Waking up late from their slumber, the authorities have finally set about doing what they should have done three months earlier when the coronavirus disease was spreading fast across the globe --- and that means taking initiatives to procure more kits, protective gear for doctors and thermal scanners.
They have also gone for wider measures that could have effectively stopped the spread of the virus if taken earlier – absolute quarantine for any air passengers, giving the army the responsibility of turning the 160-acre Tongi Biswa Ijtema ground a quarantine centre, imposing compulsory quarantine for those returning home from abroad in the last 15 days.
Meanwhile, in view of the lackluster quarantine that has posed hazards to public health, the High Court has also gone into action through directing the authorities to make sure that all air passengers are quarantined.
The local administrations have also finally woken up to the crisis and slapped fines on 17 returnees who defied the rules of self-quarantine in the last two days.
A small town in Madaripur, known for a large number of people migrating to Italy, has been put under partial shutdown. Other than medicine stores and food shops, all other establishments have been shut down. Vehicle movement has also been banned.
The Prime Minister's Office has directed the local administrations to ban any kind of gatherings, be they religious, social, political or cultural, that had been going on even the day before.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday boosted the confidence of government officials by asking them not to panic over the situation but to work for the safety of the people.
"We have to defeat the virus ourselves," she said at the National Economic Council meeting yesterday.
Leave for all government health care staff has been cancelled.
Meanwhile, three more virus-infected patients have been identified despite the existing poor testing capability.
Government to collect coronavirus testing kits through ADB
The Bangladesh government has decided to collect 10 lakh coronavirus testing kits through the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to tackle the looming threat of the pandemic in the country.
The Economic Relations Divisionon Thursday sent a letter to the ADB in this regard.
Speaking to the Business Standard, Abdul Baki, the ERD's ADB wing chief, said, "We have collected a list from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), which proposes the procurement of some equipment such as coronavirus testing kits, thermal scanners, personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses.
"We have sent the list to the ADB on an urgent basis."
Meanwhile, ERD sources said the ADB is interested in supporting Bangladesh's campaign against the coronavirus (Covid-19) menace. To this end, an ADB delegation led by its Country Director for Bangladesh Manmohan Prokash met ERD Secretary Fatima Yasmin on Wednesday.
At the meeting, the ERD agreed to the ADB proposal on the supply of coronavirus testing kits. In line with the proposal, the DGHS prepared a list incorporating a requirement of 10 lakh kits, 5,000 thermal scanners, 10 lakh PPEs for medical professionals, 30 lakh surgical masks, soaps, sanitisers, and some other essential things needed to combat the pandemic.
The DGHS sent the list to the ERD on Thursday.
According to ERD officials, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is more interested in collecting coronavirus testing kits and other necessary equipment instead of getting financial aid.
If the DGHS decides to collect those kits with funding from the development partners, it might take too long. Therefore, the ERD and the DGHS have decided to collect testing kits directly from the country's development partners.
At Wednesday's meeting, the ADB also announced an initial aid package of$2 million to Bangladesh. Quoting the ADB, ERD officials said Bangladesh would get a portion of the $6.5 billion aid allocated for tackling the global pandemic.
On Monday, ADB Country Director Manmohan Prokash told journalists at an event, "We are having discussions with the ERD and the DGHS on tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The DGHS gave us some proposals, and we are working on them."
According to information available from the DGHS, there are 3,650 coronavirus testing kits in Bangladesh as of Thursday. The country requires a large number kits as the pandemic is gradually spreading throughout the country.
Responding to a query, the ERD's Asia Wing Chief, Md Shahriar Kader Siddiky, said, "China has already told Bangladesh that it will send 10,000 testing kits. But we are facing a shortage. This is why the DGHS is asking the development partners for kits on an emergency basis."
Commenting on the matter, DGHS Director General Dr Abul Kalam Azad said, "The proposal submitted to the ADB for 10 lakh kits is not a large requirement. There is no telling how long the pandemic will persist. We have to be prepared for a long haul.
"We will supply these kits to privately owned hospitals if the situation demands it. However, the government has yet to make a decision in this regard."
When asked about the reason behind the shortage of testing kits, Dr Abul Kalam Azad said, "The coronavirus testing kits had next to no use before the outbreak began in China. Now, as the pandemic is spreading, their demand has increased.
"If we had collected those kits sooner, they could have gone to waste. No one could have predicted the present situation."
Meanwhile, an ADB official, on condition of anonymity said, "The ADB will complete this procedure as it is an emergency aid. Though we cannot say how long it will take, the ADB is handling the matter with the utmost importance."