Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj have seen the highest number of infections among the districts
Seven out of Bangladesh’s 30 border districts with India have seen a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases, likely as a result of health guideline violations during the massive rush of holidaymakers either side of the Eid-ul-Fitr vacation, government officials have said.
Civil surgeons of the districts said they are yet to determine whether the Indian variant of Covid-19 contributed to the surging number of infections.
The seven districts in question are Jessore, Satkhira, Jhenaidah, Chuadanga, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj and Sylhet. Among them, Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj have seen the highest number of infections over the past few days.
Around the time of Eid-ul-Fitr, which the country celebrated on May 14, the infection rate in these districts was considerably low. Over the past week, the numbers have gone up at a worrying rate.
Around the time of Eid holidays, a staggering 10 million mobile subscribers left Dhaka over a period of 12 days. Among them, 7,900,000 had returned till May 23, according to data provided by mobile operators.
Public health experts have already warned that there would be a spike in the number of infections after Eid owing to this tendency of people to travel to their hometowns during Eid.
During the exodus from Dhaka ahead of Eid, Dr Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 and former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told Bangla Tribune: "The third wave is being feared, and I think what we will see is a rise in infections. The damage that has been caused by the Eid rush in violation of the health protocols will be seen after 15 days. We have to do a lot of calculation before we can confirm whether we are experiencing a third wave or not.”
'Situation is dire’
On Monday, Chapainawabganj district, which went into a strict seven-day lockdown from 12am Tuesday, saw an infection rate of 55%. The infection rate was 22% just six days ago, according to the civil surgeon’s office.
In the Rajshahi district, the test positivity rate was recorded at 33% the same day.
Announcing the lockdown on Monday, Chapainawabganj Deputy Commissioner Manjurul Hafiz said no one will be allowed to leave the district during the weeklong lockdown. The district is currently the only one under such a lockdown in the country.
Chapainawabganj Civil Surgeon Dr Zahid Nazrul Chowdhury thinks the Covid-19 test positivity rate increased alarmingly because people were not adhering to safety guidelines.
“Simply put, the situation in Chapainawabganj is dire. Many had moved in and out of the district. People in Shibganj and Chapainawabganj Sadar do not follow the health safety rules. Many have been either fined or jailed, but still people do not want to wear masks,” he told Bangla Tribune.
District Superintendent of Police AHM Abdur Rakib said law enforcement officials will help the health authorities and district administration at the field level to strictly enforce the lockdown.
“All entry points of the district will be kept closed so that no one can enter or leave.”
Concerns over Indian variant
The districts experiencing an alarming rise in infections share the border with India, where there has also been a tremendous surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths following the detection of a double mutant variant of the coronavirus
The World Health Organization has classified the new variant, widely referred to as the Indian variant, as a "variant of global concern” that transmits easily, causes more severe illness, and has the capacity to evade treatment and vaccines.
In light of the widespread cases in India, the Bangladesh government has closed borders with the neighbouring country since last month.
Why did the infections spike?
Chapainawabganj Civil Surgeon Dr Zahid Nazrul Chowdhury admitted that there is some possibility that the infection rate went up because Chapainawabganj is on the border with India.
However, he does not think cross border smuggling or business dealings is high enough to warrant the spike in Covid-19, and it is more likely caused by locals’ disregard for health protocols.
The district administration said it cannot confirm whether the increase was due to border crossings. Samples of 42 people from Chapainawabganj have been sent to Dhaka for genome sequencing.
Rajshahi Civil Surgeon Dr Qayyum Talukdar thinks that the rate of infection in Rajshahi may have increased due to the free movement of people in Chapainawabganj while flouting health rules.
He told Bangla Tribune that the situation in Rajshahi was not as bad as in Chapainawabganj, but it was deteriorating nonetheless.
“We are taking all-out preparations. Special attention is being paid to control the movement of those coming from other districts; we are especially making sure no one from Chapainawabganj can come here. Surveillance is being increased so that people follow the hygiene rules.”
Asked about the cause of the spike, he said: "It's not unexpected, we thought it would happen. The situation is not the same everywhere in the border areas. The main problem is lack of awareness on part of the mass population. When so many people move from Dhaka to other districts, there is definitely a chance of transmitting the infection and this situation has been created since Eid.”
Confirmed cases of the Indian variant in Bangladesh
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has confirmed that the Indian variant have been found in the bodies of 9 people in Bangladesh, so far. However, the DGHS said more cases of the Indian variant may be found once genome sequencing is completed.
Furthermore, 17 Bangladeshi nationals who returned to Satkhira from India through Benapole port have tested positive for Covid-19. Samples of those who tested positive have been sent to IEDCR to determine if they have the Indian variant of the deadly disease.
Satkhira district Civil Surgeon Dr Hussain Shafayat said the 17 who had tested positive for Covid-19 are still quarantined and being treated in a separate unit at Satkhira Medical College Hospital.