All six of them were exposed to the variant as they recently visited India and are currently kept in isolation, says the health directorate
Bangladesh has detected its first cases of the highly infectious coronavirus variant first identified in India prompting authorities to extend the closure of the land border with its neighbor for two more weeks.
Six cases of the variant had been detected, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said on Saturday.
All of them were exposed to the variant as they recently visited India and are currently in isolation, according to DGHS Additional Director Nasima Sultana.
“Two cases are confirmed to be of the Indian variant, and the others are quite close to it," she told the media.
Urging the people to strictly follow health protocols like, wearing masks, maintaining physical distances and washing hands, she said, “The variant is highly contagious and people must be on the alert.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described it as a "variant of interest," suggesting it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmissible, cause more severe disease or evade vaccine
The detection of the highly infectious variant in Bangladesh comes at a time when India is grappling with a skyrocketing number of infections and fatalities every day. Nepal is already bearing the brunt of the Indian variant.
The confirmation raises fresh worries for Bangladesh as people in droves, in defiance of health norms, are desperately leaving the major cities, especially Dhaka, for their native villages to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr.
Daily infections and deaths have been declining in Bangladesh since the country’s second wave peaked around a month ago.
The daily caseload dropped to nearly eight-week low to stand at 1,285 infections on Saturday, when 45 new deaths were reported. Total cases stand at 772,127, with 11,878 deaths.
What experts say
The World Health Organization has said the activation of more infectious variants in India is the reason Covid-19 cases are spiralling in the country.
According to Indian media, the UK variant B.1.1.7, South Africa variant B.1.351 and Indian variants, B.1.617, B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, B.1.617.3 and B.1.618 are together worsening the situation.
As Bangladesh had previously identified the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants, the detection of the Indian variants will be alarming, health experts fear.
Infectious diseases expert Prof Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed said: “The real threat comes now. If the Indian variants become active along with the UK and South African ones, it will spell disaster for us.
“Our healthcare system will not be able to tackle the situation,” he said.
The ongoing exodus of people heading for their village homes from major cities, including Dhaka, would become utterly disastrous, the virologist further said.
Urging people to be careful about the threatening variant, he requested the government to keep all Covid-19 health facilities ready.
Who can enter from India now?
On April 25, Bangladesh sealed its border with India for 14 days allowing trade to continue, which has been extended for another two weeks on Saturday.
Air travel has been suspended since April 14, when Bangladesh imposed a strict restriction for a week, which has been now extended to May 16.
As decided earlier, Bangladeshi citizens who travelled to India for treatment and those having their visas issued for fewer than 15 days will be allowed to return home through the land border at Benapole, Akhaura and Burimari.
Those intending to return to Bangladesh with expired visas will have to obtain no-objection certificates (NOCs) from Bangladesh’s diplomatic missions in India.
But very few NOCs will be issued before the Eid holidays as there is a lack of quarantine facilities in the border areas at present.
When the government shut the borders with India, it was made mandatory for Bangladeshi passengers to avail of Covid-19 negative certificates issued through PCR tests within 72 hours of entry.
India is battling a devastating second wave of the coronavirus that has overwhelmed hospitals, morgues and crematoriums.
The country reported its highest ever single-day death toll on Saturday. With 4,187 new deaths, the toll now stands at over 238,000.
India states are imposing stricter lockdown as cases rose by 401,078, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 21.9 million.