With a lax approach to coronavirus safety measures, Bangladesh shifts its focus to Covid-19 treatment at a time when the country's virus cases and infection rate are on a spike.
Health experts fear the switch may lead to a larger daily caseload and fatalities.
Instead of expanding hospitals' capacity, they emphasise cheap but effective protective measures, such as contact tracing, isolation and quarantine of returnee migrants and virus patients, washing hands, wearing face masks and vaccination.
Bangladesh on Tuesday recorded 3,554 coronavirus cases – the highest in the last eight months – the infection rate thus surging to 13.69%. In the preceding 24 hours, 18 people died from Covid-19.
Meantime, the health ministry has readied six more hospitals in Dhaka to tackle the patient rush.
Dr M Mushtuq Husain, consultant at the Covid-19 Pandemic Control Programme at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, said the government was readying more hospitals, but it was not launching quarantine centres.
"If you spend Tk10 to set up a quarantine centre, it can save you Tk1 lakh as intensive care unit cost," he said.
The country currently sends UK returnees to mandatory quarantine while there is no monitoring for confirmed cases, or tracing and isolating people who come in contact with them.
"The authorities are now running awareness campaigns, which is good. But the health sector seems to have forgotten isolation and quarantine," Dr Mushtuq commented.
He believes the health ministry or health directorate is not solely responsible for curbing infections, but rather all ministries should act fast in a synchronised way to keep infections low.
Dhaka Civil Surgeon Abu Hussain Md Moinul Ahsan told The Business Standard that the authorities were emphasising the treatment of Covid patients and expanding the capacity of hospitals.
"But the health ministry is not running any awareness campaign now. The 'no mask no service' policy is still in place," he added.
Meanwhile, the Dhaka district administration has conducted mobile courts at several spots in the capital.
Mahnaz Hossain Fariba, assistant commissioner (AC Land, Motijheel Circle), told TBS that she had been conducting drives at Kamalapur and encouraging people to wear face masks since last week.
"We realised a fine of Tk200 each from people without masks, and bought them face masks with the amount. Apart from this, we distributed free masks among the poor," she added.
Bangladesh has reported 577,241 Covid cases so far, while fatalities from infections in the country stand at 8,738.
On 14 March, the cabinet division sent a letter to divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners (DCs) and upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) to ensure that people wore face masks as infections were spiking again. Following the instructions, drives were conducted in some districts.
To curb infections, the Chattogram district administration has been conducting mobile courts and distributing face masks.
Check-posts were set up at three entry points of the city on Tuesday to ensure public transport passengers wore masks and maintained virus safety measures. Besides, gatherings of more than 100 individuals at community centres have been banned.
Chattogram Civil Surgeon Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi told TBS that 250 beds for treatment of coronavirus patients had been readied. Around 70 intensive care units were in place at private clinics and hospitals.
But the civil surgeon said the authorities were not quarantining people who came in contact with the infected.
On 17 March, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the sources of infection must be controlled. Otherwise, it would not be possible to provide lakhs of people with healthcare.
"There will be no beds at the hospital since our capacity is limited. No country has the capacity to accommodate the patient rush," he said, urging people to follow safety measures.
Admin stuck in awareness campaign
On 21 March, police launched a special awareness campaign across the country. At the inauguration of the programme, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Benazir Ahmed said, "Everyone must strictly follow safety measures. They need to wear masks, wash hands with soap and carry hand sanitisers."
The IGP was asked whether police would force people to follow the measures. "We do not mean forcing people to do so. We want to inspire them, motivate them. Why should people be forced to do so? I hope people will wear masks for themselves and their families out of a sense of responsibility."
Large political events, religious gatherings and other public gatherings require police permission.
Asked whether the police would stop permitting the gatherings, the IGP said, "It depends on the virus situation. Even if we give permission, people at the events will have to follow the safety measures strictly."
Iftekharul Islam, acting deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said police had been monitoring people since Sunday to see whether they were wearing face masks.