People in Bangladesh should have heightened awareness in the wake of the first confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country but they should not panic, said eminent medical specialists.
They have suggested avoiding mass gathering, using masks, washing hands frequently and avoiding handshakes and hugs to keep away from getting infected with the virus.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) yesterday confirmed that three persons, including two members of a family, had been tested positive with the novel coronavirus in the country. Of them, two are Bangladeshi expatriates who have recently returned home from Italy, and the other one is a family member of one of them.
Professor Dr Nazrul Islam, a renowned virologist and former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said, "The first positive tests have been confirmed on Italy-returnee expatriates. So, other expatriates returning from the country must be kept under strict monitoring.
"Besides, isolation units for coronavirus patients have to be ensured in every hospital."
"Mass gathering has to be avoided. Procession and meeting should be stopped until the situation changes", he added.
He also suggested the government to keep educational institutions shut for a few days.
Dr ABM Abdullah, a professor of medicine at the BSMMU and the personal physician of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has urged people not to panic.
"While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, the majority of those who contact the coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and only a small percentage requires intensive care. The ratio of death in comparison to infected people is low," he explained.
"Awareness is very important. I have suggested the honourable prime minister to close down schools, colleges and other educational institutions for a temporary period.
"She told me that the government would take any measures to face the challenges posed by the coronavirus."
"If necessary, some pre-scheduled national programmes might be suspended", he added.
The symptoms of the new coronavirus named "Covid-19" infection include fever, coughing, sneezing, breathing difficulty and pain in the throat.
The IEDCR plans to isolate suspected patients as quickly as possible to prevent its spread.
The institution urged the people to inform it about any traveller coming from any infected country, who have shown any of the above symptoms.
Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of the IEDCR, said the people should wash their hands properly.
"Wet your hands with clean running water and then lather them with soap; don't miss the backs of hands, between your fingers or under your nails. Make sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds and dry them with a clean towel or let them air-dry," she said.
She continued, "If possible, travel on your own vehicle and avoid public transports. We request you to stay at home. Avoid public meetings. If you need to go out, use a mask."
"Contact us through our hotline numbers if the symptoms are found in anyone….We will collect samples from your home," she said.
"If the symptoms are mild, you can stay at home only after informing the IEDCR. But if you have breathing difficulty, you should go to the nearest government hospital," she further said.
How to protect yourself and others
The World Health Organisation recommends people to take the following simple precautions against coronavirus to reduce exposure and transmission:
Wash your hands. Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap. Lather your hands, including the backs, between your fingers, and under your nails and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue into the bin and wash your hands. If you do not have a tissue to hand, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands.
Face masks offer some protection as they block liquid droplets. However, they do not block smaller aerosol particles that can pass through the material of masks. Masks also leave eyes exposed and there is evidence that some viruses can infect a person through eyes.
Seek early medical help if you have a fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, and share your travel history with healthcare providers.