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Coronavirus outbreak: Lack of staff, equipment hinder screening efforts at Dhaka airport

  • Published at 11:58 pm January 30th, 2020
Coronavirus
A makeshift isolation corner without proper protecting covers for the containment of coronavirus at Rajbari General Hospital Dhaka Tribune

'Primarily we are screening all the passengers inbound from China'

Authorities at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) are struggling to prevent China’s coronavirus entering Bangladesh due to a lack of staff, proper equipment and awareness. 

To make things worse, a Bangladeshi citizen returning from China, suspected to be infected with the deadly virus, was admitted to Kurmitola General Hospital yesterday.

The thermal scanners at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) detected high temperature on the passenger, who returned home on Wednesday night.

However, according to the airport's health desk, there are only three doctors with a handful of thermal scanners screening passengers coming back from China.

Moreover, there is an inadequate number of nurses and technicians needed to provide health support and examine the 400-500 passengers and cabin crews landing at Dhaka airport from the virus infected country everyday.

When contacted, Dr Mohammad Shahrier Sazzad, assistant director of health centres at HSIA, said: "We have already asked the airport authorities for more doctors, nurses, and technicians. Despite every difficulty our efforts are ongoing. 

"Primarily we are screening all the passengers inbound from China. If we see any of them showing symptoms of coronavirus, we send them to Kurmitola General Hospital or Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) for further testing."

Dr Md Nasir Ahmed Khan, a senior IEDCR official, said: "After screening the passengers entering Bangladesh from China, we are issuing them a health card. We then call them twice every 14 days to know about their health status."

According to those in charge of the screening process at the airport, around 5,500 passengers have entered Bangladesh from China through HSIA since the coronavirus outbreak.

Those infected with chronic infections earlier are at high risk of getting infected with coronavirus, they added. 

Meanwhile, as one of the many initiatives taken, the Dhaka airport authorities are displaying the symptoms and prevention methods of coronavirus on digital boards to raise awareness among travellers. 

Later yesterday, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen informed that a total of 370 Bangladesh citizens from 22 institutions, mostly from Wuhan city of China, have registered their names expressing their willingness to return home.

He said:" We are ready to take them back [who are willing to return]," he told reporters adding that the government does not want to overplay China's decision of ongoing 14-day quarantine period.

Earlier, on January 20, after the outbreak of coronavirus in China's Wuhan, IEDCR sent a letter to the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh urging it to take necessary steps to avoid a possible spread of coronavirus in Bangladesh. 

The disease wing of the government has also trained health workers at the airports in Bangladesh on detecting patients with symptoms of coronavirus infection, which include fever, coughing and difficulty with breathing. 

Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of IEDCR, said if any traveller was found with temperature higher than 100°F, he or she might be affected by the virus and would be kept in an observation room at the airport. 

"Then the traveller will be shifted to Kurmitola General Hospital if necessary," she added. 

Similarly, countrywide preparations have been taken in a bid to stop this deadly virus reaching Bangladesh and despite limited resources the authorities at other entry points of the country are engaged in the task of blocking and prevention of the disease.

In Chittagong, IEDCR directed the deputy commissioner, police superintendent and civil surgeon to prepare a list of all Chinese nationals currently staying in the district within two weeks.

Wing Commander ABM Sarwar-E-Zaman, manager of Shah Amanat International Airport, said that Chittagong had no direct flights to and from China.

"Nonetheless, we are on high alert. We have already begun screening passengers. If any passenger arrives in Chittagong from China via transit, then the passenger will have to go through the screening,” he added. 

In Sylhet, the authorities of Osmani International Airport are screening all passengers to ensure that none of those affected with coronavirus can come into the country.

Dr Premanand Mandal, the district civil surgeon, said: "A medical team is working at the airport for examining passengers. Three other medical teams are also working at the three land ports of Sylhet to provide health care to travellers."

In Rajshahi, a new ward has been opened at the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH) for those found infected with the virus.

Confirming the matter, Saiful Ferdous, deputy director of RMCH, said: "Till now no patient has been found infected with coronavirus here. But we are on high alert."  

In Comilla, the authorities at the Bibir Bazar land port have formed a medical help desk where passengers are being let into Bangladesh after preliminary assessments. 

Tanjina Akter, a doctor on-duty at the health desk, said: "We have not detected anyone with coronavirus." 

Moreover, in Natore, Rajbari and Khulna isolation units have been opened in Natore Sadar Hospital, Rajbari Sadar Hospital and Khulna Medical College Hospital (KMCH) respectively as precautionary measures regarding the deadly coronavirus. 

However, none of the aforementioned entry points of the country have the testing kits necessary for detecting coronavirus. 

Our correspondents, Anwar Hussain from Chittagong, Mohammed Serajul Islam from Sylhet, Abdullah Al Dulal from Rajshahi, Masud Alam from Comilla, Kamal Mridha form Natore, Kazi Tanvir Mahamud from Rajbari and Md Hedait Hossain Molla from Khulna also contributed to this report

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