To counter any possibility of vaccine shortages amid the spike in infections and fatalities, the government has decided to join a new platform – brainstormed by China – to facilitate cooperation among six countries in the region.
The "Emergency Vaccine Storage Facility for Covid for South Asia" is not an alliance, but a collaborative effort by China, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The platform will provide vaccines to its member nations on a priority basis during emergencies.
Bangladesh reported another 98 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours till Thursday 8am as the daily tally has remained around the 100 range for the past week. The death toll now stands at 10,781 in the country.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told this to the media on Thursday, adding, "Sometimes a country might face a sudden shortage of Covid-19 vaccines, and requires an immediate supply of doses.
"China plans to build a storage facility to counter this issue, so that member nations in need can get the doses on a priority basis. China will initially give Bangladesh a gift of 6 lakh doses.
The minister added that a MoU (memorandum of understanding) will be signed in this regard, and a draft of this agreement has already been prepared.
He further said, "Bangladesh is also taking Russia's support for manufacturing vaccine doses locally. Russia will provide us with technical support, and Bangladesh has recently signed a deal with the country in this regard.
"Russia has also imposed a condition barring Bangladesh from sharing this technology, and we have agreed to abide by it. The country will provide tech support to any of the pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh. The whole process could take 2-3 months to complete."
Bangladesh had fully relied on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. But India has halted the export of vaccines, creating a shadow of uncertainty over Bangladesh's vaccination programme.
The government has been taking measures to procure Covid-19 vaccines from other sources. It has already formed a five-member committee to scrutinise vaccine proposals submitted by different companies.
The committee will provide the government with a purchase recommendation within the next Monday.
Daily Covid deaths close to 100 again
Aside from reporting another 98 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours till Thursday, Bangladesh also recorded 4,014 new cases with a declining infection rate of 14.63%. With the new cases, the overall infection rate was 15.07% on Wednesday.
After a record number of deaths for the four consecutive days since 16 April, the death toll dropped below 100 on Tuesday with 91 new fatalities. The country's highest-ever deaths were reported on 19 April when 112 people died from the dreaded virus.
In the meantime, 27,429 samples were tested in 349 labs across the country.
Among the latest day's victims, 62 were men, and 36 were women. Of them, 92 died in different hospitals across the country and six at home. Also, 7,266 patients were declared free of Covid-19 during the last 24 hours, with an 87.28% recovery rate.
The country's maiden cases were reported on 8 March last year and the news of the first death from the virus came out just ten days later.
Health minister fears third wave
Health Minister Zahid Maleque has expressed fears that the third wave of coronavirus may hit the country if people are not on their guard.
He was speaking at the inaugural session of a virtual event on "Think about food, think about nutrition," marking the National Nutrition Week on Thursday afternoon.
Zahid Maleque posed questions about the sudden surge in coronavirus infections saying, why has the coronavirus infection suddenly increased? Why has the second wave come?
"We had handled the first wave well. The death toll had dropped to 7-8 a day. The number of new cases in the country fell to 300-400 daily," he said.
The minister once again raised questions about jumps in Covid-19 cases and casualties in the last few days saying, why did the infection suddenly rise to 7000? How did the death toll jump to 100?
"These are the things to ponder," he said. "If we cannot identify the issues, we could be hit by the third wave of coronavirus. So we have to take care of that aspect."
Zahid Maleque said, "We wandered around all over, didn't wear masks, and didn't maintain social distance. Consequently, we were hit by the second wave. If we do the same things again, then a third wave will come to the country."
"How much more treatment will we give? How many more beds will we have in hospitals? How much high-flow nasal cannula will we give, how much oxygen will we provide? Hospitals cannot be expanded overnight. Hospital beds cannot be extended overnight. Even then we have increased from 2,500 beds to 7,000-8,000 beds in this short time. We have also been able to handle ten times as many patients. But it will not be possible to tackle if the numbers increase any further," he added.
The minister said, "That is why we all need to be vigilant. We want to be safe from the coronavirus. Hopefully, we will go back to a normal life, our life will be better, and we will partake of nutritious food."
'Will try our best to support vaccine rollout'
India will try its best to support the vaccine rollout in Bangladesh, Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami said on Thursday.
Addressing an event, he continued, "We will continue to do our best to support the vaccine rollout in our neighborhood countries, but it is important to bear in mind that there is a huge wave of the pandemic underway in India.
"In short, we can only share what is actually available. And the fact is that there is a huge amount of demand and not enough supply. As production is increased to meet the increased demand in India and globally, it will be possible to increase supplies."
The high commissioner mentioned that Bangladesh is the recipient country of the largest number of vaccines from India.
Bangladesh has received 7 million doses through its contract, plus 3.3 million as bilateral partnership gift; this is the largest amount sent from India to any country, said Vikram Doraiswami.
"We would do our best to meet everyone's needs, subject to limits of production, domestic demands, and other obligations," he added.