If no new variant causes another wave, the pandemic is likely to ease down in the country by late 2022, says Dhaka-based health expert
After more than one and a half years of living with Covid-19, people in Bangladesh, like the rest of the world, are eagerly waiting for their lives to return to normalcy.
However, it is difficult to predict when that time may come as bringing the pandemic under control depends on many factors, according to health experts.
“If all the factors are in Bangladesh’s favour, the country could overcome the pandemic by late 2022 - given that no new imported variant emerges,” Dr Kamrul Hasan Khan, professor at the department of pathology in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Dr Khan said there were three factors that contributed more to bringing a pandemic under control – following health rules, vaccination, and mutation of the virus.
“In Bangladesh, there is little hope for people obeying health safety rules, as we have witnessed till now. There is a strong prospect of vaccination ahead, but the open communication with all countries leaves a strong chance of emergence of new imported variants,” he warned.
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Although Bangladesh has been seeing a downward trend in terms of both daily deaths and test positivity rates in the last one week or so, the impact of relaxing the nationwide lockdown will be visible in around three weeks, he said, adding that if the pandemic management continued the way it is now, it would be hard to make prediction on when the country would overcome Covid.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), 1,447,210 people have tested positive for Covid-19 since its first detection on March 8, 2020 in the country.
However, the tests were conducted mostly in symptomatic cases, and the actual number of cases might be much higher.
Since launching the Covid-19 vaccination campaign in the country on February 7 this year, the government has administered at least one dose to more than 16 million people, while more than six million among them have received both the doses till Wednesday evening.
Bangladesh started the mass vaccination program with the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine bought from the Serum Institute of India.
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Though the agreement was for 30 million doses, they could supply only seven million owing to the health crisis in India. This led to a shortage of vaccines in Bangladesh and the government halted vaccination for more than two months.
According to the experts, the first wave affected mostly the urban areas, while the second wave hit mostly rural people.
Dr Khan said regardless of the government data, it would not be surprising to hear that half of the population had already been infected.
Infecting such a large population - mildly in most cases, of course - would develop an immune system in them to resist its entrance or further damage to the body, the professor further added.
Dr Khan lauded the government's efforts to vaccinate the majority of the population by next year, including the recent week-long mass vaccination drive.
Providing vaccines to tens of millions in a month raises hope about this situation, and successfully executing the plan to fully vaccinate 80% of the population within the first quarter of next year could make the possibility of bringing the pandemic under control in Bangladesh by 2022 quite real, he added.
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Several international media, including BBC and Nature Portfolio, have reported that if no new variant of coronavirus emerges in near future, the pandemic is likely to die down in most developed countries by the end of 2022.
How does a pandemic die down?
There is no historical record of how long a pandemic caused by coronavirus could last. The flu pandemics, which have usually persisted for a couple of years, could be used as reference.
Quoting pathogen experts, international media reported that the viruses that caused those flu pandemics underwent transitions. So with time, the human immune system learned enough about the pathogens to build antibodies to resist infection.
As a result, the viruses eventually triggered small surges of milder illness over time, and pandemic flu became seasonal flu.
Statnews.com in a report said experiences from the last four pandemics would suggest that viruses morph from pandemic pathogens to endemic sources of disease within 1.5-2 years of emerging.
However, all of those pandemics were caused by influenza viruses. A different pathogen could mean there might be a different pattern.
The quick mutating abilities of Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain that has caused the ongoing pandemic, is causing sudden emergence of new variants in many places of the world. The number of new cases in China and the United States is increasing again, while New Zealand, as well as some parts of Australia, recently went into another round of lockdown.
Since a pandemic affects the world, not a single country, there is little chance of eliminating Covid-19 in Bangladesh anytime soon, Dr Kamrul Hasan Khan said.