COVID-19 panel calls for pressing pause on trade fair, pushing book fair back

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Experts advising the government on coronavirus response want it to take tough enforcement measures on social distancing restrictions to stem a worrying surge in infections.

Dr Mohammad Shahidullah, who heads the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19, has recommended closing Dhaka International Trade Fair for now and delaying Amar Ekushey Book Fair by some more days.

“Only issuing instructions won’t work; these must be executed in real life,” he said on Tuesday.

“Masking and operating offices with the physical presence of half the staff are going on well. But the trade fair has continued. It should be closed. If we can’t implement the instructions properly, we won’t get good results.”

Dr Shahidullah added the committee has always advised avoiding big gatherings amid the pandemic. “I personally think the trade fair should be closed, and the [start of the] book fair should be delayed by some more days.”

“If we do these, we will do well in tackling the coronavirus. Our public health experts have the same view.”

The trade fair opened on Jan 1 at a new venue, Bangladesh-China Friendship Centre in Purbachal, some 25 kilometres from the old one in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.

It failed to draw visitors initially, but the crowds got bigger, with many visitors violating rules for mandatory face covering.

The government reimposed some restrictions, including a ban on social, political or social gatherings in open spaces, starting on Jan 13 amid a surge in COVID-19 infections due to the contagious omicron variant.

Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, secretary to the Export Promotion Bureau and director of the fair, had said at the time the health protocols would be followed strictly, and the law enforcers will strengthen monitoring to ensure masking.

As infections continued to soar, the government earlier this week restricted the number of people at all sorts of events to 100. People must also present a vaccination certificate or results of negative coronavirus test taken within 24 hours of attendance.

The new rules would be applicable to the trade fair, book fair and stadiums, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said at that time.

In the 24 hours to 8am on Tuesday, Bangladesh confirmed more than 16,000 coronavirus cases, crossing the mark for the second time since the pandemic began. The daily case positivity rate crossed 32 percent.

Asked if the committee recommended another round of lockdown to keep the situation in check, Dr Shahidullah said lockdowns will not come in handy in Bangladesh now.

“It is necessary to ensure the health protocols first,” he said. “We will recommend a lockdown once the hospitals struggle to deal with the pressure.”