Covid-19 infection rate in the district jumped from 10% to 55%in the space of this week
The recent surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in the border district of Chapainawabganj has stoked concerns that Bangladesh may be importing the infection from India, which has been facing its own surge.
According to health experts, cross border movement, reckless travel during the Eid holidays, and an increase in face-to-face business transactions due to the mango season are all contributing factors in the skyrocketing number of cases in the border district. They believe genome sequencing of Covid-19 samples from the border districts will show that the Indian variant is dominant.
In Chapainawabganj, the Covid-19 infection rate jumped from 10% to 55%in the space of this week.
Virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, told Dhaka Tribune he was unsure whether the surge in Chapainawabganj was caused by people crossing back and forth across the border to India, as there was a lack of any significant research on the matter.
“There could be two reasons: People travelling to India and coming back with Covid-19, or holidaymakers spreading the virus in the district during Eid,” he told the correspondent.
He said it was high time to implement strict lockdowns in the border districts, such as Chapainawabganj.
“The government should get all hands on deck. Border Guard Bangladesh should deploy their people to make sure people follow directives on containing Covid-19,” he said.
The district administration of Chapainawabganj has already imposed a seven-day strict lockdown amid the upsurge in Covid-19 infections in the district.
The lockdown, including an 11-point directive, came into effect from 12am on Tuesday and will continue till May 30, in line with the instructions of the Cabinet Division. Entry to and exit from the district are barred.
Dr Islam suggested that drivers who carried essential goods from India be quarantined and their vehicles be disinfected regularly.
“It is not the time to let our guard down. The border district authorities need to stay alert if they want to avoid a surge,” he said.
Mango season, Eid rush leading to more Covid-19?
Mushtaq Hossain, an adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control And Research (IEDCR), told Dhaka Tribune there had been spikes in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj, places known for the mango trade. He believes an increase in activity at wholesale and retail markets has heightened the surge in Covid-19 significantly.
“We need genome sequencing of samples collected from these areas to see if these are Indian variants,” he told this correspondent.
Chapainawabganj Civil Surgeon Zahid Nazrul told Dhaka Tribune the infection rate was around 10-15% before May 18, but the infection rate had increased alarmingly since then.
“The infection rate has remained around 45-55% recently. We had no option other than imposing a lockdown to curb the infection rate,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH) Deputy Director Dr Saiful Ferdous said on Monday that the most Covid-19 deaths in Rajshahi had occurred in Chapainawabganj.
The Chapainawabganj civil surgeon thinks the spike could be a result of the Eid holidays, when too many people travelled to Chapainawabganj from different parts of Bangladesh through clearly flouting health guidelines.
“At this moment, I doubt that it is caused by the Indian surge since our land ports are closed,” he said.
Chapainawabganj shares a border with India’s West Bengal, a state that has been experiencing a steep rise in Covid cases and deaths in recent times.
West Bengal has reported 14, 517 Covid-19 deaths so far, and 1,284,973 Covid-19 cases.
Bangladesh recorded 40 more deaths from Covid-19 and 1,675 new cases on Tuesday, taking the overall death toll from the deadly disease to 12,441 and the total number of cases to 792,196.
Situation in the border districts
There are 32 border districts in Bangladesh, including 30 along the border with India.
As of Tuesday, a total of 514,780 people had been screened at different land ports in Bangladesh. On Monday, a total of 467 people were screened.
Of these 30 border districts, seven districts - Jessore, Satkhira, Jhenaidah, Chuadanga, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj and Sylhet - have been going through a spike in the Covid-19 infection rate. Chapainawaganj and Rajshahi have the highest rate of infection among these seven districts.
The infection rate in Rajshahi increased to 33% from 22% in just one day.
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Rajshahi Civil Surgeon Md Qaiyum Talukdar told Bangla Tribune that the Covid-19 situation in Rajshahi was not as bad as in Chapainawabganj, but it could get worse.
“We are preparing for any kind of surge. We are also keeping an eye on travellers from other districts and trying not to let anyone in from Chapainawabganj,” he said.
Around the time of the Eid holidays, a staggering 10 million mobile subscribers left Dhaka over a period of 12 days. Among them, 7,900,000 had returned till May 23, according to data provided by mobile operators.
Public health experts had already warned that there would be a spike in the number of infections after Eid, owing to the tendency of people to travel to their hometowns during Eid.
5 land ports in operation
A total of 17 Bangladeshi nationals returning to Satkhira from India through Benapole port have tested positive for Covid-19. Samples collected from them have been sent to IEDCR to check for the Indian variants.
At present, only five land ports are operating shipping and cargo services to and from India: Benapole, Akhaura, Burimari, Darshana and Sona Masjid land ports. Normally, 12 land ports stay in operation, but seven have been closed due to the Covid-19 situation in India, said Tariqul Islam, Chairman of Bangladesh Land port Authority.
Responding to a question, he said the district administration had imposed a lockdown in Chapainawabganj district, but the Sona Masjid land port of the district had not clamped a lockdown yet.
“Very few people are coming from India through this point,” he added.
When the state government of Meghalaya imposed a lockdown, the Tamabil land port of Bangladesh was officially open but effectively closed as no traffic was being allowed on the other side, land port authority sources said.
However, district administrations in Bangladesh are not consulting local ports before imposing lockdowns, they added.