Due to the relaxed lockdown people gathered in cattle markets and moved from one city to another causing an upsurge of Covid-19 transmission
Bangladesh is currently experiencing its worst period of the Covid-19 pandemic, which will linger due to a weak enforcement of lockdowns and delay in mass vaccination, scientists and public health experts of the country have warned.
Besides, a core committee on Covid-19 management formed by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has also predicted that the number of positive cases per day will cross 20,000 in the first week of August due to the easing of the lockdown during the Eid-ul-Azha holidays between July 15-22.
Using the mathematical model susceptible–infectious–recovered or SIR, with the assistance of Oxford University and the University of Dhaka, the committee found that if 50,000 samples were tested now, the number of daily cases would be around 15,000; and if sample testing were increased up to 65,000, the number of daily cases would be around 20,000.
“The number of positive cases will continue to increase at least for two more weeks [until mid-August] due to the relaxed lockdown, which eased the movement of people during Eid and led to huge gatherings at cattle markets across the country as well,” said Prof Shah Monir Hossain, member of the DGHS Covid-19 management committee.
On July 1, Bangladesh recorded 143 fatalities as the country went into a strict lockdown with people confined to their homes, except for medical emergencies and to buy essentials.
On July 13, the government decided to ease lockdown restrictions in the country for eight days for Eid-ul-Azha celebrations. The restrictions were lifted a day later. The lockdown was enforced again from 6am on July 23 and is to continue till midnight on August 5, unless extended again.
“Currently, more than 50,000 samples are being tested, which will be increased up to 65,000 immediately. So, more positive cases will be detected and infection rates drop,” said Prof Shah Monir Hossain, who is a former director general of the DGHS.
The DGHS document shows that 50,952 samples were tested on Monday where 15,192 cases resulted positive.
On Tuesday, 52,478 samples were tested, of which 14,925 turned out positive.
Why will the surge in infections continue?
Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, adviser at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said a strict lockdown was one of the major tools for controlling Covid-19 infection and the country had also had success in implementing lockdowns in the past.
However, previously the epicentres of Covid-19 transmission were mostly cities but now the Delta variant - a comparatively more infectious variant of the coronavirus - has spread out to the rural areas of the country, where lockdown is not being practised strictly.
“In the past, we saw that two-thirds of patients were from in and around Dhaka, but currently three fourths of patients are from outside Dhaka,” he added.
According to the DGHS, Bangladesh recorded 14,925 positive cases on July 27; of them 4,172 patients were from Dhaka.
Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain said mass vaccination was another tool for controlling Covid-19 infection. Mass vaccination is going to start across the country in August but it will take a huge amount of time to cover a certain segment of the population.
The government will start mass vaccination at union level from August 7, aiming to vaccinate 80% or more of the 170 million population of the country by 2022.
The World Health Organization considers a pandemic to be under control if the infection rate remains below 5% for two consecutive weeks.
The infection rate in Bangladesh was lower than 5% for seven weeks from mid-January to early March. Currently, the average infection rate is more than 15%.
Only 287 people died of Covid-19 in February — the lowest monthly death toll after May 2020. However, 257 Covid patients died in a single day on Wednesday.
Dr Tarek Mahmud Hussain, another eminent public health expert, said the increasing trend of infections and deaths is likely to continue due to the relaxed lockdown during Eid.
“Many people still don’t understand the severity of the Delta variant. In the past we suggested taking treatment at home but now we are suggesting that people get admitted to hospitals. Especially if people of the age group 50-70 have any symptoms, they should be admitted to hospital because the Delta variant turns severe very quickly.
“This is the reason behind the increasing number of deaths as patients delay going to hospitals,” said Tarek Hussain, who is a public health expert at the Asian Development Bank.
“My observation of the situation so far is that the daily death toll will cross the 400 mark next week,” he added.