreading the virus further. This can be seen clearly in the case of 4,000 police members who got infected while enforcing social distance or engaging in other public welfare activities,” the professor said.
In most cases, people returned home from big cities or towns which have been hotspots for the virus. At the same time, those who had been staying in their villages from the beginning of the pandemic are now highly likely to come into contact with asymptomatic patients.
Therefore, when they return to work, they will spread the virus to areas that the pandemic has not reached till now, he explained.
This has increased the risk of spreading virus everywhere, the infectious decease specialists said.
The experts also said before reopening offices, the health authorities should first make a list of green, orange and red zone areas depending on transmission rate of the area and then go for gradual opening while enforcing hard lockdown for the red zone as well.
“Peak period” yet to be identified
Determining the peak period for the Covid-19 situation remains a puzzle for the country.
In early May, Professor Dr Shah Monir Hossain, a member of a team of health experts formed by the government due to the pandemic, disclosed that they project the peak of the pandemic in the country would be the third week of May. However, the projection has been found to be inaccurate.
DGHS sources, seeking anonymity, said IEDCR submitted their projection that the peak period would be at the end of May.
From May 12, as the number of testing facilities increased it was found that the number of patients increased significantly.
On May 20, Health Services Division Additional Secretary Habibur Rahman Khan said: “The upward trends of Covid-19 cases will continue for two weeks.”
This means the peak period of the Covid-19 situation in the country will end within first five days of June.
On the same day, Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque said Bangladesh is moving towards the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, Professor Dr. Sohel Reza Choudhury from the Department of Epidemiology and Research of National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute, said it is difficult for Bangladesh to determine the peak days as a number of decisions made by the authorities would influence the curve.
Global projections have already pushed for more time stretching up to mid June, he said, adding that by observing the trend of the confirmed cases, it is certain that the country's hospitals can expect a huge wave of patients and they need to prepare for it immediately.
Similarly, public health expert Atiqul Haque said as there is a huge crisis of real time data, it is very clear that a peak projection is a mere dream in the country.
When contacted, DGHS, the government body overseeing the detection and treatment of Covid-19 patients in the country, could not give a clear answer on the probability peak period changing and the preparedness of the hospitals.
Professor Nasima Sultana, acting director general of DGHS, on Thursday said she was not aware of the changing of the peak period and asked Dhaka Tribune to contact IEDCR and DGHS director (hospital) for information regarding the issue.
Contacted, IEDCR Director Meerjady Sabrina Flora refused to take any question saying she was busy.
Meanwhile, DGHS Director (Hospital & Clinic) Dr Aminul Hasan could not be reached over the phone despite repeated attempts throughout the week.