Health experts have warned against relaxing restrictions on movement and resumption of offices and transport as the country sees massive surge in new coronavirus cases, saying the move could worsen the already deteriorating situation.
They say the government might lose control over the coronavirus situation while hospitals will fail to deal with the increased number of patients in the days to come which could lead to the sharp rise of mortality rates.
Bangladesh on Friday announced detection of record 2,523 coronavirus cases and 23 deaths. So far, the country has recorded 42,844 cases and 582 deaths.
Health experts say the people will now have to take responsibility of their own safety by strictly maintaining the 13-point guidelines, maintain hygiene and using masks.
Talking to UNB, Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Prof Kanak Kanti Barua said there is a possibility of serious outbreak of coronavirus across the country with increased mobility of people following the withdrawal of shutdown after two months. But it can be controlled to some extent if the 13-point instructions of the government are strictly followed.
“Everyone who will come out of their homes must wear masks, maintain physical distancing everywhere, including at their offices and in vehicles, and wash hands with soap or use hand sanitiser after touching any substances to lessen the transmission of the virus,” he said.
Prof Barua said the government has decided to lift the shutdown to ensure a balance between the lives and livelihoods, but now everyone has to behave responsibly and strictly maintain the health safety guidelines. “The government will monitor the impact of the resumption economic activities, and will take next step after two weeks.”
He expressed concerns over the resumption of public transport. “Though an instruction has been given to carry a limited number of passengers, I doubt whether it can be maintained as people are here used to travel in jampacked public transports.”
The VC warned that if passengers use public vehicles without wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing, the transmission of the virus will increase sharply. “So, strong monitoring by law enforcers is needed in this regard. No passenger should be allowed to travel without wearing masks.”
Prof Barua feared that people from different districts, including coronavirus patients, will continue to come to Dhaka with the resumption of inter-district bus operation.
The BSMMU VC said the way holidaymakers are returning to Dhaka without abiding by health guidelines is posing a greater risk of further spread of the virus. “We can assume that the number of coronavirus cases will continue to surge until June 15.”
Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS said it is a wrong and risky move to lift the shutdown at a time when coronavirus cases are surging daily. “It’ll undoubtedly increase the transmission of the virus. We may see the worst outbreak of the virus throughout the June.”
He said the government should have eased the shutdown gradually after taking necessary preventative measures. “We should have trained the transport workers about how to safely operate the services before lifting the shutdown,” he said.
Mentioning that a huge number of coronavirus patients are asymptomatic, the health expert said they will now move everywhere, including offices, restaurants, tea stalls and transports and will rapidly transmit the virus as super spreaders.
He said the number of fresh coronavirus cases breached 2,000 for two consecutive days as a result of free movement by Eid holidaymakers. “We’ll continue to witness huge cases in the coming days. We’ll understand the impact of lifting the shutdown at the end of this month, and I fear it’ll be terrible,” he said.
Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed said the fatalities will also mark a sharp rise throughout the month as hospitals have no capacity to deal with so many patients.
‘Serious danger for the nation’
“Nearly 12,000 fresh cases were detected over the last one week. If such trend continues in the coming week, how will the hospitals ensure treatment for so many patients? So, there will be acute shortage of ICU and oxygen to save the critical patients,” he observed.
He said the government should now strongly monitor that the guidelines it prepared are followed to slow the transmission of the virus. “No one should be allowed to go out of home without wearing mask. Using mask should be made mandatory for all.”
Also read: Transports, offices to resume from May 31
Prof Dr Harun-or-Rashid, head of medicine department at Dhaka Community Medical College & Hospital (DCMCH), the shutdown can be eased only when 5-10 percent people of the total daily tests are identified as coronavirus infected.
“But it’s still over 21 percent in our country. So, I think we’re inviting a serious danger for the nation by reopening offices and resuming transport,” he said.
Under the current situation, he said it is now the responsibility of the people to protect themselves from the virus by thoroughly maintaining hygiene, government’s guidelines and social distancing rules.
Stress on following govt guidelines
On March 28, the Health Ministry formed a group of public health experts comprising eight noted physicians assigning one to each of the divisions to assess the coronavirus situation, make projections and suggestions in strengthening the government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
The experts have recently submitted a 50-page report with suggestions and guidelines to the DGHS.
Dr Abu Jamil Faisel, a member of the expert group, says he thinks coronavirus will not turn deadly with the resumption of economic activities if the government’s guidelines are followed.
“When the RMG factories were reopened, health experts feared that many workers would get infected with the virus, but it didn’t happen. Around 3.5 lakh farm workers travelled from one district to another for Boro harvesting, but we didn’t hear they were infected with the virus. Definitely the fresh cases may rise slightly now, but we have to control it through appropriate steps,” he said.
Stating that there are some hotspots in Dhaka, Cumilla and Chattogram, he said cluster lockdown must be enforced in those areas to control the virus transmission.
Faisel said community engagement is now necessary to contain the virus, adding that the public representatives and local leaders must be involved with the efforts to control the outbreak.
“If we can convince and motivate people that they need to make efforts to get rid of the virus, they themselves will not allow anyone to come out of homes and move without masks. They also won’t allow any infected people to move freely. They can also help if any family or house is put under lockdown,” he said.