COVID-19 patients are now detected sporadically while the vaccination drive is continuing steadily in the country, but a new wave of infections in Europe has raised concerns.
Moreover, South Africa last week detected new variant, now called Omicron and designated as “of concern” by the World Health Organization for mutations that may help the strain spread fast or even evade antibodies from prior infection or vaccination.
The discovery prompted a number of countries to close their borders to southern African nations, but the new variant has already spread to some other regions.
Experts say Bangladesh must take steps to stop any vaccine-resistant variant of the coronavirus from entering the country; otherwise, it will risk facing a “massive” wave of infections.
The Bangladesh government is aware of the emergence of the new variant and has decided to suspend travel from South Africa, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said on Saturday.
Bangladesh had reported lower number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at the onset of winter last year until the more infectious Delta and other variants wreaked havoc for months from March this year.
The infection rate has been low until now this time as well with the advent of winter. So, what are the chances of another wave striking Bangladesh, and when?
“The infection rate has been below 1.5 percent for quite some days. It indicates the situation is under control in Bangladesh. But it will be wrong to think that the pandemic has ended. We must follow the health rules. With vaccines coming at a good rate, our course may remain unchanged if we inoculate those who are still unvaccinated,” said Professor Dr Mohammad Shahidullah, chairman of the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19.
He fears the number of cases may start rising again in February or March of 2022, but things will not be as worse as it was in July this year.
Dr Mushtuq Husain, a former chief scientific officer at the government’s disease control agency IEDCR, said generally there are four levels of an outbreak with zero cases in the first level and sporadic detection of patients in the second. Clusters of infections appear in the third level while the final level is marked by community transmission.
“Given these levels, infections are low in Bangladesh with less than 3 percent positive cases for weeks. But we should not feel comfortable even if no cases are detected for weeks,” Dr Mushtuq said, mentioning Europe as an example where cases are rising sharply after declining.
“So, we are at risk of a rise in infection again. A more dangerous variant than Delta may arrive,” he said, adding that vaccines are still an effective way to cut infections.
“Infections have not come down to zero. It’s difficult to say whether the level of infection will increase or not. Infections are rising in European countries and America,” said Prof Dr Ahmedul Kabir, secretary general of Bangladesh Society of Medicine.
“The risk lies in a new variant crossing the border into Bangladesh. If the vaccines we are using do not work against that variant, we may face a massive wave. We need to toughen surveillance to stop this from happening.”