'Government should now put the BGB on the highest alert so that no one can trespass the border’
Experts have highly appreciated the government for its move to shut the border with India for the next 14 days as they think that the border control is now crucial to block the highly infectious coronavirus variants that have emerged in the neighbouring country.
They warned that Bangladesh may face the similar catastrophic Covid-19 crisis like in India if the “triple mutant variant” or “Bengal strain” spread to Bangladesh by any means as it is reportedly more infectious than any other strains in the world.
The experts said the government should now put the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) on high alert so that no one can enter the country from India until the situation improves in West Bengal and other bordering states.
On Sunday, the government announced to shut borders with India for any kind of movement except that of cargoes for the next 14 days from Monday to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The decision came into effect from 6am Monday.
India's new coronavirus infections hit a record peak for a fifth day on Monday as countries including Britain, Germany and the United States pledged to send urgent medical aid to help battle the crisis overwhelming its hospitals.
Infections in the last 24 hours rose to 352,991, with overcrowded hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere turning away patients after running out of supplies of medical oxygen and beds.
India has a tally of 17.31 million infections and 195,123 deaths, after 2,812 deaths overnight, health ministry data showed, although health experts say the death count is probably far higher.
West Bengal is one of the worst-hit states due to the emergence of a triple mutant strain.
Meanwhile, after a slight fall for several days, Bangladesh’s daily coronavirus death toll crossed the 100-mark again on Sunday with a sharp fall in new cases.
According to the health directorate, the death toll climbed to 11,053 with 101 deaths between Saturday and Sunday mornings. At the same period, the virus also infected 2,922 people, taking the tally of the total cases to 745,322.
Remaining on high alert
Prof Dr Muzaherul Huq, former regional adviser of the World Health Organization, South East Asia Region, said the deteriorating Covid-19 situation in India is a matter of serious concerns for Bangladesh.
He said the government has taken the right decision to close the border with India. “We should also keep suspending rail, water and air connectivity with India until the situation becomes normal there.”
Public health expert Dr MH Chowdhury Lenin, chairman of medicine department at Health and Hope Hospital, said the coronavirus spreads between people, mainly when an infected person comes in close contact with another.
“This virus has shown that it knows no boundaries and respects no borders. So, when the virus transmission is exploding alarmingly in our neighbouring country through double and 'triple mutant variants’, it was necessary for us to remain alert and take effective steps to avert a catastrophic situation.
“We hope the government’s decision of shutting the border with India can help contain the spread of deadly virus strains now prevailing in the neighbouring country,” he said.
The expert added that the government should now put the BGB on the highest alert so that no one can trespass the border.
Eminent virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19, said their panel suggested the government ensuring a 14-day institutional quarantine for all those who will enter Bangladesh from India instead of completely closing the border.
“As the government has decided to shut the borders, we hope the government will take necessary steps to implement its decision,” he said.
Dr Lenin said the government should give focus on regular genome sequencing study to detect whether the double and “triple mutant variant” of Covid-19 has a prevalence in Bangladesh and know the changes in the nature of the virus.
He said wearing masks is the main protective weapon against any variant, be it double or triple mutant one. “So, we must encourage and force our people to wear masks by taking various steps, including forming monitoring teams in every locality and enforcing the law.
Lenin said the second wave of the virus came due to a relaxed attitude, lack of awareness and effective control measures.
“We’ll also witness the third wave if we become reckless again,” he warned.
Preparing to face the worst
Despite taking all the preventive measures, Dr Lenin said, the “triple mutant variant” can travel to Bangladesh.
“So, we need to take preparations in advance for ensuring adequate oxygen supply to hospitals and increase beds and ensure all other necessary equipment to tackle any possible worst situation in the days to come,” he said.
He said the government should also form mobile medical teams and take preparations for installing field hospitals to ensure proper healthcare if the country experiences a further surge in the virus infection like India.
The expert said it seems the virus transmission in the country has decreased due to the lockdown.
“So, we should work out some strategies to come out from the lockdown in phases. If we suddenly ease the lockdown and reopen everything without any strategy and preventive measures, the situation may deteriorate further.”
No alternative to vaccination
Dr Muzaherul said the government has no alternative to ensuring 250 million vaccine jabs for 125 million people to achieve herd immunity and thus get rid of the virus.
He said the government should intensify its efforts to get vaccine or vaccines from different sources instead of depending on one country.
Dr Muzaherul said though the virus transmission rate has been showing a declining trend, there is no room for complacency as it may increase anytime for lack of proper preventive measures.
He said the government lacks a comprehensive plan and strategy to control the virus outbreak.
“For lack of such a strategy, we’re enforcing lockdowns, but cannot implement the restrictions. We’re also reopening everything before the virus infection comes under control. These are not scientific decisions. Without having a right strategy in place, it may not be possible to contain such a highly contagious virus,” he observed.