Experts think there are no grounds to confirm whether the first wave of Covid-19 has ended in Bangladesh.
Despite having little conclusive evidence of an approaching second wave, the country must remain aware of the issue and prepare accordingly for it, said speakers at a discussion organised by the Bangladesh Private Medical College Association (BPMCA) in Dhaka on Tuesday.
Presenting the keynote, Bangladesh Institute of Health Sciences' (BIHS) former vice-chancellor Prof Dr Liaquat Ali said, "According to the World Health Organisation's definition for the first wave to be over, the amount of people testing positive for Covid-19 has to drop below 5%.
"Bangladesh's daily infection rate is far above that margin. So, we do not have the grounds to say that the first wave of Covid-19 has ended in the country."
He continued, "Under the current circumstances in Bangladesh, I believe that now is not the time to be complacent about the situation. But we can definitely be more confident. We must make a concerted, serious effort based on our past successes to curb the spread of novel coronavirus."
Present at the event, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's personal physician Dr ABM Abdullah said, "People are far more aware now, and many have asked me whether I informed the prime minister about the possibility of a second wave.
"However, the prime minister recently addressed the issue, and she did so on the basis of relevant data and information."
Addressing the discussion as the chief guest, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said, "We are discussing the possibility of a second wave, but the first wave is yet to end. However, the health ministry is ready to tackle any situation.
"Bodies did not pile up at the hospitals in Bangladesh, and we are doing rather well than a lot of other countries. But we do not know whether a second wave will come or not. Over concerns that the Covid-19 infections might go up during the upcoming winter, we have been issuing letters to warn the relevant officials."
He added, "We will continue our preparations. We are optimistic that the spread of novel coronavirus will slow down if everyone remains aware."
Speaking about the government's experience on tackling the pandemic with limited resources and knowledge, the minister said, "Initially, there was only one lab for Covid-19 testing. But now we have 107 labs [109 according to the DGHS], but the number of daily tests never exceeds 10,000-12,000.
"So, if anyone feels ill, come and get tested. The government has designated 20,000 beds for the treatment of Covid-19 cases in hospitals across the country, but the number of patients admitted there is now low."
Adding that the whole country was under lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but the healthcare sector operated as usual, Maleque said, "Everyone in the sector worked together to tackle the crisis. Bangladesh suffered no shortage of medicine, even in the remote corners of the country.
"I also want to thank the pharmaceutical companies for doing a good job."
After thanking the private healthcare sector, the minister said, "Both private and public healthcare sectors faced a lot of criticism, but they operated even under the lockdown. Despite previous criticism, everyone now praises the country's healthcare sector."
He added that the prime minister has also lauded the sector on multiple occasions.
Speaking as the special guest, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Dr Md Enamur Rahman said, "Even if the second wave comes, it will not be a big challenge for us. However, we need to boost our awareness on the issue further.
"I am urging those who do not wear a mask to do it for themselves."
Dr ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said, "We have no tangible data on the approach of a second wave. Our previous experience says the situation might worsen during winter, and so we are preparing for it.
"Instead of leaning on the use of vaccines and other methods of treatment, we must build up a long-term defence against the virus. A vaccine will be 50%-70% effective. As no vaccine will be 100% effective, I am urging everyone to follow the DGHS health guidelines to the letter."
Directorate General of Health Education's DG Dr Enayet Hossain said, "We managed to tackle the first wave successfully, and it was possible due a concerted effort from everyone. We are now confident about tackling the second wave if it approaches us."
Prof ABM Abdullah said, "Bangladesh is doing rather well due to the efforts from all sides. Everyone concerned did a good job despite facing a lot of crises and complaints. I still do not see any scientific basis on the possibility of a second wave.
"But we must be prepared to tackle it if it comes."
He continued, "I am optimistic about the arrival of a vaccine for Covid-19, but I am still concerned about its effectiveness. We must make preparations to preserve and transport the vaccine."
Ali Noor, the health education secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said, "Despite uncertainty regarding the approach of the second wave, we must remain aware. The situation was quite grim at the beginning [of the pandemic], but it is much better now.
"If a second wave comes to Bangladesh, we will tackle it with a multi-sectoral approach."
BPMCA President MA Mubin Khan said, "We must boldly march forward even if the second or third wave hits the country. The private healthcare institutions have been making a serious effort to deal with the pandemic.
"We are pledge-bound to support the government in its initiatives."