63 countries have imposed travel restrictions on the UK
Calls to halt flights to and from the UK have been renewed after six Bangladeshis who returned from there in January were found to be carrying the new Covid-19 variant.
A total 63 countries are currently enforcing travel restrictions on the UK, and a recent surge in Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh has amplified demands for the country to do the same.
Amid concerns over the variant, Bangladesh is continuing to operate flights to the UK in line with a decision taken at a recent inter-ministerial meeting.
Stakeholders at the meeting decided to enforce mandatory institutional quarantine for 14 days, instead of banning or imposing travel restrictions to and from the UK. The Health Ministry in consultation with the Ministry of Civil Aviation recently asked the Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB) to take immediate action in this regard.
Prior to that, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on December 30 recommended temporarily suspending flights to the UK. Public health experts seconded the idea.
If the isolation or quarantine of UK returnees cannot be strictly maintained, the authorities concerned should stop flights to prevent the variant from spreading, they said.
The mutated and more highly contagious variant ((B.1.1.7) was first detected in Britain in September 2020, and has since been found in more than 100 countries.
From January 1 to Friday, no fewer than 5,238 passengers had arrived at Dhaka and Sylhet international airports from the UK.
Bangladesh is currently operating flights to 12 countries other than the UK: Bahrain, China, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Srilanka, Singapore, Turkey and UAE.
Takes on air travel to the UK
Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) Director Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul-Ahsan said flights have not been cancelled due to diplomatic relations with the UK.
“It is something the state will decide on. We have the arrangements needed to keep all the returnees in the mandatory institutional quarantine. We are operating flights to the UK under this management,” he said.
CAAB Member Air Commodore Khalid Hossain Member said recommendations regarding travel restrictions will have to come from the Health Ministry.
“After that, the National Advisory Committee on the Covid-19 pandemic will decide whether flights will be halted or not,” he said
When asked about their stance on the flights, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Director Nazmul Islam said they would recommend that the Health Ministry halt the flights.
“But we will take time to make the decision,” he said.
Suggesting a suspension of the flights, Kamrul Islam, a Bangladeshi health expert in the UK, said: “Before doing so, we have to ensure strict isolation or quarantine of the UK returnees.
“Contact tracing is also a key to stop the variant from spreading,” he added.
This reporter visited the two international airports in Dhaka and Sylhet last week and found an absence of proper management to ensure health safety rules, including social distancing, washing hands, as well as use of face masks by air passengers and officials at the airports.
Many inbound and outbound passengers expressed their dissatisfaction and complained of poor health safety management at government-approved hotels, quarantine facilities and during air travel.