Vaccination may become null and void if the new strain of Sars-CoV-2 virus spreads
Health experts have strongly suggested a flight ban to the United Kingdom, at least for a short period of time, to observe the situation, after the discovery of a new strain of the Sars-CoV-2 virus emerged in Britain.
As the new virus strain was found to spread quickly, many countries have either banned or limited flights, or shut their borders to the UK.
The Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry said it was scheduled to sit for a meeting on Tuesday over the issue. Decisions would be taken according to discussions held at the meeting.
India, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Turkey, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Czech Republic, Colombia, Morocco, Chile, Finland, and Argentina are among the countries - and counting - which have banned flights to and from the UK in fear of the mutated strain.
The Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry’s Senior Secretary Mohibul Haque on Monday said the authorities were aware about the spread of the new strain in the UK and were thinking of ways to deal with it.
When asked if there was any possibility of banning flights between the two countries, he said: "I cannot say anything about it before holding the meeting."
Md Mokabbir Hossain, managing director (MD) of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, told Dhaka Tribune that Biman did not have any plan to suspend flights to any international or local destinations so far.
“A decision like suspending air communication with any country is taken by the government, not Biman. If they direct us, we will follow their instructions,” he said, adding that a suspension would be detrimental for the national flag carrier.
Biman has been operating two flights a week to and from the UK since the lockdown was eased.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a fresh lockdown on Saturday in London - and parts of the country - to prevent the spread of the new variant of coronavirus. Several European countries and Canada have banned or limited flights from the country.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines has already suspended all its flights bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for a week as the Saudi government imposed a ban on all international commercial flights due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The national flag carrier canceled all its flights for Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam from Monday.
Experts’ take on the new strain
Professor Dr Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and member of National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, who suggested flight ban, said: “As we have shortcomings in Covid-19 management, we have to do our best so that the new strain of the virus does not enter the country.”
“This strain is highly transmissible and in Bangladesh, where following up on the mutations that are feared to take place are difficult, it can cause disastrous results,” he added.
The strain has been identified in the south-east of the UK and also in London. When the scientists noticed it, the strain was 15% transmissible, and later jumped to 55% within two weeks, he added.
According to UK media, the virus could be 70% more transmissible than the previous strain.
A former vice-chancellor (VC) of BSMMU, Dr Nazrul Islam said the more dangerous aspect of this mutation was that the virus with this strain (named VUI-202012/01) had changed its spikes.
Vaccination may become null and void
“As a result, the whole vaccination process will come into a questionable state. The antibody this vaccine would create might not work on these particular viruses as well,” he feared.
And so flights should be suspended at least for a short period to avoid the first attack. Even those coming from other countries but staying for a single day or hours should be taken under scrutiny, the professor suggested.
A former director general (DG) of the DGHS, Professor Shah Mohammad Monir, who is a member of the DGHS’s eight-member Public Health Advisors Group, said: “Suspending flights is a decision for the government. We cannot make comments but offer suggestions.”
“But keeping in mind the experiences of the spread of Covid-19 in the country and its management, it can be said that the best measures should come from being extremely conscious over the emerging crisis.”
“We need to act fast. First the screening system at the airport needs to be more strict, and we have to make quarantine compulsory. There is no room to avoid it in the current context,” he added.
When contacted, the Additional Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Professor Nasima Sultana, told Dhaka Tribune that no official meeting had been held till Monday evening over the issue and she was not aware of any measures taken over it so far.