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As COVID cases ebb in Bangladesh, experts warn against complacency

  • Obaidur Masum, Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2021-09-21 23:34:40 BdST

Caught in the throes of the Delta variant, Bangladesh was pulverised by a relentless wave of the coronavirus pandemic as infections and deaths scaled record highs on an almost daily basis. But now, the dark clouds finally appear to have cleared with COVID-19 cases beginning to ebb across the country.

A combination of a strict lockdown, vaccination of a portion of the population and natural immunity developed by large groups who were infected together have contributed to pushing down the number of cases, according to experts.

While the recent downtrend is a cause for relief, experts warned that another upturn in infections could happen anytime. Therefore, it is imperative that the population continues to comply with health protocols and other safety measures, they said.

July saw the highest number of infections with the government logging 336,226 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at an average of 10,846 infections a day. The figure dropped to 251,134 in August while 43,620 people have been infected with the disease as of Sept 20, according to the Directorate General of Health Services.

The death toll in July stood at 6,182, while 5,510 people died from the coronavirus in August. The disease has claimed 1,056 lives so far in September. On average, it was 199 in July, 177.74 in August and 52.8 in September.

The daily positivity rate of COVID-19 test results also peaked on July 24, with 32.55 percent of samples returning positive. The rate has consistently remained below 10 percent in September. The daily positivity rate dropped below 5 percent on Tuesday for the first time in six months.

Considering the global scenario of the coronavirus pandemic, Bangladesh finds itself in a good position, according to Prof Mohammad Shahidullah, president of the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19.

Two phases of 'severe' lockdowns in July and a large group of people building immunity through vaccination contributed to the drop in cases, he said. “The infection rate went past 32 percent at one point but now that has dropped below 6 percent. Both the daily infection rate and deaths are slumping every day.”

“This is a good start but we can do better if we follow the health protocols properly. If we don’t, the cases will surge again. I have noticed recently that people are to some extent reluctant to wear masks.”

The escalating death toll during the Delta-induced wave of the pandemic sparked fear among the public and that along with the imposition of a strict lockdown meant that most people followed the health protocols, said IEDCR adviser Dr Mushtuq Husain.

In many countries, cases dropped to zero before shooting up again. There is no reason to feel the coronavirus pandemic is over, he said.

“The current global trend of coronavirus infections shows that cases tend to surge after hitting a trough. Bangladesh was never able to drop bring the infection rate down to zero.”

“The pathogen will spread fast again. But it’s good for us if we can at least delay it. We need to do a lot of work, including safeguarding livelihoods.”

Every diagnosed patient should be treated and kept in isolation, said Dr Mushtuq. He also stressed the need for people to adhere to health protocols and get vaccinated soon.

Despite the low positivity rate, there is no scope for complacency, said Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director of DGHS.

"As the Delta variant infects large groups of people quickly, it has helped create something close to herd immunity.

The border districts have already been hit by the variant so there is a slim chance of another big outbreak there. In the urban areas, the elderly have taken the vaccine and this has played a significant role in preventing the virus from spreading," he said.

“We shouldn’t be happy about it as our actions still make us vulnerable. People tend not to wear a mask, or follow quarantine rules. They don’t go for tests and many of them haven't gone for vaccination.”

Bangladesh has so far failed to adequately deal with any new variant of coronavirus that has hit the country, according to Be-Nazir. It is necessary to ensure people mask up, follow quarantine and isolation orders and also to speed up the vaccination programme.

“Even 20 million vaccine doses are administered each month, it will take 15 months to give 300 million doses. That’s not something good. Should we continue to live with this risk next year too? We must gear up to inoculate the entire population by this year.”