DHAKA: Bangladesh on Tuesday extended a nationwide lockdown for another week in a bid to curb a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.
The latest restrictions introduced to tackle the health crisis would now end on July 14, officials told Arab News.
Dr. Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Bangladeshi Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said: “We had to increase the lockdown period to contain the spread of the virus.
“If people don’t follow the restrictions and health and safety guidelines, it will be tough to manage thousands of new COVID-19 patients every day.”
On Monday, health authorities registered 164 deaths, the highest single day rise since the pandemic began, taking the total number of virus-related fatalities in the country to 15,500.
The south Asian nation also reported its highest number of new daily infections at 9,964, adding to the tally of 954,881 cases.
Hospitals are stretched to capacity with COVID-19 patients, particularly in areas bordering India where the Delta variant was first identified, promoting Dhaka to seal its border with New Delhi in April.
But despite the current positivity rate standing at around 30 percent, Sultana added: “We may expect a downward trend in the infections rate from the third week of July.
“As of today, the situation is still manageable, and there is no crisis of oxygen supply in any hospital of the country. If the situation deteriorates further, we may introduce a few more specialized COVID-19 hospitals in the capital.”
A surge in COVID-19 cases, caused mainly by the highly contagious and virulent Delta variant, prompted the government on Thursday to order a week of strict lockdown measures, with the army patrolling streets to ensure compliance with safety protocols.
Authorities are scaling up vaccinations too. Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive toward the end of June using China’s Sinopharm vaccine, nearly two months after halting the initiative due to a failed supply of 30 million doses from India.
Starting from January, New Delhi had vowed to deliver the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), to Dhaka, in a phased manner.
Bangladesh’s health authorities launched the anti-virus drive in early February after India sent 7 million doses of Covishield in two installments.
However, after a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the country, New Delhi held back its vaccine exports for domestic consumption, resulting in a stalled supply of the crucial jabs for Dhaka from April.
On Tuesday, the government said it was expanding its vaccination program to include citizens aged 35 and over. Earlier, the minimum age limit was 40.
Prof. Robed Amin, DGHS spokesperson, told Arab News: “We will reopen the registrations for all ... from next Thursday. People will receive Sinopharm vaccine at all government-run health facilities at the district and subdistrict level.”
Bangladesh recently received 2.5 million doses of US-made Moderna vaccines from the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, with another 2 million doses of Sinopharm purchased from China expected to arrive soon.
In June, Bangladesh inked a deal with China to purchase 15 million doses of Sinopharm to be delivered in phases over the next couple of months.
“At this moment, we have a lot of stock of vaccines in hand. We will administer Moderna vaccines in 12 city corporation areas since these are temperature sensitive and have to be kept under minus 20 degrees.
“Sinopharm will be administered at district and sub-district level since it can be stored at temperatures of between 2 degrees and minus 8,” Amin added.
As of Tuesday, around 4.3 million people had received both vaccine doses, while more than 5.8 million had been given their first jab.
Public health experts, however, urged the government to bolster health management facilities to include all patients infected with COVID-19.
Dr. Mushtuq Husain, adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, told Arab News: “We need to bring all the identified patients under proper quarantine and treatment facilities. At the same time, those who have come into contact with infected patients should be kept under quarantine too.”
He said failure to do so could result in “more fatalities in the next couple of days.”
Husain noted that Bangladesh had health outreach centers at village level and could administer up to 15 million vaccines per month.
“We can speed up the mass inoculation program more if the country receives much more vaccines from different sources. Without mass vaccination, we can’t control the surge of COVID-19 in the country,” he added.
Dr. Benazir Ahmed, former director of the Center for Disease Control, told Arab News: “At least half of hospitalized patients are now coming from the villages across the country. We need to provide free treatment facilities for these rural people.
“Online registration processes should be facilitated for these people since many of them don’t have access to internet or smartphone facilities,” she added.